Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey / by Jason Hambrey

12 Years; Charred Virgin Oak
75% Corn; 13% Rye; 12% Barley
Distiller Heaven Hill (Bardstown, Kentucky)

This whiskey is distilled at Heaven Hill, named after Rev. Elijah Craig who, according to Heaven Hill, became the first to age his whiskey in charred oak barrels. A lot of the whiskies at Heaven Hill are frankly good value, and the whiskies are often well aged – in an age where whiskey is booming so much that everyone is pulling out younger product because of demand. Also, much of the product comes at quite reasonably price too. Part of the reason they do this is because they produce so much other product (vodka, tequila, cream liquers, rums….), so they don’t need their whiskey to make all their money.

It goes into the barrel at 62.5% before aging. This says that it is a true “small batch” bourbon, which is a bit strange given the availability of the bourbon – it isn’t that “small” (of course many substantial producers do this). However, I believe about 40-50 barrels go into a batch, so they’re not dumping everything into the batch. But that’s still over 6000 bottles per batch assuming 5% loss of product through evaporation per year….

Review (2015)

  • Batch: N/A

  • Bottling Code" N/A

  • Bottling Date: 2013

Nose: For a 12 year old bourbon, I expected more oak, especially with the dark color of the product. A lot of corn comes through the nose, along with hints of rye, coconut, and buttery vanilla. There are a few light fruits of a berry character, along with plums, apricot, cherry, some oak spiciness, and some of the earthy and nutty notes of pumpkin. The actual smell of the oak is present, but it certainly doesn’t dominate – and it carries a bit of a rich, earthy feel which remind me of the older El Dorado rums, if you’ve ever tasted those. Also, it still has a nice creaminess and elegance to it.

Taste: A lot of oak on the palate compared to the nose. Light, seemingly fresh dried and charred oak, brown sugar, stewed plums, and a bit of earthiness which I find a bit characteristic of Heaven Hill – and love. It has a nice spicy thread to it as well which I quite enjoy – and there’s a nice cinnamon bite to it at the end which is quite fantastic.

Finish: Some tobacco, oak, cherries, oaky and mossy earthiness, a bit of orange, and even a few herbal influences and some yeast. It’s quite interesting because of the mix of the creaminess, oak, fruit, and spice – especially because the creamy element is something I notice more on the finish than anywhere else. The tingly spice element is quite nice – and I find cloves are beautifully present. The feel and volume is quite nice…there’s a bit of bitterness which detracts a bit, unfortunately.

I really like the way that oak does its work at Heaven Hill. It gives what I find to be really nice earthy undertones in its oaky influence, and I find these very enjoyable. It’s almost mystical how location affects aging – you could put the same barrel of whisky at Heaven Hill, and another at Buffalo Trace – and you’d get very different whiskies. Having visited many of the distilleries in Kentucky twice, it’s also interesting to have the smells and tastes of the whiskies actually remind you of the warehouses themselves that you visited. This is very good value and I highly recommend.

Highly Recommended (48% of all whiskies I’ve reviewed to date get this recommendation or higher).

Value: High (based on $48)