Back in 2012, Heaven Hill started its Elijah Craig series with Elijah Craig 20 Year. For several years now Heaven Hill has offered a taste of Elijah Craig bourbon aged an additional year allowing us to taste what happens to their signature premium bourbon over time. This is a very unique offering that has produced Elijah Craig 20 Year, Elijah Craig 21 Year, and now Elijah Craig 23 Year. Each of these offerings has been single barrel bottlings, which is very rare for ultra-aged bourbons, giving not only the opportunity to taste different ages but different barrels as well.
My wife fell in love with Elijah Craig 18 Year while we were on the bourbon trail for our first wedding anniversary. We acquired a bottle of 23 year several years later. A few nights ago we decided to open the 23 year and do a side by side tasting. My love of bourbon runs deep, and one of my favorite things about bourbon are the differences in them all, and because of this comparisons are something I love to do.
ELIJAH CRAIG 23 YEAR SINGLE BARREL BOURBON REVIEW
Name: Elijah Craig 23 Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Proof: 90 proof / 45% ABV
Age: 23 years (Barreled on: 4-27-90 Barrel No. 147)
How I Drank It: Neat, in a Glencairn Whisky Glass. I generally sample everything from a Glencairn glass the first time I have them or if I am doing comparisons.
Nose: The bouquet of this bourbon is amazing. The notes I get are vanilla and caramel with some oak in the background. You can also pick up subtle hints of cherry; my wife picked up hits of honeysuckle.
Taste: The first word I have to say is “wood”, then caramel/vanilla and burn. Not what I was expecting at all. For being a well-aged bourbon there was more burn and heat than I was expecting and it was all upfront. The finish was surprisingly smooth, but the burn upfront lasted longer than expected. Now back to the wood; there are subtle notes of caramel and vanilla but they are heavily drowned out and muted by the oak. I would not say that it is over-oaked just very heavy. My wife picked up a lot more oak as well and also walnut in the finish. She said the walnut taste was interesting, more like burnt nuts, so not as appealing. She also experienced lots of burn on the front with a smoother finish.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: I added a splash of water and more vanilla comes out in the nose. The burn is mellowed out some but still present. However, more of the oak come out in the taste and the caramels and vanillas that were present have gone away. Ice seemed to close the bourbon down even further. The nose was almost gone and the only taste I could get was charred oak.
I would have to go with neat is the best way for this, with possibly a small splash of water. But beyond a splash you’re going to lose most of what is enjoyable in this bourbon.
Comparison #1: Elijah Craig 12 year: Elijah Craig 12 year is a small batch rather than single barrel product. It is also a higher proof than the 18 and 23 year varieties; coming in at 94 proof, 47% alc/vol. On the nose you get a very sweet smell of vanilla and caramel. With the first sip your mouth is coated in a smooth vanilla taste with some burn in the middle and a smooth finish. Ice or a splash of water will smooth out this burn and bring the vanilla and caramel forward more. Fora $30 bourbon this is one you cannot go wrong with.
Comparison #2: Elijah Craig 18 Year Single Barrel (Barreled on: 2-18-92 # 3281): Elijah Craig 18 year is a single barrel bourbon that started these ultra-premium aged bourbons from Heaven Hill. Elijah Craig 18 was the first to hold the title of oldest Single Barrel Bourbon in the world. Elijah Craig 18 is equal in proof to the 23 year. On the nose you pick up lots of sweet vanillas and caramels; compared to the 12 year the presence of alcohol is gone. My wife picks up lots of citrus and honey on the nose. On the first sip , vanillas and caramels are again present, but oak notes come out as well. I would not really say there is a burn here but more of a warmth in the mouth with smooth finish. The 18 year is not as sweet as the 12; showing the maturity of this bourbon through more oak and a stronger finish. Adding a splash of water or a cube of ice smooths out this bourbon even more; bringing forward the tastes of caramel, oak, vanilla and burnt sugar. This is a superb bourbon in every way.
Share With: The Elijah Craig 23 year Single Barrel will be a bottle that I share with close bourbon lovers. I’m really looking forward to what some close bourbon friends have to say about this one.
Worth The Price: All in the eye of the beholder… At your liquor store, if you can find one, the typical price is $200 a bottle and secondary markets have them going for $350 to $400. To me, if you can find one at your liquor store and love Elijah Craig and want a bourbon collection then get one. I have heard rumors that 23 years of aging will not be done again. However, for a bottle on the shelf I would have to say there are a lot of other bourbons out there to spend your money on.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: This was shocking, but it’s a bust. If you have the chance to try it in a bar I would. If you ever have the opportunity to try several of the different years (18, 20, 21, or 23) side by side in a bar you definitely should. This would be a grand opportunity to see how a bourbon changes just through age. I have heard great things about the 20 and 21 year, and hope someday I will get to try those as well.