Review: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Bourbon
Price Range: $25-$35
Heaven Hill first introduced Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon in 1986, six years before Jim Beam introduced their line of small batch bourbon collection. Small batch is an unregulated term that usually means the producer uses a smaller number of barrels (anywhere from 50 to 200) which are blended together before bottling. Whereas larger brand like Evan Williams or Jim Beam might use thousands of barrels for one bottling run. In large part, the term small batch is just a marketing ploy to justify a higher price point but as with most things, if you like the product in the bottle and you are willing to pay for it then marketing like small batch doesn't really matter.
Up until the beginning of 2016, Elijah Craig Small Batch was essentially a 12 year old version of Evan Williams. Because of this some friends and I ran a little taste test. We poured ourselves three glasses: Evan Williams Black Label, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, and Elijah Craig. This is a fun way to see how aging time can affect the bourbon. Now obviously this wasn't an exact 1 to 1 comparison since they are each bottled at different proofs and the Vintage comes from just one barrel. However, you get a general idea of what Heaven Hill bourbon is like at about 6ish years for E-Dub, 10 years for the Vintage and 12 years for Elijah. This was a great experiment because it confirmed for me that I'm not a big fan of extra aged bourbons. With each jump in age there is a noticeable increase in the amount of oak flavor in the bourbon. While I think Elijah Craig is a high quality bourbon, it wasn't my favorite because for my tastes there was too much oak. However, for one of my friends, Elijah Craig was his favorite because he liked the more intense oak flavor. There are a number of brands that you can use to run this experiment, but if you happen to still have a bottle of Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 year old it is worth trying with some friends.
At the beginning of 2016, Heaven Hill announced that, Elijah Craig Small Batch, which now sells 70,000 9-liter cases per year, has dropped it 12 year old age statement. This change is apparently due in part to its own success and Heaven Hill's desire to see the brand continue to grow. Heaven Hill said that they could not continue to grow Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old without increasing the price or negatively impacting supply of Elijah Craig 18. From here out Elijah Craig Small Batch will be a mix of 8 to 12 year old bourbon. So if you like Elijah Craig and you happen to find a bottle with the 12 year old age statement, you should snatch it up because it probably isn't coming back.
Elijah Craig Small Batch was one of nine whiskeys I included in a blind tasting of bourbons less than $50.
Nose: There is a strong aroma of caramel and vanilla with notes of fresh oak and green apples.
Palate: The palate is intense, full of sweet caramel, oak and baking spices. At 47%ABV there is some heat but very little astringency and the flavors round out with a pleasant note of honey water.
Finish: The finish starts with a lingering sweetness that is balanced with dry tannins from the oak. Spice flavors and cornbread slowly fade as a warm sensation fills your chest.
Conclusion: Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year Old is a very bold bourbon that should please drinkers who like stronger wood and oak notes in their whiskey. Its power if awe inspiring and it is definitely a bourbon worth contemplating slowly over a long quiet evening. For its price it is a fantastic value which probably explains why Heaven Hill decided to drop its age statement.