From one barrel, and only sold in one location, but well worth the effort to procure a bottle. Nutty toffee, pecan pie, apricot, berried jam, and nougat, peppered with cinnamon, mint, cocoa, and tobacco. Warming, with polished leather and dried spice on the finish. Seamless, richly textured, and impeccably balanced. (Exclusive to the Bourbon Heritage Center at the Heaven Hill distillery in Bardstown, KY.)
Here, a perfect harmony delivers crème brûlée, butterscotch, fruit, cinnamon, and rising cornbread. Right away complexity sets in, delivering salted baked almonds, cashews, dried apricot, pistachio gelato, Nutter Butters, salted caramel popcorn, rye toast with brown sugar butter, and sugarcane. Somehow, a drop of water makes it even more complex, amplifying the butterscotch and presenting cinnamon-soaked roasted pecans and almonds. Pure bliss; a must-sip.
As bourbon matures in new charred oak barrels over time, it approaches a perilous point when the oak dominates the flavor. To sip Elijah Craig at 12 years of age—at full barrel proof, without dilution or filtering—is to taste bourbon at its apex, so dangerously close to going over the crest of the hill, yet delivering a massive mouthful of incredibly robust flavors that drape leathery oak over a gooey caramel core, sprinkled with baking spice, while candied nuts and tobacco leaf notes appear on a drying finish dusted with cocoa. Number 1 in the 2017 Top 20
Elijah Craig 21 year old Single Barrel (No. 42), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $140
Surprisingly reserved on the oak spice; it tastes like a bourbon half its age. Soothing in nature, with layers of sweetness (honey, vanilla cream, caramel, nougat), lively complex fruit (coconut, pineapple, ripe peach, honeydew melon), and gentle cinnamon. Soft, creamy finish. A whiskey that has aged very gracefully. Delicious! (This is a single barrel; every barrel is unique.)
This year’s first of three annual releases has a higher ABV than Whisky Advocate’s 2017 Whisky of the Year, which was 62.1%. The nose offers caramel, vanilla cream pie, cocoa powder, baking spice, baked apple, orange, marzipan, leather, and oak. Very well-integrated on the palate, but the high ABV cries out for water, which brings chocolate, butterscotch, bitter orange, coconut, almond, and creamed corn. The finish is a long, delightful reprise of it all. Editors' Choice
Elijah Craig Single Barrel 20 year old (Barrel No. 13), 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $130
All the current Elijah Craig 20 year old releases in distribution are single barrel offerings. I’ve tasted a few, and they vary to a degree. This is my favorite so far. Yes, there’s a lot of oak here (resinous, spicy, leathery, tobacco-tinged), but it’s on a bed of layered sweetness (nutty toffee, caramel fudge, maple syrup) that supports and marries with the oak. An ideal postprandial bourbon.
Keeps true to this award-winning whiskey’s oak-driven style, with aromas of lead pencil, leather, and fresh sawdust, balanced by dense fruitiness and tinged with herbal licorice and eucalyptus. Brawny and tannic on the palate, it’s reminiscent of sucking on a cherry Popsicle stick, balancing sweet caramel, brown sugar, and molasses with persistent oak, cedar shingle, clove, and paprika. A rustic, powerful, and robust bourbon.
When complex spice meets complex caramel, it makes for a wonderful American whiskey experience. That’s exactly what happens here with a cadre of baking spices over fruit, such as cinnamon baked apples, nutmeg sprinkled over pears, and peaches dusted with clove, followed by butterscotch, vanilla custard, and crème brûlée. The balanced and brilliant finish stays true to its complexity.
Elijah Craig Single Barrel (No. 4040) 18 year old, 45%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $120
Back after a three-year hiatus. Well-rounded, with lovely caramel, creamy vanilla, toasted oak, nougat, and candied fruit, along with a peppering of cinnamon and subtle mint. Pleasant, lingering finish. Great structure with seamless flavors.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Single Barrel Bourbon 10 year old, 47%
Bourbon/Tennessee | $35
Subtly complex and nicely rounded. A bed of sweetness (caramel, vanilla) peppered with honey-kissed fruit, golden raisin, and a hint of marzipan. Pleasing oak grip and dried spice on the finish. A great value for such a high-quality bourbon. (Loch & K(e)y exclusive)
Yes, 23 years is a long time to age bourbon. And yes, there’s plenty of oak influence. But there’s an underlying sweetness that balances the oak spice (with this particular cask; others may vary). Chewy in texture, with toffee, dates, fig cake (with nuts), barrel char, tobacco, leather, and a dusting of cocoa.
Rich and bold, it’s loaded with caramel notes that range from macchiato to salted caramel chews. Then complexity sets in, with brown sugar, vanilla cake batter, cinnamon-dusted molasses cookies, candied pecans, brown-sugar butter, and cornbread. The key here is that each note appears with that initial caramel richness and follows this to the long, warm, and satisfying finish with a hint of spice.
Quite dark in color, turning cloudy with water. Don’t let that deter you. A thick, chewy bourbon, with layers of nutty toffee,
nougat, cocoa, and toasted marshmallow, peppered with cinnamon and vanilla. Oak and leather on the finish dry out the whiskey nicely. Not the most refined bourbon, but the flavors it delivers make up for it.
Very much in the Elijah Craig style: thick and chewy, with layers of toffee, molasses, and vanilla cream. Notes of caramel-nut fudge, cinnamon bun, and blackberry brandy keep it fun. There’s just the right amount of dried oak spice on the finish to round things out. Very good, solid, affordable bourbon. (Capital City Package exclusive.)
A solid, basic bourbon, with pure sweetness, honey, marzipan, and wildflower notes. The sweet drive is nicely backed with drying oak on the pronounced finish, like sucking on a sweet and woody cherry Popsicle stick. A simple and enjoyable crowd pleaser, and smaller sibling to the Barrel Proof, our 2017 Whisky of the Year.
The second 20 year old single barrel release, sold at Heaven Hill’s Bourbon Heritage Center. (I rated the first one a 96.) Like its predecessor, this one sports a beautiful nose — and beginning of the palate — with toffee, nougat, pecan pie, and coconut truffle. But some fairly aggressive, tactile oak on the finish keeps this whiskey from earning a higher rating.