I’ve written in the past that no batch of Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is ever actively bad, per se. This is a brand that exists on a continuum of quality, which ranges from “quite good” to “truly special,” and this has become ECBP’s claim to fame among consumers. It’s more easily accessible than many of the other Kentucky distilleries’ limited edition releases, which helps keep the price down and render ECBP as simultaneously one of the best values and most dependable barrel proof releases in the bourbon industry. And the latest release, May’s batch B520, is no exception. Rather, this is one of the most purely tasty ECBP batches I’ve ever come across. An instant classic, if you will.
Let me quickly remind readers of how Heaven Hill’s batch labeling system works. This batch is “B520.” In that label, the “B” denotes this as the second of three yearly releases: “A,” “B” and “C.” The “5” is simply the month that this release hits shelves, which is May. And the “20” simply denotes that this is a 2020 release. So at a glance, we can see that this is the second ECBP batch of the year, hitting shelves in May 2020. Savvy?
Compared with the last few releases, A120 and C919, this batch is a little bit lower in proof, clocking in at 127.2 (63.6% ABV), which feels like a sweet spot in comparison with the 136+ of A120 and C919. That’s not a huge difference, but it allows the richer, sweeter side of ECBP to come forward in the new batch, with less ethanol presence to fight against. Like all batches of this particular bourbon, it carries an age statement of 12 years.
With that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, B520 is bringing the expected heavy caramel/brown sugar and big oak notes, but there’s also an increased rye spice presence and a big blast of sweet baking spices, with notes of candied ginger, cinnamon and orange citrus. It smells powerful, sweet and warming.
On the palate, this entry is quite sweet, with a prominent “orange vanilla cream” note, which segues into heaps of brown sugar and spice—my notes at one point say “heavily browned sugar cookies with orange zest.” The alcohol level has been tamped down a bit from previous batches, and that really allows the richness to come out here, amping up decadent sweetness and baking spice notes of ginger candy, cloves, cinnamon and allspice. There’s also a sweet nuttiness—a bit of peanut butter—and no shortage of rye spice either. All in all, this is hugely flavorful; perhaps even more purely flavorful than this year’s early A120 batch, although not quite as oak forward. Instead, the decadence factor has been amped up.
With water, it’s a bit nuttier on the nose, with notes of hazelnut coffee and roasted peanuts, meeting more brown sugar and cola spice. I expect that there’s probably a reviewer out there who will taste this and decide it’s too one-dimensionally sweet and brown sugar-centric, but I don’t know how you can deny it when it’s this delicious.Tasted side by side with the A120, they’re both wonderful bourbons, but the B520 is definitely the more decadent, desserty dram. It likely goes without saying, but both also linger on the palate for minutes after each sip.
It’s certainly safe to say that I ultimately prefer both the A120 and the B520 to the previous C919, which now seems particularly hot, prickly and tannic in comparison. If anything, it’s just more evidence that these Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases are only getting better. This is definitely one to sample.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Barrel proof bourbon
ABV: 63.6% (127.2 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $70 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.