Do you ever feel worn out? Run down? Past your prime? Have you ever longed for your younger days? Does getting older suck, or is it a great experience?
Taking a quick trip back in time, specifically January 2016, the big news in Bourbon was that Heaven Hill dropped the age statement on Elijah Craig Small Batch. The announcement stated they changing it from a 12-year to a No Age Statement (NAS) blend of barrels that aged anywhere from eight to a dozen years.
The reaction on social media and in whiskey groups was immediate and, to say the least, vitriolic. To be fair, a portion of it was anger over the feeling of being misled. Folks were told since 2014 that the age statement would not be dropped, and then, the rumor turned into reality. The mudslinging was lobbed at everyone, but Bernie Lubbers was the biggest target by far.
They immediately badmouthed the new Elijah Craig Small Batch of mixed-age barrels, complaining about the flavor, or lack thereof, despite the fact that nobody at the time, including professional reviewers, had ever tasted the replacement.
A lot of Bourbon fans, some knowing what they were talking about, and others who wanted to appear as much swore they’d never touch Elijah Craig again. They weren’t going to have anything to do with a whiskey that would drop its age statement. They immediately badmouthed the new Elijah Craig Small Batch of mixed-age barrels, complaining about the flavor, or lack thereof, despite the fact that nobody at the time, including professional reviewers, had ever tasted the replacement.
As for myself, I shrugged my shoulders and took a “let’s see” attitude. Even before becoming part of the Bourbon & Banter team, I’ve always taken a #DrinkCurious attitude with whiskey. I understood the reasons behind the decision to drop the age statement. I understood the anger but didn’t understand the condemnation of a bottle of something untested by anyone before even given a fair chance.
Flash forward two years and change… where are we now with Elijah Craig?
Elijah Craig has a private barrel program. I’ve had the pleasure of tasting several picks anywhere from eight to a dozen years old, and I’ve yet to find anything less than a great barrel in the bunch. For anywhere between $26 and $30, I’ll happily pick these up when I see them. When store owners tell me they’ve got a barrel on order, I ask them to let me know when it arrives so I can jump on it. Why? Because in my opinion, the Elijah Craig Private Barrel program may offer the best value in Bourbon, and they’re an obvious hit because they disappear off the shelves. I’ve missed out on a few because I didn’t act quickly enough.
Barrel Proof (Batch B517) was named Whisky of the Year by Whisky Advocate magazine. I have a bottle of it, which I picked up before well before the issuance of the award. I pick up Elijah Craig Barrel Proofs because, release after release, they’re just amazing. In Wisconsin, at least, these were very easy to find. After being named Whisky of the Year, supply dried up. Would it make Whiskey of the Year in my book? There’s a lot of excellent whiskeys to choose from and it would absolutely be a serious contender.
Then, there’s the extremely difficult-to-find 18-year and older expressions. If you do see a bottle on the shelf, it is typically way above MSRP. And, the gray market? Break out your wallets!
Age is merely a number.There are a few cases when it becomes important: Being old enough to drive, buy alcohol (especially whiskey), collecting social security, etc.
But, I’ve not yet touched on the target of the bitterness – the NAS Small Batch. That’s mostly because, until a week ago, I’d never had it. My reasons were not because of anger, not because of a lack of opportunity, but mostly from distraction. I use bars as an opportunity to try something new whenever possible. I was in a bar and the selection wasn’t huge. The Elijah Craig NAS Small Batch caught my eye and fit the bill. And, guess what? It was flavorful and I enjoyed it. For under $30, it is still a fantastic bargain.
Age is merely a number. There are a few cases when it becomes important: Being old enough to drive, buy alcohol (especially whiskey), collecting social security, etc.
With Bourbon, it is what’s inside the barrel that counts. I’ve had stunning five-year Bourbons, I’ve had unimpressive 18-year Bourbons. As private barrel programs easily prove, there’s too much variation from barrel to barrel that goes well beyond how many years liquid sunshine has rested. Important factors include the location of the rickhouse, the location of the barrel inside the rickhouse, the weather, and, of course, the combination of the staves used to create the barrel itself. Two identical barrels of Bourbon that sit next to each other in the same rickhouse for the same number of years will not taste the same.
If a barrel of Bourbon is matured and delicious at four years, eight years or a dozen, what’s the number on the label matter? Cheers!