I reviewed Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bourbon last year, specifically last year’s C-batch. I got a couple of bottles of this year’s A-batch earlier in the year, but it was such a limited release at the time, I didn’t review it inasmuch as most folks wouldn’t be able to get their hands on it. Well, a bunch more of it has hit the market; Hokus Pokus in Alexandria has it out on a barrel just for the asking, so I thought I would review it just to let my friends know this bottle is worth picking up.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a twelve year old bruiser from Heaven Hill, who distills in Louisville after their original distillery burned down in Bardstown, but they still warehouse whiskey there and have their Bourbon Heritage Center, which I have been to for a tasting. Interestingly enough, the Noes are currently the distillers at Jim Beam, while Parker Beam’s progeny are master distillers at Heaven Hill. The Beam family has made a huge imprint on bourbon, more so than any other family. Part of that imprint is a family yeast – a wild yeast that has been kept alive over multiple generations and used in numerous different bourbons over the years.
I have written before on the Beam family yeast, and its infamous peanut funk. What I have discovered is that the funk is not all the fault of the yeast. It is also the proofing down of the bourbon below 100 proof and chill filtering that bring the peanut funk to the fore. So, I like Old Fitzgerald and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof a great deal. But Larceny, not so much.
One thing that has been interesting about the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases is that they are so high in proof – hazmat status as they say. These tend to be higher proof than most other distiller’s cask strength releases, including Jim Beam. I have a theory about this based on what I learned at the Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center and at other distilleries. Most other distillers set their barrels in the warehouse and leave them in a particular spot. At certain distilleries, like Buffalo Trace, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, and Jim Beam, whiskies aged in the sweet spots of certain warehouses are specially bottled for their unique flavor characteristic. Not so at Heaven Hill. Their warehouses are decidedly uniform, and they shift barrels around from different locations in the warehouses to assure more uniformity of flavor profile. Every barrel of Heaven Hill whiskey has spent some time in the mellow cool air of the bottom of the warehouse and spent some time at the top levels where things really get hot. The point being is that Heaven Hill’s whiskies end up, I think, with a lot higher alcohol content straight from the barrel.
So, I broke out my Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center tasting glass for tonight; you get it free with a tasting there. A delightful amber red mahogany greets the eye in the glass and is even evident in the above picture. Gloriously thick long legs roll off the glass on the swirl. The nose on this is incredible; raw vanilla, unrefined brown sugar, lovely oak, leather. Mouth watering. The palate is like the nose, but then the cinnamon French toast flavors show up, followed up by the yes, I am almost 70% alcohol flavor. A very long, lingering finish. A delightful but dangerous bourbon.
I drink 100 proof bourbon neat like it is nothing, and my after dinner drams are usually in the 115 to 125 proof range. 135.2 proof is indeed a different animal. This is not unpalatable by any means, but you know this is high proof stuff on the tongue. The problem is that this bourbon will eventually numb the tongue, and one evening I was sipping this like any other high proof bourbon and then I got up from my chair and went, whoa, I am little tipsy. And then I went, oh, I am hammered. Like early college hammered. And I looked at the bottle and went, you really didn’t drink that much of this. Damn.
This is definitely a bourbon to mind as you go. You don’t whip this bottle out at parties. You don’t drink this playing poker. You have just a little bit and leave it at that. No need to involve the police or emergency medical personnel just because the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof tastes so good!
In any event, there seems to be a good bit of this floating around right now. It’s not cheap, usually $75-$80, but definitely worth the price.