Elijah Craig 12 Versus Elijah Craig NAS


Many Are Saddened And Angered, But How Does The New Elijah Craig Measure Up?

By Father John Rayls

Elijah Craigh 12 YO

Poor Elijah. We knew him well.
(Credit: Richard Thomas)

Poor Elijah Craig 12. Alas, I knew him well.

Heaven Hill Distillery has been at the very top of my list of favorite producers ever since I first discovered Elijah Craig 12 Year Old many years ago. I became an unpaid and unofficial evangelist for that delicious beverage to all of my friends, and anyone else I could get to listen to my bourbon sermon. Not only was it loaded with flavor, but it was actually very affordable, priced well below any competition and so securing a permanent place as my all time “Best Bang for the Buck” whiskey list.

I am sad at the loss of my good friend, and very disappointed. Although you can still find some elusive bottles on the shelves (now $37.00 in my locale) its demise is very near at hand. Heaven Hill hopes that its new Elijah Craig Small Batch, as it is officially known and with no age statement (NAS), will fill this void.  I’m slightly cynical by nature, but time will tell. Elijah Craig NAS has some very big shoes to fill.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

This first appeared as the new face of
Elijah Craig 12 Year Old…
(Credit: John Rayls)

The Number 12 Controversy
Of course, that I and many others would be saddened or even upset by the loss of Elijah Craig was inevitable, but the way the transition was handled left many people enraged. When Heaven Hill changed the front label, removing the number “12,” consumers suspected the writing was on the wall, that a move to NAS was in the wind. Journalists, bloggers and enthusiasts wanted answers from the distillery, and the official answer was the label change had nothing to do with a change to Elijah Craig’s age statement.

Yet after all of the denials and reassurances, Heaven Hill announced the replacement of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old with Elijah Craig Small Batch NAS only seven months later. Some people felt betrayed and lied to. The explanation that the change was solely in response to the pressure on the aged barrels due to demand smacked of convenience. Of course, there was and is pressure due to the current and spectacular popularity of bourbon, but that was just as true in June 2015 as it was in January 2016.

In response, Heaven Hill maintains the label change was not intended to mislead, and the product change was strictly in response to supply. “We expanded production and aging capacity almost eight years ago,” said Josh Hafer, Communications Manager at Heaven Hill. “And, yet, that capacity increase and subsequent expansions have done little keep pace with the growth of Elijah Craig.”

As for the label switch, Hafer said, “From the outset the label change was made to emphasize ‘Small Batch.’ Age change was not a consideration. For years, we have worked to align Elijah Craig as a ‘Small Batch’ Bourbon, even referred to it as a ‘Small Batch before the term even existed’ since the early ’90s.”

Elijah Craig: 12 Year Old vs. Small Batch
In keeping with the original, Elijah Craig Small Batch is 94 proof, and they look very nearly identical in the bottle. In the glass the slight color differences come out, with the 12 being just slightly darker.

Elijah Craig New Back Label

… but with this new back label,
it became Elijah Craig NAS.
Hence, the controversy.
(Credit: John Rayls)

The nose is a little easier to distinguish on the 12, while there is some slight alcohol burn to aromas of the NAS. Both lean to the thin side, but the 12 has a slightly greater viscosity.

Both are flavorful, but the 12 gives a little more depth to the tasting experience. The NAS drinks a little hotter than the 12, and both have a very nice long finish.  If you aren’t already a regular drinker of Elijah Craig 12, I think you’ll enjoy the NAS a lot., and casual consumers will jump on the NAS bandwagon with ease. *

Regardless of the business choices behind it, the only thing that truly matters to me is the bourbon itself. As for this particular bourbon, the jury is still out for me. Heaven Hill hit a game winning, bases loaded home run with Elijah Craig 12, and now that this classic expression has reached its end, they deserve a major standing ovation on a job well done for this accomplishment.

FX recently concluded that six year run of pure, whiskey-soaked joy called Justified. They could have kept on going with that show, but the people behind it decided to bring things to a close gracefully. I’m still filling the hole left by the departure of Marshal Raylan Givens, but life moves on. I will find other programs to watch, just as I will find other whiskeys to enjoy. It may take me some time to grieve, just a little, before moving on and embracing the Small Batch NAS on its own.


* A full, stand-alone review of the new Elijah Craig Small Batch will appear next week.

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  1. I didn’t think Heaven Hill’s promise was permanent, but 7 months? I’m sorry, but there is no way a supply crisis just blew up on them during that time. They knew what they were doing all along.

