By Father John Rayls
Starting in late January, Heaven Hill began shipping Elijah Craig Small Batch, the new NAS version. This bourbon is described as an 8 to 12 year old bourbon, and will replace the 12 year old original. Technically, it is now Elijah Craig 8 Year Old.
According to the label on the back of the bottle, Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon “is considered one of the world’s greatest Bourbons.” Those are big words for any bourbon to live up to. And yet, the Elijah Craig 12 Year Old came very close to doing so in the minds of many of its long term fans.
The no age statement (NAS) version was ostensibly introduced because Heaven Hill has experienced double-digit growth, putting pressure on the stocks of older barrels. It would appear that the Elijah Craig brand is somewhat a victim of its own success, so the question becomes whether the Elijah Craig NAS bourbon can continue this level of achievement and consumer satisfaction.
This is a small batch bourbon blended from 100 or less hand selected barrels from the Heaven Hill Distillery warehouses, although some reports say that the batch size has risen to 200. Like the original, Elijah Craig Small Batch is bottled at 94 proof (47% abv).
The Elijah Craig NAS looks almost exactly like the 12 year bourbon in the bottle. Of course, it’s the same sturdy bottle with the same labeling color and print and the same over-sized cork. The bourbon is a dark brown with a reddish tint. It is a beautiful looking bourbon. The legs are long and thin.
The nose is subtle with the traditional notes of vanilla and caramel as its base. Wafting across the top are soft aromas of honey and light oak.
However delicious and inviting the aromas, the only question that really matters to large numbers of regular consumers involves the taste experience. With the first sip you get a mild coating of the mouth and tongue. The first action is at the back of the mouth which quickly moves to mid-mouth and then it just sits down. It’s a medium to long finish that stays at mid-mouth.
Regular Elijah Craig drinkers will notice it drinks a little hotter than the 12, but this is not a “hot” whiskey experience. The flavors are nicely balanced with honey, caramel, and an oaky-vanilla. It has a very pleasant sweetness to it that sets you up for a very nice slightly spicy finish that lingers on.
My advice is don’t rush the next sip. Simply enjoy the lingering flavors. I wouldn’t describe it as multiple waves, but more of a “parking” experience. It just stops at mid-tongue and sits there.
Elijah Craig NAS is a very good bourbon, and worthy of your hard-earned cash. Not as good as Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, perhaps, but in the same ballpark. For the long term Elijah Craig 12 consumer, from one devotee to another I say let it go and welcome to a brave new world. If you’ve never tried Elijah Craig, you will find this a very pleasant journey.
Elijah Craig Small Batch is priced at approximately $30 a bottle, plus or minus with local variations. Only time will tell if this NAS version will fill out the slot Elijah Craig 12 occupied as the best of the low cost bourbons on the market, but I believe it just might pull it off.