Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Review

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Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Review

Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is pretty hard to come by, but it is still one of the most sought-after small-batch whiskeys on the market. For discriminating drinkers, the complex flavors and bold character make the bourbon worth seeking out despite its relative rarity.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof occupies a special place in the whiskey market. A high-proof spirit made in small batches throughout the year, it’s widely regarded as the best way to enjoy well-aged bourbon from the barrel.

Of course, the market isn’t exactly lacking in high-quality bourbons. Offerings such as Booker’s, Hudsons Baby Bourbon, and Old Forester Birthday Bourbon occupy similar lofty positions in the bourbon hierarchy. But considering its $60 price tag and widespread distribution, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof manages to command a healthy market share.

Make no mistake: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a quality release, and the limited-run batches place the brand very nearly at the top of the heap. But it’s also interesting to note the significant variations across different batches. In 2020, a ten-proof difference was measured between the maximum and minimum proof releases.

For those who don’t know, all Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases are at least 12 years old. The batch numbers may seem cryptic at first glance, but it makes sense once you figure out what the alphanumeric string means.

The letter at the start of the series represents the batch number for the particular year. The first digit represents the month of release, and the last two digits represent the year.

Going by this system, Batch A120 is the first batch of 2020, which was released in January. Batch C920 is the third batch of 2020 and was launched in September.

Batches are released in January, May, and September of each year, barring unforeseen circumstances. There are currently no plans to increase the number of batches released every year.

Three 2020 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches examined

Each batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has the following characteristics:

  • Aged for at least 12 years
  • High proof
  • Complex flavor palette with hints of chocolate, tobacco, leather, and spices

Apart from these characteristics, each batch can differ significantly from others. Here’s a look at the three batches released in 2020.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch A120

Proof: 136.6
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
MSRP: $65 (2020)
Release Date: January 2020
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, and 10% Rye
Color: Mahogany

A120 is characterized by a bright and forceful flavor palette, combined with a sinus-clearing freshness. A lively and vibrant whisky, it places the grain front and center, following it with a distinctively spicy tail end.

The grain character remains prominent throughout, although it is also joined by bursts of other flavors: fudge, burnt oak, and black cherry. There is also a subtle lemongrass note that ties everything together nicely with a hint of citrus.

Nose

The rich nose is reminiscent of chocolate-covered cherries, along with limestone, toffee, stewed prunes, and griddle cakes. There is also a hint of musty old bookshelf, which isn’t unpleasant in the slightest, and buttery, salty, hot, toasted notes that might remind you of grilled cheese.

Adding a splash of water unlocks even more aromatic notes. The touch of buttered bread is still present, although more reminiscent of rye. You might also detect added hints of eucalyptus and chestnuts.

Palate

When taken neat, A120 begins with a salted and nutty peanut flavor. The flavor reaches its peak at mid-palate, with the citric burst giving way to the heat of jalapeno peppers. Finally, the signature Heaven Hill metallic character emerges in the finish, with the taste of stainless steel mingling with the sweetness of apple pie filling.

After adding a splash of water, A120’s entrance becomes stonier and more medicinal. The mid-palate retains its citrusy and woody notes, with the peppery heat much more subdued. The finish is pure black coffee, with a distinct acidity and flavor of roasted beans.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B520

Proof: 127.2
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
MSRP: $65 (2020)
Release Date: May 2020
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, and 10% Rye
Color: Mahogany

B520 is a restrained and very drinkable bourbon. Noticeably simpler in character than 2020’s other batches, it has a smooth and delicious apple and orange richness that lingers gracefully all the way through to the finish. This character is complemented by subtle but recognizable aromas of brown sugar and toasted oak. The addition of background spices saves the flavor palette from becoming too monotonous, and the aftertaste is surprisingly delicate given its high alcohol content.

Nose

B520 has an enticing graham cracker and sweet caramel base that is nicely set off by the aged wood tone. The fragrances are rich and delicious, forming a near-perfect harmony. Despite the high proof, there is no overbearing ethanol smell that interferes with the other aromas present.

Palate

Toasted marshmallows combine with caramel, toasted oak, and a sweet burnt brown sugar in an enchanting blend. The substantial body and solid basic structure emphasize the bourbon’s barrel-proof origins while still letting the flavors shine through. These characteristics distinguish B520 from other high-proof bourbons that clash with their naturally-infused warmth and heat.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C920

Proof: 132.8
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
MSRP: $65 (2020)
Release Date: November 2020
Classification: Straight Bourbon
Age: 12 Years
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, and 10% Rye
Color: Mahogany

2020’s final batch is steeped with unexpected rich dessert flavors. Right out the starting gate, C920 dazzles with dry oak toast and cocoa fudge scents, with the flavors turning sweeter and darker on the palate, before unfolding into espresso-dusted tiramisu. Batch C920 is a bold, biting whiskey with a rich body of chocolate burnt sugar. It has a lengthy, dry finish that coats the palate in smooth layers of tea and tobacco aromas.

Nose

The nose begins brightly with brittle caramel spun from brown sugar, accompanied by baking spices, dense cherry, and tannic charred wood balanced by deep barrel toast aromas. The longer you sniff it, the smoother it becomes.

Palate

The palette begins sweet with powdered sugar and caramel before swiftly becoming spicy and tannic with oak spice. As this fades, scents of maple syrup, bourbon-soaked black cherries, and dark chocolate follow. The toasted oak and baking spices flavors soon disappear and give way to tannic charred wood, black cherries, and maple syrup. Interestingly enough, the oak spice becomes less spicy as you sip it.

Conclusion

Batch A120 is best suited for those who know good bourbon when they get it. More experienced drinkers will enjoy it neat to get the full alcohol heat. But A120 is also enjoyable with a splash of water.

B520 is the brand’s 23rd batch launch and the second of three scheduled for 2020. As with the best of Heaven Hill’s bourbons, this one is aged a full 12 years before being bottled. It also remains within the expected price range and, more importantly, retains the quality of the original release.

Batch C920 is complex and rich, with a lovely flavor profile. The taste is exceptionally lively, with a delicious sugar cookie character complemented by chocolate that matures into dusty cocoa toward the end. C920 definitely lives up to the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof standard and is one of the most favored releases in the series.

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