By Randall H. Borkus
Elijah Craig-maker Heaven Hill boasts that it holds the world’s second largest inventory of Bourbon and possibly the most “extra-aged” barrels of any competing distillery. With that stock in mind, if there is one thing Heaven Hill has perfected, it is their ability to cherry-pick exceptional single barrel whiskeys to offer a Whiskey craving public. An example is this 23 Year Old Single Barrel, which will not disappoint lovers of ultra-mature whiskey, although admittedly that doesn’t include everyone.
In keeping with Elijah Craig Single Barrels, there is a space on the back label where the specific barrel number and “barreled on” date will be hand written. My 750ml bottle is #172 and was barreled on 6/19/90, bottled at 90 proof (45% ABV) strength. The mash bill is 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley.
If you’re a fan of Elijah Craig extra-aged collection (such as the 18 Year Old and the 21 Year Old) then you will really enjoy this 23 Year Old expression, topped off with extra wood spice and dryness. The tasting notes continue to mature over the younger versions, and if you like extra heavy oak and dry finishes you are going to love this expression as one of the best options. The whiskey is woody and bold, even compared to most other Elijah Craig expressions, yet it still manages to maintain that flavorful, smooth, wood spice adventure.
The juice is an intense dark amber color in the glass. The nose jumps up my nostrils with a weighty astringent, heavy oak spice and tons more freshly cut wood with overtones of baked apple pie, raisins and cinnamon.
On the first sip, the juice is bold with oak spice sucks the moisture right out of your mouth, not viciously, but in a quaint and gentleman-like fashion. The mouth feel is warm with hints of caramel, butterscotch and vanilla mingled with more oak sawdust and it feels syrupy as it leaves my palate. The juice makes my palate dance with caramel-vanilla candy sweetness that materializes through the oak spice of this extra mature juice. This flavor continues to bloom into a slightly dry, raisin-sweet finish that carries a serious oak spice kicker. I found a lingering sweetness hidden in the oak spice finish that embraces my tongue and lasts for 3 to 5 minutes.
I tend to drink my gems like this whiskey slowly so I have had this bottle since late 2014 and the juice just continues to develop and mature with time, particularly with the vanilla and cinnamon aspects. When I add a few drops of water to this whiskey, the nose immediately reveals a strong vanilla-caramel surprise, and I prefer it that way.
The great news is that this is an annual release most years so it is possible to find this at your local whiskey shop. The challenge will be are you willing to pay $300 to $450 a bottle retail.