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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.