By Father John Rayls
Heaven Hill Distillery is currently producing some of the finest bourbon in the world in this writer’s mostly humble opinion. Elijah Craig 12 is the best bourbon under 30 bucks. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is the best new whiskey this year. Pikesville Rye is a top three contender for best rye on the market. What more can a distillery do that owns the 2nd largest stash of aging bourbon and is a leader in producing the oldest bourbons available? I would suggest bringing back the much loved Elijah Craig 18 year old as a start. Actually, they already did this. After winning a boatload of medals for this bourbon, they ran on some hard luck and decided their aging stock wasn’t measuring up. Master Distillers Craig Beam and Denny Potter took the 18 year off the market in 2012 and just brought it back this past fall in 2015. Only 15,000 bottles are going to be available. They are also producing a 23 year old. The 18 year old is a single barrel bourbon which will allow for some slight variations from barrel to barrel. It’s bottled at 90 proof and is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey. Spoiler Alert! Let’s be completely open and honest…this is the very best whiskey I’ve ever tasted and has my highest rating.
This is simply a beautiful looking bourbon. Heaven Hill has standardized the labels for their Elijah Craig offerings. They are all similar now and recognizeable as being a part of the Elijah Craig line of offerings. The bourbon has a slightly darker appearance in the bottle than in the glass. It is a warm, calming, inviting shade of brown mixed with mostly orange and some slight red shading. However, hold it up to a light to see the beautiful yellow patterns appearing as the light bends through the glass and whiskey. The legs are very long and predict something very special. I should mention this bourbon was barreled on November 18, 1997 and it was barrel number 4218. What were you doing 18 years ago?
The nose is not as powerful as I expected. It is a very pleasant journey through a Vermont maple forest at syrup harvesting/producing time. There is a base of sweet maple, vanilla and spice rising from the glass with some slight nuttiness. There isn’t any alcohol burn…just very enjoyable aromas that aren’t very difficult to distinguish. I wouldn’t say it’s subtle, but it’s not making a lot of noise either. It’s slow and steady and very inviting. (I think I actually heard it calling my name)
The appearance of the legs didn’t lie. At the first sip, the mouth and tongue are coated immediately with a very soft lingering goodness. The first sensation is in the back of the mouth at the top. It quickly jumps to the front on the tongue before settling in at mid-mouth. All most all of the action happens here with some additional movement again to the front of the mouth on the sides of the tongue and even underneath for a very nice finish. It is a long pleasant finish that ends in a subtle, quiet manner. There are hints of honey, pepper, smokiness (charred oak), and slight vanilla. This bourbon is never over-powering. It is very smooth and easy to drink. It certainly is a complex bourbon and I would suggest drinking it neat at room temperature.
The only downside to this fantastic bourbon is its price. You will find it retailing at 120 dollars if there’s enough to go around. Remember the demand is high and prices may vary. Although this bourbon is significantly above my price range, I can’t argue with the unbelievable taste and sheer enjoyment of consuming it. This part of my whiskey journey has significantly raised the bar for my expectations of the Whiskey Experience. May This Force Be With You…