By Father John Rayls
“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.” (Heaven Hill press release January 22, 2016)
According to the words on the label on the back of the Elijah Craig bottle, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon “is considered one of the world’s greatest Bourbons.” These are big words for any bourbon to try and match. And yet, the Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon (which the NAS version is replacing) came very close for many of its long term fans to achieving this lofty status. The no age statement (NAS) version has been introduced because the company has experienced double digit growth across the board with many of its products resulting in tremendous pressure on the 12 year old aging barrels. It appears that the Elijah Craig brand is somewhat a victim of its own success. As a faithful consumer of all things “Elijah Craig”, I would suggest that it has been that good. The question on the table is whether the EC NAS can continue this level of achievement and consumer satisfaction.
This is a small batch bourbon blended from 100 or less hand selected barrels from the Heaven Hill Distillery warehouses. All the barrels are at least 8 years old and no older than 12 years old which gives it age respectability. This is particularly true in our current environment with new distilleries popping up almost daily all across the US producing a lot of young (and often sourced) whiskey. The Elijah Craig NAS looks almost exactly like the 12 year bourbon in the bottle. Of course, it’s the same sturdy bottle with the same labeling color and print and the same over-sized cork. The bourbon is a dark brown with a reddish tint. It is a beautiful looking bourbon. The legs are long and thin.
The nose is subtle with the traditional notes of vanilla and caramel as its base. Wafting across the top are soft aromas of honey and light oak. However delicious and inviting the aromas, the only question that really matters to large numbers of regular consumers involves the taste experience. Does the NAS match up with the 12 in flavor and finish?
With the first sip you get a mild coating of the mouth and tongue. The first action is at the back of the mouth which quickly moves to mid-mouth and then it just sits down. It’s a medium to long finish that stays at mid-mouth. This is not a “hot” whiskey experience. Regular Elijah Craig drinkers will notice it drinks a little hotter than the 12. The flavors are nicely balanced with honey, caramel and an oaky-vanilla. It has a very pleasant sweetness to it that sets you up for a very nice slightly spicey finish that wants to linger on. Don’t rush the next sip. Simply enjoy the lingering flavors. I wouldn’t describe it as multiple waves, but more of a “parking” experience. It just parks at mid-tongue and just sits there. Elijah Craig NAS is a very good bourbon and worthy of your hard-earned cash. For long term Elijah Craig 12 consumers, let it go and welcome to a brave new world. If you’ve never tried Elijah Craig, you will find this a very pleasant journey.
Only time will tell if Elijah Craig NAS will fill the empty slot of Elijah Craig 12 as THE best tasting, low cost bourbon on the market. However as a long time consumer, I believe it might pull it off. Give it a try…you might actually be surprised. The EC NAS should be available on your local shelves soon at approximately the same $30.00 price range, although, the suggested retail price has not been announced.