I’m a big fan of the Evan Williams bourbon. It’s probably the best bang for your bourbon-buying-dollar and well worth the investment. The higher end version coming out of that distillery is the Elijah Craig line, so I decided to grab a bottle and see if it lived up to it’s more affordable sibling.
The eponymous Elijah Craig was a Baptist preacher living in Kentucky between 1738 and 1808. Sometime around 1789, he founded a distillery and started doing things a little differently. According to some accounts, Elijah was the first person to try out what has since become the standard process for the production of bourbon: putting a corn-based distillate in charred oak barrels.
Around two hundred years later, in 1986, the Heaven Hill company would start producing a line of bourbon from their distillery named in his honor.
Established in 1935, shortly after the end of prohibition, Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery was founded by a group of investors in Bardstown, Kentucky. They were gambling on the idea that alcohol production would be a booming business and invested heavily in being one of the first companies to stand up and service that market. One of those investors was well known distiller Joseph L. Beam, first cousin to Jim Beam, and would become the first master distiller of the facility.
As the years went on, the Shapira family bought out all of the other investors to become the sole owner of the business and changed the name to “Heaven Hill Distillery.” Despite being bought out, the descendants of Joseph Beam remain the master distillers of the facility to this day.
Their primary distilling facility burned down in 1996, destroying 90,000 barrels of whiskey and lighting the creek that feeds the distillery on fire for nearly two miles downstream. The business survived and they purchased a new distillery in Bernheim from Diageo in 1999 where production now takes place, but all aging still takes place at the original Bardstown facility.
The 1935 bet has paid off — big time. Heaven Hill Distillery is currently the biggest family owned distillery in the United States and the second largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. Their flagship brands include Deep Eddy vodka and Elijah Craig, and their facility hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
Elijah Craig starts as a combination of 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley that is fermented and cooked (which differs from the Evan Williams recipe slightly by adding a touch more corn). From there the mash is distilled, and aged in charred oak barrels just like the original Elijah Craig did all those many years ago.
When the Elijah Craig line first came out, the whiskey came with an age statement that seems to have disappeared sometime around 2016 as demand was outstripping supply. These days, the whiskey still comes without an age statement but maintains its “small batch” appellation.
The bottle is kind of nifty, and I like it.
Overall the design is pretty standard, a wide and oval shaped bottle that fits well on a shelf and does a fantastic job showing off the amazingly colored whiskey inside. The branding is done on a transparent background to make sure that the whiskey is the star of the show, as it should be.
An interesting design choice, though, is the lip of the bottle and the cork stopper.
The lip is wide and flat, which seems to encourage a consistent pour. The bottle is topped with a wooden and cork stopper, where the wood cap is wide and flat — and perfectly aligned with that wide and flat lip. It all makes for a nice, neat appearance and a good pour. Overall it’s a good package.
The liquid is a beautiful dark amber color, almost like a light maple syrup. It’s warm and inviting, just like the aroma. On the nose, I get vanilla and caramel notes with a touch of toffee, but there’s also some nutty aromas that make the spirit really pop. I think I get some nutmeg and cinnamon rolled into this thing as well.
That aroma doesn’t really carry over into the taste though, which is kind of disappointing. I primarily get vanilla with a good heavy helping of oak mixed in, almost like licking an oak plank that’s had some vanilla extract spilled on it. It’s not bad… it’s just a but underwhelming for the promise of that aroma.
Once the flavor dissipates, there’s a bit of a peppery finish that sneaks in. I’d say that there’s a bit of bitterness in the flavor, which might be due to this having a higher alcohol content than other similar whiskies, but it’s not too bad.
The ice in this drink really does make it better. That bitterness that I mentioned is gone for starters, and the flavor has been greatly improved.
Instead of the oak flavor being in the driver’s seat, it’s more of a shared responsibility. The vanilla is still there but now the caramel sweetness has started to make a comeback, balancing out the oak flavors.
On the finish, there’s still a touch of a peppery spice — albeit, not as prominent as it used to be.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I’m surprised that this is as good as it is. I didn’t think that there was enough sweetness to properly balance things out, but even though the caramel has been relegated into playing second fiddle, it’s still prominent enough to get the job done.
Overall, it’s a well balanced drink. The orange bitters counteract the deeper flavors and everything comes together fairly well.
The hallmark of a good mule is when the spirit balances out the bitterness of the ginger beer and there’s enough of the underlying character coming through to make it interesting. This hits all the requirements, but not much more.
It balances out the drink just enough. The aforementioned peppery spice comes through enough to be noticeable but no more than that. It’s good, but it’s not the best I’ve ever seen.
It’s good, but judged even against some of Heaven Hill’s other offerings it falls short of the mark. I’d very much prefer a bottle of Evan Williams over this offering, personally.
Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon
Owner: Heaven Hill
Production: Bardstown, KY
Grain bill: 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 47% ABV
Price: $26.99/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
It may bear the name of the founder of bourbon but it doesn’t do him justice.