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Monday, June 24, 2019

Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch, bottled ca. 2001

Like many of the participants in my Elijah Craig blind tasting, I chose this whisky as my favorite of the five. To the other 20 tasters it was known as Sample A. For me, it was Number 5 in the switcheroo my wife set up for me. And like most of the tasters, I'd never actually had pre-fire Elijah Craig. I'd had pre-fire Heaven Hill stuff (Heaven and Evan, if you will), but not EC.

Let me take a quick detour to talk about what I mean by "pre-fire" for those who are haven't heard of it before or have just used the term without knowing 100% what it meant. On November 7, 1997, Heaven Hill's production facility (DSP-KY-31) went up in flames, SERIOUS flames, during a violent thunderstorm. (YouTube has a bit of footage from the fire.) The conflagration, which included a river of burning whiskey and 80-foot flames, destroyed the distillery and 90,000 barrels of aged whiskey. In 1999, Heaven Hill purchased DSP-KY-1 from United Distillers (proto-Diageo) and restarted production. Heaven Hill whiskey distilled at the old distillery before the fire is often referred to as "pre-fire" whiskey.

As you may be able to tell from the above picture, I did not buy this bottle in America. Instead I found it while shopping in Shibuya, Tokyo, where cost close to its original price. The bottle bottom has a large 01 on it, which likely means the bottle was made in 2001, thus the estimated date I've listed.

As with the other four ECs, I tasted this bourbon blindly, then did another tasting when I knew exactly what I'd poured. I've listed both sets of notes below. The final rating is weighted heavily towards the blind tasting experience, unless otherwise noted.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky
Distillery: the late DSP-KY-31
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottled: around 2001
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

The nose is “old school”: Basements, old toys, National Distillers-esque butterscotch. Then cherry juice, root beer barrel candy and furniture.

The palate is “oceany” and musty, with anise, cinnamon candy and root beer barrel candy.

It finishes musty, spicy and zesty.

The nose has less dustiness. Instead it leads with black cherry syrup cut with citrus peels. Caramel, cinnamon and aromatic oak notes.

Baking spices and a medium sweetness in the palate. Pepper and brine. Honey mixed into apple cider vinegar. More corn sweetness than oak sweetness.

The lightly tannic, but long finish has hints of vanilla and pepper.

The nose was the best part both times, though the palate did improve when I knew what I was drinking. It drank well, though the finish didn't WOW at any point. It never reaches the heights of Ye Olde National Distillers bourbons, but it's a very good style, a style (as you'll see) that I prefer over the recent NAS Elijah Craigs.

Availability - Secondary market, or random dumb luck dusty hunting
Rating - 86


  1. By the way, that news footage is an absolute horror movie for whiskey lovers. The news anchor mentions that the owner (one of the Shapiras most likely) had to be checked by paramedics after collapsing from seeing the fire. I'd have the exact same reaction.

    1. Well, we got the reboot with Jim Beam's warehouses. It wasn't as bad but dead fish are piling up again. These warehouse fires are brutal anyway. I'm glad no firefighters were injured this time.

    2. That has to be the weirdest combination of "drinks like a fish" meets "sleeps with the fishes" since the Wild Turkey spill of 2000.