Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bourbon Review: Elijah Craig 12 Years Old

Continuing this week's Heaven Hill Series

Elijah Craig 12 Years Old - 94 Proof; aged 12 years; Distilled at Heaven Hill Distilleries; Price ~$27 (as always, price reflects a 750 mL bottle)

Preface: Elijah Craig is a famous name in bourbon, though likely mostly for apocryphal reasons.  Legend has it that this Kentucky preacher was the first to make what is legally considered bourbon today, by aging it in charred oak barrels.  The legend has it that a distillery fire (distillery fires are very real, even in modern times) burned some barrels, but without money to buy new barrels Craig put his bourbon in the least damaged barrels he had.  When he tried the product he was wowed and had thus found the secret to great bourbon, charring them, as an accident.  This is almost certainly not true in any sense.  First, how would the barrels become burnt on the inside without burning through the barrel first?  As I said in a previous post, the firing of the inside of the barrels was almost certainly done to either remove taste from a previous spirit that was stored in the barrels or to simply remove any bacteria or mold that had accumulated in the barrel. However, the fact that this tale most likely isn't true doesn't stop it from being a great name and story for Heaven Hill to tell in their marketing of Elijah Craig bourbon.

Elijah Craig is Heaven Hill's upscale brand counterpart to their cheaper and better selling Evan Williams Brand.  The 12 Year old is considered a small batch bourbon, meaning that it's blended from a choice af around 50-70 different barrels that are selected by Parker Beam, master distiller at Heaven Hill, they typically come from the middle of the rickhouse, where temperatures are more stable, which enables slower aging.  The grain mix is the same as Evan Williams, and it is a similar flavor profile.  It's somewhat similar to the approach Jim Beam takes with Booker's, except this is also aged for significantly longer than Evan Williams.

Packaging: The bottle is handsome, with a soft shoulder look under a wide mouth neck.  The top is plastic, with the Elijah Craig signature on top and a huge cork.  The label is simple, yet tasteful.  A raised glass Elijah Craig 'signature' is just above the label, classing the appearance up just a tad.  The red lettering of the number 12 really stands out, as everything else on the label is written in brown.  They're very proud of this being a 12 year old bourbon, or at least want to push that as the major marketing point. It's a nice bottle, but not one that is going to wow anybody either.

Appearance: Medium dark amber.  About what you would expect from a 12 year old 94 proof bourbon.

Smell: Vanilla, slight caramel

Initial taste: Smooth, caramel, corn syrup, vanilla.  Nice full feel in the mouth.  Oak comes in after a couple of seconds.  The oak is nice and balanced by the sweetness of the corn syrup and caramel flavors.  A lot of times oaky means bitter, but not the case here.

Finish: very long.  Oaky with some cinnamon spice.  The sweetness of the corn syrup and caramel still linger, though the vanilla is gone by this point.  Despite the oaky-ness it never got bitter.

Overall: among the very best.  Value wise it simply cannot be beat.  This bourbon has stood its own in tasting competitions with others costing four times it's price and with good reason.  Such a balanced taste, great feel in the mouth and a great finish.  It tastes the way bourbon should, sweet, perfect balance of vanilla and caramel, full bodied, with a hint of oaky-ness to give you something to think about.  Never gets bitter despite the age.  Parker Beam has created a star here and somehow manages to sell it for 25 bucks.

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