Poor Elijah Craig 12…alas, I knew him well. Heaven Hill Distillery has been at the very top of my list of favorites ever since I first discovered Elijah Craig 12 many years ago. I was an unpaid, non-recruited evangelist for that delicious beverage to all of my friends and anyone else I could get to listen. Not only was it a bourbon that was loaded with flavor, it was actually very affordable hovering in the $25.00 range. Imagine a whiskey that was all-world in flavor and priced well below any competition. As a result, it had secured a permanent position on my all time Best Bang for the Buck Whiskey list. It was so good, in fact, that I didn’t even have a number two. I am sad at the loss of my good friend, very disappointed. Although you can still find some elusive bottles ($37.00) on shelves, its demise is very near at hand. Heaven Hill hopes that its new Elijah Craig NAS (no age statement) will fill this void. I’m slightly cynical by nature, but time will tell. EC NAS will have some very big shoes to fill.
Of course you have people that are angry with Heaven Hill over this entire situation and how it has been handled. Some times I think people must have way too much time on their hands. But it is what it is and it hasn’t been a great marketing move so far. Marshal Raylan Givens of “Justified” fame ended their 6 year run of sheer joy on television in the recent past and I’m only now getting over the hole in my life. Everything in this world has a life span. There’s a beginning and an ending. It’s just hard to lose something that has achieved excellence in your life. To be fair, Heaven Hill has every right to make whatever business decisions they deem best for their bottom line. Reality says how these decisions are presented can sometimes fan an apparent brush fire into a full blown conflagration. Heaven Hill is now trying to manage and dampen down this forest fire.
Unfortunately, the decision to be less than forthcoming instead of dealing with the disappointment led to a much worse scenario. Once the label change removing the number “12” appeared on the Elijah Craig 12 bottle, regular consumers knew the writing was on the wall. Something was amiss. Writers, bloggers and consumers wanted answers from the distillery. Many of these people believed the answers they received to be disingenuous. They perceived them to be outright denials that anything was going to change in the production of our beloved bourbon. The company explained it was simply a marketing decision to help solidify the Elijah Craig brand. The company went on to explain the age statement had simply been moved to the back label. After all of the denials and reassurances, Heaven Hill announced the NAS replacing the 12. This all happened within a matter of months after vehemently denying the demise of the EC 12.
Some people felt betrayed. Others felt lied to. The explanation of the pressure on the 12 year barrels due to demand smacked of convenience. Of course there was and is pressure due to the current unbelievable popularity of bourbon. It just seemed to many people to be more an issue of dollars rather than genuine care for the product or their consumers. This is particularly true for a company known for having the second largest collection of aging bourbon found anywhere in the world.
Here is the company’s announcement:
“The surge in popularity of Bourbon both domestically and internationally has led many of the Bourbon and American Whiskey brands at Heaven Hill Distillery to experience sustained double digit growth. One brand in particular that has grown in popularity during this resurgence is Elijah Craig Small Batch.
Since its launch in 1986, Elijah Craig Small Batch has become known in Bourbon circles as a brand with a high quality to value ratio. This was in part due to the fact that it carried a 12-year-old age statement. However, as the brand continues to grow significantly, Heaven Hill’s stocks of 12-year-old barrels has been under increasing pressure. Therefore, after careful deliberation and with a view towards making the brand available to more, not fewer consumers, Heaven Hill has made the decision to bottle Elijah Craig in small batches using Bourbon that has been aged between 8 to 12 years.
Starting this week, Heaven Hill will begin shipping Elijah Craig Small Batch as an 8 to 12-year-old Bourbon and will remove the 12-year-old age statement from the back label. This will allow us to continue to make Elijah Craig Small Batch available and not have to limit its accessibility to consumers or have outages at the shelf.
Overall, Heaven Hill does intend to retain age-stated Bourbons within the Elijah Craig brand franchise. By making the age adjustment to Elijah Craig Small Batch, it will allow a marked increase in allocations of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof which will continue to carry a 12-year-old age statement and, over time, increase availability of Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel that was just re-released this past fall after a 3 year hiatus.
With the second-largest inventory of Bourbon in the world and knowing that each barrel, no matter the age, matures at different rates depending on its location, Heaven Hill is confident that through our stringent barrel selection process, we will be able to maintain the desired taste profile and quality that has made Elijah Craig Small Batch one of the most critically acclaimed Bourbons in the world. More importantly, we are dedicated to being transparent in this change and providing consumers with as much information as reasonably possible.”
Heaven Hill Brands
Regardless of bottom line or marketing decisions, the only thing that matters to me is the bourbon itself. Is the experience of opening the bottle of Elijah Craig NAS and consuming some of its content worthy of my hard earned dollars. The jury is still out for me. I have an acknowledged bias. Heaven Hill hit a game winning, bases loaded home run with EC 12. They deserve a major standing ovation on a job well done for this accomplishment. It may take me some time to grieve (just a little bit) before moving on.
Both Elijah Craig 12 and NAS appear the same in the bottle except for some minor labeling (already discussed) differences. They look almost identical and you must look closely to differentiate the two, They are both 94 proof. In the glass, there appears to be some very slight color differences with the 12 being just slightly darker. The nose is a little easier to distinguish on the 12 while there is some slight alcohol burn to aromas of the NAS. Both lean to the thin side, but the 12 has a slightly greater viscosity. Both are flavorful, but the 12 gives a little more depth to the tasting experience. The NAS drinks a little hotter than the 12 and both have a very nice long finish. If you aren’t a regular drinker of the 12, I think you’ll enjoy the NAS a lot. Casual consumers will jump on the NAS bandwagon with ease.
Nothing can replace my experience with “Justified” on the FX channel. However, life goes on and I’ll find other TV series and other whiskeys to enjoy. As a hopeful cynic, I will continue to look for the perfect bourbon. I don’t know if Elijah Craig NAS can fill that spot, but I’ll certainly give it a try. Heaven Hill hasn’t done irreparable harm to the bourbon industry or to itself. They made a business decision and presented it to the public in less than an optimal way. These things happen in most businesses and we don’t lose a lot of sleep over it. By the way, Heaven Hill isn’t the only distillery wrestling with some of these issues. (please see Knob Creek, Eagle Rare and even Maker’s Mark) I will be doing a full blown review of Elijah Craig NAS next week. My guess is that it’s a very good bourbon. It’s not Elijah Craig 12, but is good in its own right. I would suggest setting your bias aside and trying it before making any decisions. Only time will tell if this was a good decision for the distillery. My guess is Heaven Hill will be just fine and so will we.