No one more than I applauded when Heaven Hill decided to take its Elijah Craig store pick program to the next level in allowing picks to be bottled at barrel proof. So many bourbon drinkers are big fans of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof which has four batch releases per year and is a 12 year old, and this whiskey has garnered many awards at competitions including taking first at the New Orleans Bourbon Festival a couple of years ago.
This Hokus Pokus pick is a 10 year old but is a bruising 126.2 proof. Often bourbon benefits from more time in a barrel, but sometimes when you are going to bottle at cask strength, it may be better if it is a little younger. It is more important to pick the barrel when it has hit its prime; just as you don’t cook a wonderful steak at so many minutes, you pull it when it is done just right. So, I am totally fine that this private barrel is two years younger than the typical batched barrel proof bottling. Hokus sells this for $83; it is not on the shelves, and you have to ask for it and be a pretty decent customer of the store to get a bottle. Why? There is only so much of this barrel to go around among the three Hokus locations, and demand for good bourbon has skyrocketed.
The color is a deep slightly reddish amber. This color tells me that the barrel was pulled at the right time for a barrel proof bottling. Big thick oily long legs on the swirl. Big traditional bourbon notes on the nose, but done exceptionally well – deep rich vanilla, caramelized brown sugar, a hint of dark suit, and wonderful oak tannin. On the palate, the vanilla notes grow even richer, and the brown sugar starts to take a back seat as the dark fruit, notably candied black cherries, come to the fore. On the finish, the vanilla fades and juicy black cherries mingle with lots of oak as the finish lingers and lingers and then at the end starts to dry the palate. The flavors on this bourbon are very forceful yet extremely balanced in their interplay and how one flavor fades into another.
I decided to do a quick comparison with Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C921. I had a little left on my kitchen bar. I would say that the C921 is definitely comparable with the Hokus pick, but the Hokus pick is far more rich in flavor even though it is younger. And I love C921. But this particular barrel Hokus picked is a honey barrel bottled uncut and unfiltered in its prime. Really, really, excellent.