Updated December 15, 2017
With Elijah Craig (EC) Barrel Proof’s 2017 releases, The Whiskey Reviewer will be trying something a little different. Previously we have given all reviews a separate and distinct write up, even if it is part of a continuing series of regular releases. However, because the new identification for EC Barrel Proof is a short alphanumeric code, it is a good test case for putting all the releases in a given year into one basket. So, on this one article you will find all our reviews of 2017’s EC Barrel Proof.
By Richard Thomas
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has undergone a surprising degree of evolution since it’s initial release in 2013. Back then it was the unfiltered, cask strength cousin of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, released in limited quantities two to four times a year. Then Elijah Craig 12 was discontinued roughly a year ago, making the Barrel Proof expression the last resort for that expressions diehard fans.
Now, with the first batch of the year, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is moving in the direction already taken by Booker’s. Although not as romantic as the folksy branding that has accompanied Booker’s in recent times (“Bluegill Creek” and “Booker’s Bluegrass” and such), each EC Barrel Proof release will now be tagged with a code denoting which batch it was from.
The first one is A117, which means it was the first of the year (“A”) on January 2017 (“117”). The second is B517, as in the second release from May 2017, and so on.
A117 (Rating: B+)
In the glass, this 127 proof (63.5% ABV) bourbon is a brown-leaning, dark amber. The swish puts a good coat on the glass, but one that streams heavy legs.
I found that this whiskey stubbornly refused to open up as is, even with plenty of breathing time. Since it was over 120 proof, and that usually demands some water anyway, I put in a healthy splash to get things moving. Sure enough, that cracked it, so this is definitely an add-water cask strength whiskey.
That done, the nose is strong on the wood, but I found it more cedar and pine than oak. That said, plenty of the sweet side of the oak is there, thick with vanilla and caramel, with a little wood spice-driven cinnamon and dryness. Even before the water was put in, the vapor wasn’t actually all that hot, and the character of the scent is fundamentally heavy and weighty. It’s almost as if it’s so thick that it traps the alcohol and keeps it from rising up to your nose.
The flavor here follows in that same vein. It’s not big, out-sized and ballsy the way so many cask strength American whiskeys tend to be. Instead, it’s strength is in it’s weight, like an incredibly thick, salt-less caramel candy. The oak is a bit more prevalent here, laying on heavy with the brown sugar and the vanilla, but also with that drier, oak-driven spiciness. It’s a little hot, but with the water not unduly so. The finish is straightforward enough, leaving a lingering coat of vanilla and plenty of easy warmth.
B517 (Rating: B+)
This batch came out at a slightly lower 124.2 proof (62.1% ABV), and that loss of about a point and a half of alcohol (surprisingly) shows itself straight away in the glass. It still drops plenty of legs, but these were thinner and came in tightly packed bundles. It’s lighter in terms of color, presenting a more coppery amber than January’s brownish release.
The scent packs ample vanilla, but with a more moderate presence of wood than I expected, and that in the vein of damp oak. That leaves much more room for a blend of candy corn sweetness and rye spice to come to the fore, making the nose on this batch noticeably sweeter.
On the palate, it’s light on the tongue. The whiskey is surprisingly restrained, given that it’s over 60% alcohol, but at the same time it’s not one that absolutely requires a little water to dial it down. I found it drinkable as is. The finish is also on the light side, and is where the woodiness really kicks in, going down a good bit oaky and a little bit spicy.
What you have here is a largely sweeter, definitely lighter twist on Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
C1217 (Rating: B+)
This was the strongest of the trio from this year, at 131 proof. It has a nice, middling amber look to it, and the coat of the glass streams thick, hefty legs.
Being well over 60% ABV, this one definitely needed water. There was no question about that from the start, and not just a few drops either, so I went for a splash of water.
I found the nose earthy, woody and quite carmelized. On the palate it was much sweeter than the scent suggested, however, sitting firmly in the traditional bourbon flavor profile of candy corn and vanilla balanced with spices and a bit of oakiness. It was so much in the vein of the classic, middle aged and cask strength bourbon that I have to say it was strikingly reminiscent of my memory of the discontinued Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, and certainly the most like that much beloved expression from this year’s releases.
Although the official price is $60, expect to pay $65 a bottle for Elijah Craig Barrel Proof in 2017, and don’t be surprised if you see it marked up to $75 and perhaps even higher.