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Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Barrel Proof

Powerful deep rich darkness

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@NockReview by @Nock

21st Oct 2013


  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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Distribution of ratings for this: brand user

The brief history of my relationship with Elijah Craig. So my very first bottle of bourbon that I bought with my own money was George T. Stagg in 2005 after hearing it beat out Laphroaig 10 CS for best whisky in the world. Previously, I had tried Maker’s Mark, Jack Daniels and a few others without much interest. However, the ’05 Stagg was purchased because of this distinction and I loved it! It then sent me on a Bourbon journey. My first pick was a bottle of Elijah Craig 12yo based largely on the recommendation of Jim Murray and his 2005 Whisky Bible. Boy was I disappointed. My journey came to a grinding halt. In my memory the notes of lavender and perfume loom large. I remember having some friends help me finish it off at a bonfire as I hated it. I have never purchased from Elijah Craig again (and only bought bourbon for cocktails). However, in the last few years I have slowly been warming back up to Bourbon – mostly through the annual Stagg hunt.

So I saw this bottle on a shelf in Virginia sitting all alone. So I called @Victor about it. He said he already owned a bottle (or two) and didn’t seem all that interested. I went home and did some research on it only to discover that it is quite hard to get your hands on – especially at the list price of $40 (which it was). So two days later I went back and picked it up (turns out it was the last bottle in the state). For me this is an impulse buy. I typically like to create a comparison chart with different reviewers’ rankings. Then I compare price to general ranking vs. availability . . . it is a maddening process in which I find sick pleasure. This experience shows me that sometimes you can just pick up a bottle with your gut. My gut said buy it – so I did. I have consumed more then half the bottle in these two months. Soon I will decant this into a smaller bottle. I have tasted it “officially” with pen and paper against other bourbons on three occasions.

Nose: Deep dark brown sugar, leather, and molasses. This is deep and rich. It doesn’t nose like a 134 proof whisky! There is charcoal, leather, and rich spices. Amazing! Much more power then the Old Granddad 114 (which is only natural at 57%) but quite a bit less power then Stagg Jr. at 67.2%. Way more dark tones: oak, molasses, brown sugar, dark maple syrup then either. Dark bittersweet chocolate, old stewed apples baked in brown sugar, and fudge. Now I am picking up on the baked apples (Gala) which gives it a decent sour note. This has a very balanced nose for 67.1%!! There is sweetness . . . but it seems to be relaxing on the porch. This is the kind of bourbon you sip in the cool of the day under the shade of the front porch after working all day. Caramelized brown sugar and smoke from a charred oak log - that is it. Wait, now a hint of lavender in the far background. This is lovely.

Taste: Sweet then sour; feels like fire and brown sugar turning into lava. Wonderful pucker: brown sugar, maple (wood) charcoal. You simply can’t hold it in your mouth for long. The pucker draws out all the moisture from your mouth. Still lovely leather, and sea salt. With water way better. Might drive it up a whole point.

Finish: Huge mouth destroying fire. It hurts to breath! Huge wave of sweet brown sugar, maple syrup, molasses, and honey. Very sweet and intense. This is a huge bruiser . . . and it lasts for an age. You mouth is left with a very interesting (read odd) note of burnt wood, molasses, and lavender. This is a very dry and non-sweet finish. It is very long . . . I feel like I licked the inside of a barrel. The burning charcoal keeps going and going . . .

Balance, Complexity: Amazing complexity and balance on the nose – which is really where this guy shines. I will say it is more complex then the Stagg Jr. (but then it is 12yo and the JR. is 8-9 years). The balance is also remarkable. There is always this hint of sourness, but it only serves to balance out the sweetness – and it is never too sweet. The ABV really seems much less then the JR while it is actually only .1% less! The finish is also extremely lovely. However, I didn’t love it on the tongue: it was overly sour compared to the nose and finish – and it was very sharp.

Aesthetic experience: Very nice dark richness to the bottle. I love the ABV for the price. It does seem like a steal for a 12yo bourbon at over 130 Proof for only $40! It does look cool. Very cool stopper and pour lip. I wish they put the age on it. I really like this bottle at barrel proof (134.2). The color is so dark and sexy – this is amazing.

Conclusion: This is a buy I am REALLY glad I made. The bottle has really, really grown on me since I opened it. That said, all three scores have been the same. I can’t say it has changed very much, but my appreciation certainly has. Elijah Craig has been redeemed in my mind. According to other online opinions (for what they are worth – this one included!) the second batch is not quite as stellar as the first batch. However, if I see it for $40 I will pick it up without hesitation. Heck, I would probably buy two. This gets a hearty recommendation from me.

