February 20, 2014

Review: Elijah Craig 21-Year Single Barrel Bourbon - An Old, and Expensive Beast

As Heaven Hill's flagship standard offering, Elijah Craig is a bourbon drinker's staple.  The standard 12-year is a very solid juice and has a lot going for it.  Firstly it may be the only remaining 12-year bourbon that you can find on the shelf, let alone at $25.  Moving up a step, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was perhaps the most stunning new release of 2013.  No, it didn't win our fantasy bourbon tourney, but just to make that list, and beat out George T. Stagg in the first round is extraordinary.  Doubly so considering it hit the shelves at $40-50.  According to marketing hype, the Baptist preacher Elijah Craig invented the charred oak barrel.  Whether or not you believe that story, take one look the wildly dark color of ECBP and take a sip of the deeply caramelized woody goodness and you get the picture.  Sadly you'd be hard pressed to find ECBP on the shelves any more.  It pretty much jumped into the shopping baskets of your faithful hubby and wifey and all us other bourbon hunter/picker obsessive types.

Elijah Craig 21 Year Single Barrel

Then there's the ultra-premium top shelf Elijah Craig Single Barrel.  They've been releasing older and older lines of single barrels year after year, starting at 18-years, then 20, and now 21 year.  When the 18 came out, it was pretty spectacular.  It was priced around $45-$60, was by far the most available highly aged bourbon on the market, and rocked a lot of people's worlds.  A lot of sad faces could be found at local liquor stores a couple of years ago when EC18 was discontinued.

Well, fans of late great EC18 were pretty pumped some months later to find Elijah Craig 20-Year on the shelves.  But then many of us did a double take (bourbon spit take??) to see a price tag of $129.99 or higher.  Sure, it's not uncommon for a couple extra years of age to come at a serious markup - see Pappy 15-Year at $80 vs the 20-Year at $150.  But still, to go from the very good and highly affordable 18-year straight to this as the only option was a bit of a pickle.  Fast forward another year and the 21-Year is hitting shelves at anywhere from $149.99 to $189.99!

So, not that price should be the #1 factor in choosing a whiskey, but we're hitting up this bottle with pretty high expectations.  ECBP at $40 sets the bar really high, and the all-to-recent availability of EC18 at under $80 makes us hope that the new release is a really special one of a kind bottle.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  Getting a lot of corn on the cob here.  Some nice farmy, buttery, freshness.  A nice mellow oak comes next.  Then some little pops of heat - maybe yellow mustard or wasabi.

Palate:  The corn moves into grain and spice.  Definitely tasting a high rye content here with a spicy somewhat thin to medium body with a big grainy kick.

Finish:  Nice finish.  The grain and sweetness come together.  There's a moderate spirit warmth with a little pinch of somewhat pleasant alcohol burn.  (note here: this is one of those bottles that opens up really hot and then mellows out considerably over a couple of weeks - if you open it and drink most of the bottle in the same night you will be disappointed - buy it, cork it, and let it sit for some time before you drink it!).


Well, it's hard to find anything wrong with this whiskey, but at the same time it's not blowing our minds.  And for the money, we sort of expect to have our minds blown.  Two mild criticisms here: 1) a 21 year old bourbon that's down-proofed to forty-five percent should be smooth as crap or 2) if it's not the smoothest thing we've ever tasted, it should have huge flavor profile.  This isn't really falling into either category.

Would we buy this again?  Short answer, yes.  Assuming it's the only 21 year bourbon you're going to be able to find (which is likely) it's worthy of picking up for a special occasion.  There are a lot of younger whiskeys that we prefer, but are more difficult to find - like Four Roses 125th Anniversary, any of the Pappy or Buffalo Trace Antique bottles, Angel's Envy Cask Strength, etc.  If you can find it, we'd recommend going for the Parker's Heritage Collection Promise of Hope, which at $90 - and interestingly only around 10-years old - we find has a fuller and more interesting flavor.

Anyway you're not hurting too much sitting back with a bottle of EC21.  You have to give Heaven Hill points for putting out a solid supply of top-end bourbon across the country.  So, given the current bourbon drought, on the right special occasion, go for it.  But with a little hunting and picking you can definitely find more interesting choices out there.


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