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 “B522,” which simply means the following. “B” means this is the second of three releases for 2022, to be followed by “C” and next year’s “A.” The “5” means that this is a May release. And the “22” just stands for 2022. The next release will likely be C922, assuming the usual schedule holds.
As for this particular release, its relatively low strength of 60.5% ABV (121 proof) continues a trend that has been happening for the last several 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. Bourbon proof hounds, though, are probably wondering when the 130 and 140 proof entries will return. As always, this cask strength bourbon bears a 12-year age statement.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting. In the glass, this one immediately stands out to me—its rich mahogany color looks like it could be a shade or two darker than some of the other ECBP releases I’ve seen recently, hopefully portending a bourbon that has deeply interacted with the barrel.
On the nose, this one is quite rich and effusive, with big impression of caramel, honey roasted peanuts, glazed donuts, citrus, vanilla frosting/Werthers originals, clove spice and seasoned oak. This smells big, bold and full of character, though possible on the more desserty and decadent side. To me, it’s a more explosive nose than I noted on the A122 from earlier this year. I’ve seen that release described online as a “candy bomb,” but in all honesty I found it a pretty standard, down-the-middle offering for Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. B522, on the other hand, is definitely leaping out of the glass at me more.
On the palate, this is viscous and sweet up front, with heavy spice at the same time. Huge caramel and toffee impressions are met by simultaneous big oak, vanilla and a panoply of baking spice notes. Simultaneously, I’m getting chocolate orange candies, with darker fruit impressions beginning to emerge over time, along with glazed, roasted nuts. Classic Heaven Hill notes, there. There’s some oaky dryness and tannin on the back half of the sip, but I think this easily still falls in favor of sweetness overall, a very rich and decadent expression of ECBP. In particular, the caramel and toffee impressions here are very big, and people who love those notes in bourbon would do well to seek this one out. Certainly, this is one of the boldest ECBP palates I’ve tasted for a “mere” 120 proof—it hits as hard as some of the 130-plus expressions, which is not a bad thing.
All in all, this is an ECBP release that is hugely flavorful and leaning toward sweetness. It will definitely be a pleasure to revisit.
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.