Woodford Reserve Double Oaked started a trend of finishing bourbon that was in new heavily charred oak barrels in new heavily toasted oak barrels. A toasted barrel, rather than being just charred on the inside, is exposed to more gentle heat for a longer period of time. These barrels are often still charred but to a lesser extent than standard bourbon barrels. The general idea is to impart more vanilla and oak tannin flavors into the bourbon. Heaven Hill entered the toasted barrel ring this fall with a limited release of their Elijah Craig Small Batch bourbon finished in toasted oak barrels.
This is bottled at their normal 94 proof for Elijah Craig. I generally prefer higher proof (100 proof or higher) but sometimes heavily oaked whiskies benefit from proofing down. What is also interesting to note is that this can still be considered Straight Bourbon Whiskey, as compared to other bourbons or ryes finished in port, sherry, or other barrels. Both barrels are new oak barrels in this and other bourbons finished in toasted barrels. There is nothing in the laws governing bourbon saying the bourbon can’t inhabit more than one barrel; the rule is, whatever barrel it goes in has to be new. Which is a good thing, as used bourbon barrels are often used to aged scotch and Irish whiskies. In fact, some scotch producers actually purchase new barrels in the United States and lease them to bourbon and Tennessee whiskey producers for a term and then the barrels are shipped to Scotland. Heaven Hill was one such lessee of Glenmorangie until the distillery fire at Heaven Hill.
For starters, this bourbon is darker in appearance than the standard release. It seems a bit thicker as well as I pour it in the glass. The color is a deep, dark amber with some mahogany flecks in it, which is surprising given its low proof, so I suspect that putting this bourbon in a fresh, toasted and somewhat charred cask added age more than the years would normally be, although this bourbon is non-aged stated. Lots of thick oily legs on the swirl. On the nose, it is traditional Elijah Craig but with more wood sugars and oak. Very nice. On the palate is heavy vanilla, wood sugars, oak tannin, a faint hint of clove, a hint of rye and baking spice, but the vanilla, wood sugars, and oak are extremely dominating. Nice mouthfeel, what I would call medium full bodied. The oak tannin and wood sugars really linger on the finish.
This is very different from the standard Elijah Craig, and sort of reminds me of when Elijah Craig carried a twelve year old age statement, but the wood sugars and oak really add a layer of complexity that the 12 year old didn’t have. It’s impressive for a $50 bottle of bourbon. It would be a nice sipper next to a fire pit on a cool weekend evening. Comparing it to Woodford Double Oaked, I would say the Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel is a little firmer on the oak notes and a little less sweet.
Definitely worth picking up this limited release if you can find it. I truly hope that Heaven Hill will make this a permanent part of the Elijah Craig lineup.