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Victor commented

@Nock, you are the paragon of the Big Flavours Lover! "Huge mouth destroying fire. It hurts to breathe!" = "I love it!". I am that guy too, except I am willing to step away from the Big Flavours a lot more often than you are. "Feels like fire and brown sugar turning into lava." Ah, what could be more appealing?...to the whisky Big Flavours Lover. Yes, I wondered how you would receive that opening quartet of Glen Grant 10, Glengoyne 10, Balvenie 15 SB, and Aberfeldy 12, when I saw you last. I should have known that you would be cool with it...it wouldn't do to spit them out in front of your wife, and even a Big Flavours Guy will drink a soft drink once in awhile.

Lovely eloquent review. I am now sitting down with the sample you recently gave me from this reviewed bottle, and am going through your "play-by-play". My own bottles remain unopened.

Your descriptions seem excellent to me, though I would call the chocolate semi-sweet, rather than bittersweet. I don't taste any bitter here. I think that what seems bitter is the bite of the alcohol. Also, while I like the nose, I like the palate even more. There is a lot of richness spread all around the palate. I would say, as you have, that this has a lot more dimension/complexity than I find in the Stagg Jr., primarily from more wood aging, but also a marginally higher rye content. And I would rate this right at about 91, as you have.

Two giant overarching questions present themselves: 1) will Elijah Craig 12 YO Barrel Proof become, as rumoured, a standard part of the Heaven Hill line?, and 2) will it remain long at $ 40 US suggested retail price? You are absolutely right that any 67+% ABV bourbon selling for $ 40 plus tax is an absolute steal. Occasionally Booker's at 61-65% ABV might be discounted to that price, but that is quite rare.

I actually had an even worse first experience with standard Elijah Craig 12 YO than you did. My first, and quite likely only, 750 ml bottle of Elijah Craig 12 tasted of NOTHING BUT SOAP for 2 consecutive YEARS. I am not really sure why I didn't throw it out...but I would re-taste is every once in awhile out of disbelief at how bad it was and to remind myself that it really did taste like that. After 2 YEARS suddenly all the soap suddenly VANISHED and there was a decent bourbon under there which had never manifested any part of itself before. That bottle seemed to deteriourate fairly quickly after the actual bourbon flavours manifested though. It was by that time 2 1/2 years old.

I am very curious to get into my Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof, and I have bottles from 2 separate batches of it on hand, at 67.1% and 68.5% ABV. So far, though, I am restaining myself with difficulty, not opening new bottles, while I whittle down the enormous numbers of open bottles I already have. Seeing whisky spoil is even more disconcerting to me than having to wait to open a bottle. Hhhmmmm. Maybe I should use the rest of this sample for tasting notes for my own review.

Thanks again for a cool review.

6 years ago 0

Nock commented

@Victor thank you for the very kind words. I am honored to be in the “Big Flavors Club” with you. You ability to so easily step into the “Other Flavor Clubs” causes me some jealousy.

To your critique: I agree that my use of the words “bittersweet chocolate” was not my intention. I am embarrassed! I actually meant to put in “semi-sweet chocolate.” Those are the chocolate chips the kids like for making cookies – hence the ones we always have around the house. I prefer bittersweet chocolate chip cookies . . . we just never have them. My apologies.

Your hesitation of my “light flavored” whisky request was not unfounded. That said – that night you heard my honest reactions. I will share my own personal scores with you as you alone get a sense of their absurdity. Basically, anything that falls below a 19.5 is an “I won’t buy.” From 20-25 I am now in the “I will buy for the right price category.” 25.5-29 is a “buy whenever I’m out.” And 29.5-32.5 is a “buy as many bottles as I can possibly find.”

To the bottles you mentioned: Balvenie 15 Single Barrel and the Aberfeldy 12 are the only ones in would put below 19.5 mark (which is basically an 80). Everything else I would score above that mark. Glen Grant 10, Glengoyne 10, Glenfarclas 12, Glenfarclas 15, Highland Park 15, Old Pulteney 17, Bowmore 12, and Bowmore 15 Darkest.

My favorite of this grouping was undoubtedly the Glenfarclas 15yo. It was the only one I might put above 25 (above 88.5). The Pulteney and the Highland Park were extremely intriguing. The Bowmore 12 and 15 were a toss up for me. I actually liked both for different reasons. When I stood at the store the next day I had both bottles in hand . . . I ended up with the 15 simply because I can’t buy it here in Virginia. And I was inches from picking up the Glen Grant 10 . . . but went with the Glen Garioch instead. We will see how that turns out.

So your generous tasting was FAR from a controlled display of etiquette. It was a genuine delight in trying whiskies that I suspected I wouldn’t want to own. My surprise was in how many bottles genuinely enjoyed. As you suspect, once I get my nose on some peat it is all down hill . . .

Your own experience with Elijah Craig is hilarious! It reminds me that I believe I got that same “soap” thing but called it “perfume.” I am delighted you reviewed my sample of ECBP. And I look forward to your reviews of other samples from my humble whisky stash.

6 years ago 0

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