    If they had just released the NAS last summer, straight out, it would have been sad, but basically OK.

    What makes me the most angry are all these guys from Whisky Advocate (Chuck Cowdery, Fred Minnick, Sam Komlenic) telling me I should be HAPPY about someone trying to pull a fast one on me. Even worse is telling me I’m naive because I didn’t just figure they were full of BS all along.

    Basically, according to them if you’re angry about this you are a naive $@%& no matter how the ball bounces, so you should just shut up!

    • I’m pretty sure none of us ever told anyone to be happy about this change…I know I didn’t anyway.

      I’m sorry to see the 12 year age statement disappear, but as soon as the 12 moved to the back label I knew, for sure, that it would be disappearing soon. At that point I basically began to ignore what Heaven Hill was saying. I wish they had been more up front about the change too, but PR is PR and they did what they felt was necessary under the circumstances.

      I know people at Heaven Hill, and they’re good folks that continue, more than any other American distiller, to make tasty, affordable whiskey of all sorts available to us every day. I’m confident that they’ll continue to do so in the future.

      The main difference in our perspective is that I never took this personally. It wasn’t about me, and it still isn’t. I can move on, satisfied that I have a few bottles of the 12 year for backup.

      This is far from the first brand that has dropped an age statement and been less than candid about the move. And so it goes.

    • With all due respect, the only thing I see or saw everywhere but HERE about this business was a whitewash.

    • Sam is right in saying this isn’t about him, but only part right in saying it’s about Heaven Hill. It’s also about US, the customers. As Sku said, it’s bad business to lie to your customers.

  2. They can say what they want. Why should I buy it?

  3. Watch. They will slowly change what goes in. In three or four years, this stuff will slide into the gutter.

  4. Well, it’s over and done. No sense in crying over the spilt milk.

  5. It seems to me that some people are too cozy with Heaven Hill, too cynical, or both.

  6. Need to try need coupons and sample,help me to indulge in Elijah

  7. A saying about politics and journalism comes to mind. “If someone isn’t mad at you, you aren’t doing your job.” Something like that.

    I think they forgot that, from Whisky Advocate to Whiskycast to Red, White, and Bourbon.

  8. The thing these other writers either deny or are trying hard not to see is this: they are implying “we always knew they were lying to us.” Well, you didn’t say that at the time, and you are doing your best not to directly say it, even now. It’s pretty obvious those guys are covering for Heaven Hill.

    It’s obvious that if you change a popular product, people will complain. The best way to handle that is to just do it, and get past the complaining as fast as you can. Trying to pull something sneaky on your customers, whether you are selling bourbon or selling articles, makes some or most of them go looking for a new thing to buy. I know I would never play these games with my customers.

  9. I just sampled 50 ml of Elijah Craig NAS. This is a fine dram of bourbon whiskey. In my view trashing the NAS product before tasting makes little sense.

    • Agreed. Being disappointed about losing EC12 or angry over how it was handled is a separate issue from the merits of EC NAS.

  10. There are so many better bourbons available and at a better price points.

  11. The fact is, the NAS isn’t as good as the 12-year, it is lighter and thinner, so now the brand isn’t really as much of a bargain anymore. I would have been willing to pay more for the 12-year old than to keep paying the same for an inferior product. Heaven Hill has killed one of the great bourbons. And worse, it was sneaky and misleading about it. We Americans are far too forgiving of business ruthlessness.

  12. So sad, I really endorsed the 12 year! Great bourbon whiskey for the price! Now, it’seems harsh and no longer appealing to my husband and myself. Guess we are on a quest for a new sipping whiskey!

  13. As a big fan of Elijah Craig 12 year old bourbon, I too am sadden by the change. I tried my first EC NAS a year ago and then did something I would never do with EC 12, I had to mix it to finish the bottle.

    I think that the uproar by consumers of fine bourbon is justified and can serve as a lesson to other makers. Rather than destroying a quality sipping whiskey because of high demand, reduce demand buy raising the price and maintain the quality flagship product for those willing pay for it. A fine bourbon like EC 12 year old doesn’t come down the pike every day and must be preserved.

  14. Tried the NAS after having been a fan of the 12 year for many years. There is a difference, and I do not like it. NAS is dull and boring, and made to be had clean. 12 year you could drink both ways, but pour NAS over ice and you’ve destroyed it. IMO.

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