By Randall H. Borkus
Heaven Hill Distilleries is proud of being the nation’s largest independent, family-owned and operated spirits producer and marketer. They also love their claim to holding the world’s second largest inventory of Bourbon and possibly the most “extra-aged” barrels of any distillery.
The latter has led to the introduction of expressions like Elijah Craig 21 Year Old. This limited edition, ultra-aged Single Barrel was only (officially) available at the gift shop in the Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Kentucky back in the day.
My 750ml bottle was barreled on 4/20/1990 and numbered #4031. It is 90 proof (45% ABV) strength and an excellent Kentucky juice. For loyal Elijah Craig followers this is a must-have bottle, if you can find one, because the Bourbon has just gotten better with time.
The color is an inviting deep amber, almost dark brown, in the glass. The nose jumps up my nostrils with a slight bit of astringency, and then heavy oak wood spice with overtones of baked apples and cinnamon.
On the first sip, the juice is slightly hot, but from the oak spice and not the alcohol. The mouthfeel continues warm with hints of butterscotch mingled with fresh sawdust and settles in a bit syrupy. On the palate, there is a sweetness that emerges through the spiciness of the wood. The flavor continues to blossom into a sweet Bourbon-candy finish with an oak spice kicker. There is also a burnt candy aspect that continues to emerge on a finish which holds firmly on my tongue yet not overwhelming in the least bit.
I have had this bottle for some time, and therefore can report the juice further developed and matured after being opened and receiving some exposure to the air. I found the cinnamon wood spice really developed after six plus months.
I also experimented with adding 4 to 5 drops of water to this whiskey, and the nose immediately startled me by transitioning into distinct hints of spicy vanilla, caramel and raisins. I couldn’t help but notice a huge opening and unlocking of the flavor profile by adding water. I really enjoyed sipping and inhaling the transformed, richly alluring fragrance. I even enjoyed sniffing the empty glass, relishing the afterglow of the whiskey residue finding lots of oak and hints of caramel and cinnamon.
Your biggest challenge will be finding this juice. Unfortunately Heaven Hill tells us that once the allocation was sold out no more will be available, ever. Sadly, you will need to trade or pay big time on the secondary market. I found bottles online in the $400 to $600 range. That isn’t cheap by any reasonable standard, but less than the open market pricing for Buffalo Trace Antique Collection whiskeys.