By Father John Rayls
Heaven Hill Distillery is producing some of the finest of America’s whiskey. Elijah Craig 12 is the best bourbon around for under 30 bucks, and in my opinion Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was the best new whiskey last year. Their Pikesville Rye is a Top 3 contender for best rye on the market. What more can a distillery that owns the 2nd largest stash of aging bourbon in the world do?
A start would to bring back the much loved Elijah Craig 18 year old. Actually, they already did this for 2015, but it’s unclear if that the expression is back annually.
After winning a boatload of medals for this bourbon, they ran on some hard luck and decided their aging stock wasn’t measuring up. Master Distillers Craig Beam and Denny Potter took the 18 year off the market in 2012, bringing it back this past fall in 2015. Only 15,000 bottles were released, bottled at 90 proof (45% abv). The 18 year old is a single barrel bourbon, which will allows for some slight variations from barrel to barrel.
Mine was from barrel number 4218. Thinking about that makes me want to ask what were you doing 18 years ago?
This is simply a beautiful-looking bourbon, with a slightly darker appearance in the bottle than in the glass. It is a warm, calming, inviting shade of brown mixed with mostly orange and some slight red shading. However, hold it up to a light to see the beautiful yellow patterns appearing as the light bends through the glass and whiskey. The legs are very long and predict something very special.
The nose is not as powerful as I expected. It is a very pleasant journey through a Vermont maple forest at syrup harvesting/producing time. There is a base of sweet maple, vanilla and spice rising from the glass with some slight nuttiness. There isn’t any alcohol burn…just very enjoyable aromas that aren’t very difficult to distinguish. I wouldn’t say it’s subtle, but it’s not making a lot of noise either. It’s slow and steady and very inviting. I think I actually heard it calling my name…
The appearance of the legs didn’t lie. At the first sip, the mouth and tongue are coated immediately with a very soft, lingering goodness. The first sensation is in the back and top of the mouth. It quickly jumps to the front on the tongue before settling in at mid-mouth. All most all of the action happens here with some additional movement again to the front of the mouth on the sides of the tongue and even underneath for a very nice finish. It is a long pleasant finish that ends in a subtle, quiet manner. There are hints of honey, pepper, smokiness (charred oak), and slight vanilla. This bourbon is never over-powering. It is very smooth and easy to drink. It certainly is a complex bourbon and I would suggest drinking it neat at room temperature.
The only real downside to this fantastic bourbon is its price tag. You will find it retailing at $120, if there is enough to go around. Remember the demand is high and prices may vary. Although this bourbon is significantly above my price range, I can’t argue with the unbelievable taste and sheer enjoyment of consuming it, which has raised the bar on my “Whiskey Experience.”