By Father John Rayls
Updated June 1, 2015
Being an Episcopal Priest, I had a natural interest in any whiskey named after a Baptist minister, especially when that minister is often credited with discovering bourbon and the beauty of aging whiskey in charred oak barrels. I simply enjoy the idea of a minister making good whiskey to help pay for his church operations. Somehow it just seems appropriate.
Elijah Craig Small Batch 12 Year is a good example of a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, bottled at 94 proof. I wouldn’t get too hung up on Elijah being the inventor of bourbon, even though the marketing people at Heaven Hill love to beat that drum. Speaking of marketing, Elijah Craig is a true small batch, and they have used that terminology to describe Craig bourbon since 1986, long before the rest of the industry picked it up.
Heaven Hill Distilleries, who create both Elijah Craig and Evan Williams, are the holders of the world’s second largest stash of aging bourbon found anywhere on the planet. They also are the largest family-owned and -operated producer of spirits in America. The Master Distillers carry the right name and the right pedigree. They are sixth and seventh generation Beam’s with all the experience and knowledge that family name brings to the still.
Craig started his commercial distilling around 1789, but Heaven Hill didn’t start their work until around 1934, after Prohibition ended. However, they have continued to garner praise and admiration for their excellent whiskey, building on the legacy of Elijah’s name.
We’re sometimes led to believe that Elijah Craig accidentally discovered the charred oak barrel aging process when he refused to buy new barrels after his were charred in an accidental fire. We have this process to thank for the reddish-orange appearance and the slightly smoky aroma, as well as the ever present nose of sweet vanilla and caramel, both of which are amply present in Craig’s namesake bourbon.
Take time to enjoy this beautiful aroma and don’t rush the experience. On the palate, it has a slightly oily feel to it and the taste of caramel, oak, late arriving rye and spices linger long on the tongue. At 94 proof, the alcohol does not overpower the beautiful flavors. This is an every day whiskey.
Addendum By Richard Thomas
I wouldn’t go quite so far as to call Elijah Craig the original small batch, as its producers do, since Maker’s Mark was doing small batch production decades before. But the bourbon is certainly part of the early, 1980s-era class of premium bourbons that started American whiskey as we know it today. In it’s own way “EC12” is a classic, and it tastes it too.
The nose packs vanilla, caramel and corn sweetness enhanced by a zesty citrus note. The flavor follows a similar vein, combining the sweet vanilla, corn and citrus flavors with a tinge of spice and cedar. The moderate, friendly and lingering finish conclude a package that makes it an approachable, pleasurable sipper of a bourbon.
This whiskey is economical enough, at $30 to $35 per 750ml, to enjoy it regularly. Heaven Hill offers a 1.75ml bottle as well. In the UK and Europe, bourbon-lovers should expect to pay about the same numbers (32 or 33), but in pounds and euros instead.