Many Are Saddened And Angered, But How Does The New Elijah Craig Measure Up?
By Father John Rayls
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.
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.
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.