How Heaven Hill Lost My Trust

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By Debbie Shocair

Elijah Craig Small Batch

The new front label stays…
(Credit: John Rayls)

The whiskey news is currently packed with carefully considered pining for Elijah Craig 12, now replaced by an NAS bourbon. While I have a certain fascination with the points being discussed, I should make it clear that my first interest lies with what is actually inside the bottle.

If a company is producing really fine whiskey, and that product meets the legal regulations and requirements for whatever style or variety of whiskey for what is claimed to be inside the bottle, then I likely will have few issues with the numbers on the side of the bottle regarding age. Replacing the “12 Years Old” on the label with “Small Batch” matters less to me with the quality of the contents and how well that matches to another set of numbers on the bottles, the price tag.

That having been said, I also place great consideration the character of the company. Templeton Rye, for example, certainly has had their share of troubling legal and reputation issues regarding misdirection in their labeling and marketing. However, there was never ambiguity in the answers they gave in response when the question was posed to them directly: “is your whiskey sourced?”

Whiskey, and Bourbon in particular, has traditionally been associated with the American South and Southern Gentlemen in particular (note this is being written by a female whiskey lover, so don’t even think of accusing me of a sexist statement here), and perhaps also with the lifestyle such traditions bring to mind. Kin to those traditions would be a particular set of manners, and while I may be stretching a bit to make my point, the very idea that Heaven Hill, distillers of Elijah Craig,  would deny with one hand what the other hand is doing seems to smack of dishonesty, subterfuge, and perhaps an outright lie.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

… but after only seven months,
this back label is gone
(Credit: John Rayls)

The transition to an NAS Elijah Craig began last summer, when the front label was changed to read “Small Batch,” and the age statement was moved to a less prominent spot on the back. Heaven Hill strongly denied the label change heralded abandonment of the age statement, but only seven months later the change was made. The question then becomes if you believe they really didn’t know in Summer 2015 that they might take Elijah Craig NAS in Winter 2016. If the change was even under discussion during that time, Heaven Hill’s denials become disingenuous.

By contrast, Maker’s Mark was clear about their intentions when they announced their plans to lower proof strength, and in being honest, got an honest outcry from their large pool of consumers. When Basil Hayden dropped it’s age statement, Beam just did it, with no prevarication. While I have not always agreed with the actions of some distillers, bottlers, or marketers, I have noted that there is still a particular degree of integrity among most whiskey-makers.

Once again, I really don’t mind if, for whatever reason a company decides, they choose to go NAS. I am all for businesses making money, and if such an action helps a company meet goals, then so be it. As previously stated, I really care more about what’s in the bottle, and there are scores of talented master distillers and master blenders working hard to please me in that regard.

Yet I do care about character. I do care about trust, even when it comes to corporations, and when Heaven Hill denies, perhaps hoping no one will notice later, what they apparently were planning all along… well, I can say it doesn’t make me want to rush out and try, sample, review or mention what may actually turn out to be a very nice product. Does that seem to go against their goal of increasing sales?

Make good whiskey. Be up front with me. I don’t ask for much.

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14 comments

  1. I’m glad SOMEONE is saying it.

    • You said it. I lost a lot of respect for a lot of whiskey blogs over this.

      As for Heaven Hill, the NAS switch was handled poorly. That sucks, but companies sometimes do things like that in chasing the bucks in my wallet. What’s most shocking is the way so many “I fight for truth and justice in whiskey” blogs are just taking a dive on it.

  2. I absolutely agree with your statements about, “tell me the truth, and let me decide”. It’s too bad that that’s getting lost, by labels using words like, “produced”. Though I will disagree on Templeton. Asked a direct a question, they didn’t lie…but up until that point, they pretty much had been pulling the old wool over the consumers’ eyes.

  3. Elijah Craig and Knob Creek are my two staple bourbons, so one of them is always on my shelf. The Craig switch is sad. When they said no, that new label has nothing to do with going NAS, I thought it we had at least a year before it came up again. So I’m sad and mad.

  4. For shame!

    And apparently I need to write more for my comment to be valid.

  5. Jesus Christ, y’all take yourselves seriously.

  6. Oh my! An American company being misleading. WAS IT INTENTIONAL OR NOT? This is irrelevant because Heaven Hill is run by humans whom I believe care about their craft. I think all of you should do the rash thing here and stop buying Heaven Hill products on the bases of their immorale behavior. Give me a break!

    It is funny that we we don’t even hold our owe government to these standards. They lie and mislead and the results have more effect on you directly. Yet we seem to except that. CRAZY!

    Until I taste the difference or feel it in my pocket, E. Craig will be on my shelf alongside Rittenhouse Rye, Bernhiem 7yr wheat, and other greats of Heaven Hill.

    • Let me guess: you applauded as Chuck Cowdery trashed Michter’s for years, while Willett was doing even worse all the while and he wasn’t saying a word about them?

      And the word is “accept,” not “except.”

      If you aren’t at least annoyed because someone deliberately tries to trick you, you are a pussy-wimp. The context doesn’t matter.

    • With that product list, “Tweaks” reads like a paid PR flak. I certainly hope she is. It would be silly to be that way for free.

    • No, Carl, I’m not annoyed I guess that makes me a pussy-wimp. Heaven Hill didn’t trick me directly. If they tricked you directly then you have the right to be annoyed.

      Yes, “accept” would be correct. Thank you for the correction. Being dyslexic leads to a lifetime struggle with spelling and grammatically correct wording.

      Gladfly, what products should I list when referring to Heaven Hill? I didn’t think all of them would have been appropriate. Why do you assume that I am a woman? I think he/she is politically correct when not knowing. Shame, shame.

      “…be silly to be that way for free.” !?! I’m not sure what your point is exactly. Perhaps you can elaborate on the subject matter.

    • Tweaks — my apologies if you took that as a slight. It wasn’t.

      If EC NAS is a good whiskey for the price, there is no reason not to drink it. That said, I thought we had quite a lot longer before we lost EC 12 YO, and because they said so. There are a lot of people out there saying it’s OK they lied to us because we expected to be lied to. WTF?

  7. Sorry Carl…I ment Andrew. Dang it!

  8. Best Heaven Hill product is Evan Williams Bottled in Bond.

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