Remember When Nobody was Going to Ever Drink Elijah Craig Again? Header

Remember When Nobody was Going to Ever Drink Elijah Craig Again?

In Banter by Jeffrey Schwartz25 Comments

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!

About the Author
Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz

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Known throughout Wisconsin (and now the world) as Whiskeyfellow, Jeff was a late-bloomer to the Wonderful World of Whiskey. At the suggestion of his wife, he started with Scotch and was hooked. He was under the impression that he was happy. A friend asked him several times to try Bourbon, and he eventually gave in, only to fall completely in love with it. Those first steps started him on his #DrinkCurious adventure that led him to #RespectTheBottomShelf. Jeff now relishes many types of whiskeys, ranging from the super-affordable to the super-premium and everything in between. Aside from simply sipping and writing about it, Jeff now enjoys spreading the whiskey gospel by hosting educational tasting events. Read Jeff's full profile.

Comments

  1. Pingback: Remember When Nobody was Going to Ever Drink Elijah Craig Again? – Beer and Bourbon

  2. Excellent article, I completely agree! After tasting a few store picks I went back and grabbed some backups. The barrel proofs are the best combination of value, availability, and premium taste in the bourbon market. Heaven Hill has evolved with the bourbon boom and continues to be the best in the bourbon business.

  3. Couldn’t agree more, also just got 3 bottles of barrel proof A118 here in PA. Cant wait to open one.

  4. Great post Jeff. Not an over sophisticated drinker here. Just know what I like. The more I learn, the better I think I’m served with that very attitude.

  5. I do miss the 12 year age stated and can definitely tell the difference between that and the newer version, but still one of my favorite daily sippers. I wasn’t in the “boycott HH” gang when this happenned and took the “let’s see what happens” view as well. Like you said, the barrel picks are top notch and I try to grab them when I can. Still love their juice!

  6. Jeff, great article!!
    Being a newbie to bourbon, and previously traveling the single malt scotch road (MacCallan 18 and Balvenie 12 – before the prices went through the roof), I’m trying to learn as much as I can about these great whiskeys.
    I was fortunate enough to pick up the B517, C917, and the A118, but haven’t opened them yet!!! Living here in the Madison, WI area, there are some great sources for the purchase of whiskey, including J.Henry & Sons in Dane. I have Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Michter’s Rye, McKenna BIB, and Four Roses Barrel Proof. I did my first Distill America this February and totally got confused as to what I like the most.
    Any suggestions for a newbie and his son?
    Thank you!!

    1. Rich, I’m in Madisonland, too. Lots of great local whiskeys are around. Reach out to me if you’d like on Facebook and I’d be happy to meet up with you and your son at one of Madison’s finest stores or bars. Facebook.com/TheWhiskeyfellow. Cheers!

  7. Jeff, Thank you for your reply. My son and I will take you up on your offer one of these days. His schedule is pretty crazy, working at the VA. So again, definitely one of these days.
    Rich

  8. Great article Jeff. I’ve bought at least 10 bottles of this stuff since they changed it and it honestly may be better than before. I still have a barrel proof bottle that is a little on the lower side for them at 128 proof I’m not sure if it was pre or post the age statement change but wow. What a whyskey!!! The caramel and vanilla with just enough spice to keep it balanced is off the chain! I can’t tell you how many people that have literally had “come to Jesus” experiences when trying it. I’ve got more than a few impressive bottles of bourbon and that one gives every single one of them a run for their money. The EC small batch is definitely a go to bourbon for me especially with the under 25$ price tag. Oh and quick question how do I find out what batch number the barrel proof bottles are? All I see is a proof and alc% on this thing. Thanks again and cheers 🙂

  9. Well said!
    I’m a huge fan of Elijah Craig (just picked up another c917 barrel proof today).
    I like the EC 18 as well, but honestly, I really think the barrel proofs are better… I’d love to try an 18 Barrel Proof if they ever released one.

  10. There’s a lot of commentary here about the barrel proofs, but the age statement on those were not taken off. It’s the Small Batch that had the 12 year age statement removed. I’ve had both and anybody who can’t tell the difference, … well, I would steer clear of their recommendations. This article kind of glosses over and minimizes the importance of a well-aged barrel, preferring to emphasize other aspects that go into flavor. Everyone has their angle.

    1. I agree with you, yes the NAS is still a good bourbon but it is not the 12 yr. The extra time in the oak refined that bourbon to excellence, to me as a big EC fan the difference is very noticeable. Never jumped on the boycott train, business is business, but I miss the hell out of EC12

  11. Great article, thanks!

    I was at a professional conference a couple of years ago and had a conversation with a gentleman who told me that he had purchased a barrel of Knob Creek to give to his clients as Christmas gifts. I thought, “That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever heard!”

    The next day I grabbed a buddy and said, “We’re doing this!”

    Since then we have procured a barrel of Knob Creek -AMAZING! – and a barrel of Jim Beam Single Barrel – surprisingly good! And now, as I write this comment, I am waiting for him to arrive at my house so that we can select our third barrel. This one will be Four Roses.

    My goal is to collect a barrel from every distillery that offers a Private Barrel/Barrel Select program. And, eventually, be every variation of each of those programs.

    It is fun. If you have enough friends (we had 18 guys for the KC and 48 for the JB), it is relatively cheap. But above all, it is an amazing adventure!

    Do your have a list if the distilleries that offer these programs? Obviously, Beam, Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, and I know that Makers had a program. Who else? I need to plan my next adventure!

    Thanks!

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