...where distraction is the main attraction.

Monday, March 7, 2016

When Heaven Hill Bourbon Goes Right: Elijah Craig 12 year old Small Batch (2015)

Let's get whiskey politics out of the way first.  Since its creation, Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig 12 year old Straight Bourbon had its age statement listed on the front of bottle.  Then last year the age statement was replaced on the front label by a barrel, and the "12 years" reference was moved to the small font on the back label.  The reaction to this from the online bourbon geek community was a combination of despair and irritation.  They'd seen this happen before with other bourbons: the age statement gets moved from its prominent perch and hidden, only to be removed altogether shortly thereafter.  These concerns were publicly addressed by Heaven Hill's ambassador Bernie Lubbers in a sarcastic patronizing manner, denying any "devious" and "misleading" conspiratorial intent and insisting that the whiskey would remain 12 years old.  Seven months later, the age statement was removed altogether.  Bourbon fans' anger grew, not just because of the age drop, but because of the denial and its tone.  For a wider recap and some links, see Sku's post on this subject matter.

I'm not shocked by Heaven Hill's decision since I've witnessed scotch single malt producers stoop to desperate measures to convince their customers that age does not matter a whit.  The tone of Heaven Hill's ambassador's denial was ill chosen and I understand why folks would be pissed at him.  And I understand why Heaven Hill will now be seen as less trustworthy.  But like it or not, Elijah Craig (NAS) Small Batch has arrived.  And people will buy it.  You can elect not to buy it.  I'm in no hurry to get a bottle myself.

The 12 year old version of Eljiah Craig, where it still can be found at its suggested retail price, is a tremendous deal.  Out where I live, it's going for $25.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey that's bottled at 47%abv.  $25 for a 12 year old whiskey that's bottled at 47%abv and tastes very good.

Distiller: Heaven Hill
Brand: Elijah Craig
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottled: 2015 (code 42 21 132 15 19:10)
Age: minimum 12 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 47%

I'm reviewing a large sample plucked from the midpoint of my own bottle, a bottle whose contents were consumed rapidly.  We didn't really have a winter here, thus very little Scotch Weather.  And on 75-90ºF days, my tummy says bourbon drinks better than its Scottish cousin.  That's my excuse.

The nose leads with brown sugar and old furniture.  Caramel sauce and Sugar Daddy candies.  Vanilla extract and doughnut glaze.  Sometimes it smells like a mint julep tastes.  It gets prettier with time, growing almost floral (blooms not perfumes).

The palate is simple at first: all corn syrup, salt, and baking spices (a rye and oak tandem).  It gradually picks up a cayenne pepper-type bite, vanilla bean, a little bit of tannin, some tart citrus, and a soft Rittenhouse Rye-like note, all elements held in a creamy texture.

Those spices stick around for the finish.  Then there's vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, simple syrup, and clover honey.

In a Highball -- Acceptable.
In an Old Fashioned -- Very good.  The bourbon finds a good mate in the orange.

Though the palate can't be accused of complexity, it is very very nice.  And SMOOTH(!)!)!()0º_)!1!  The nose shows more dimension and depth.  And the finish is delish.  That's why my bottle's contents vanished lickety-split.  Yes there's plenty of oak, it's a 12 year old bourbon.  But what you're getting are the vanillins and palatable compounds, not boring wood nor burnt stuff nor bruising bitterness.

If you haven't tried EC12, and you can actually find it for $30 or less, and you actually like bourbon, I recommend scooping up ONE bottle while you can.  One bottle.  Leave some on the shelf for others. If you buy a case instead, then karma shall break every cork, oxidize all your whiskies, your stomach shall become bloated, and your head plucked of all but three hairs.  Also anal leakage.

Availability - As of March 2016 it's still at most specialty liquor retailers
Pricing - $25 to $35 (USA), $40-$60 (Europe)
Rating - 87 (bumped it up a point at the last minute)


  1. Google "Elijah Craig 12 anal leakage" and your post is top of the heap.

    Incontinence karma aside, I'm planning to check the labels of the bottles I've seen at my locals today and pick one up if the '12 year' is there.

    1. Yes! Google loves me!

      Make sure you check the back label. If there's no mention of 12 years, then it's the NAS. They barely changed the wording. Very sneaky.