At this point, I’ve introduced Elijah Craig Barrel Proof reviews or tastings at Paste often enough that almost anything general I’d say about the product will simply be me repeating myself. Suffice to say, here’s the short, short version.
ECBP is the cask strength, 12-year-old version of Heaven Hill’s classic mid-shelf champion Elijah Craig Small Batch, a whiskey that recently was on our list of the best bourbons for under $30. ECBP is beloved in the whiskey sphere for its potent flavors, often soaring proof point and bang-for-your-buck. Unlike so many well-aged, high-proof bourbons that draw rave reviews, it’s fairly accessible thanks to its trio of yearly releases, and its MSRP of around $70 (Heaven Hill says $60, but it’s not easy to find for that) is hard to beat when you compare it with almost all of its direct competition. There’s a reason why so many list it as a perennial favorite, especially if you enjoy Heaven Hill’s distillery house style.
A quick primer on any given ECBP label: This release is “A122,” which simply means the following. “A” means this is the first of three releases for 2022, to be followed by “B” and “C.” The “1” means that this is a January release. And the “22” just stands for 2022. The next release will likely be A522, assuming the usual schedule holds.
As for this particular release, its relatively low strength of 60.4% ABV (120.8 proof) continues a trend that has been happening for the last three ECBP releases, which have together been the three lowest in the series. B521 was the lowest at “merely” 118.2 proof, while C921 was close behind at 120.2 proof. This is significant, given the amount of variation often seen in the ECBP series, which is often in the 130s and has gone as high as 140 on several occasions. Personally, it’s not something that I find concerning—my favorite ECBP releases are often in the 120s, and I tend to think of that as the “sweet spot” for the series—but it’s definitely something that certain “proof hounds” in the bourbon world will have noted, possibly with worry. Wondering if this might be construed as a new normal for the series, I contacted Heaven Hill PR, who essentially implied that there was no conscious decision to go with lower proofs in recent batches. As they put it:
“As with every batch, we are constantly balancing all the attributes (rickhouse site, floor, 12 years of age) to achieve the depth of flavor Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has come to be known for. We knew we had some lower storage barrels for the past couple batches and even used some higher aged barrels in them to ensure the maturation was in line with the rest of the brands’ expressions.”
Which is to say, if you’re more into “hazmat” strength ECBP releases, there will probably be another one that comes along eventually. As for the last few releases in the 120-range, I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the B521 (though it seemed to be popular online), but absolutely loved the decadence of C921. So let’s get into tasting this newest barrel proofer and see where it lands.
On the nose, this immediately strikes me as a very classic, “down the middle” Heaven Hill bourbon expression—I’m getting lots of nuttiness, evocative of peanut brittle, with more subtly spicy hints of anise seed and rye spice. I’m also getting some background citrus, some vanilla that plays well with it, and elements of musty oak/rickhouse. All in all, it’s not the most explosive ECBP nose I’ve had recently, but it’s also not overtly hot or boozy. It feels pretty familiar, not that this is a bad thing. Very much in the distillery’s classic wheelhouse of notes.
On the palate, I’m getting more of the same—a balanced profile of classic Heaven Hill notes, although one that leans a bit more toward the hot and spicy side, rather than the sweetly decadent one. I’m getting molasses here, along with honey roasted peanuts, spicy ginger, anise and brown sugar, along with oak that reads as both spicy and musty/earthy. Residual sweetness is moderate, seeming to grow a bit over time, while the fruitiness evokes something more like crisp apple with a twist of vanilla than the darker fruit you sometimes get in these. It actually does read as a tad hot for the proof, although that is of course relative in a series with as much fluctuation as ECBP—regardless, the ethanol makes itself felt and merges with the spice notes.
At the end of the day, this strikes me as a pretty “standard” Elijah Craig Barrel Proof release, which is thankfully quite a high standard. There’s not a lot that stands out to me as instantly unique, but perhaps that will change when I revisit this bottle. As ever, it does stand out as one of the best values in the bourbon world, when you take proof, age and boldness all into consideration.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 60.1% (120.2 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $70 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.