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BourbonGeist – Elijah Craig 12 year, End of an Era

June 21, 2016 Leave a comment

1 Elijah Craig 12 6-2016Well, I’ve just cleaned out a local discount shop of the last of the 12 year, so I can relay the secret, my personal stash secured.

Elijah Craig 12 year small batch bourbon is one of the very best values in American whiskey. Quality and barrel year per dollar, with an age statement of 12 years, it is (was!) almost always available for under $30 per bottle. These are unheard of numbers in the new American whiskey market, and they’ve finally buckled under its weight.

Elijah Craig SB 12 6-2016Last year, when the visually prominent ‘12’ was removed from the Elijah Craig 12 Year label, it seemed they’d eventually be dropping the age statement, as so many have, due to the Boom. Until the most recent batch, the 12 year age statement was still in the very first line on the back of the bottle. The trend in the whiskey world is toward removed aged statements and increasingly mysterious blends. It’s the simplest way to increase production and keep up with demand. Regardless of all technological advancement, it’s still impossible to up production of a twelve year old product tomorrow.

As a nerd and a collector, I would’ve preferred the price of the 12 year increase and a less expensive 8 year be released (or even a 6 and a 9 year, or a 6 and 9 year, or an If 6 was 9 year!). I get why that would be less practical, but it would’ve been much cooler.

Now, the tasting. It’s easy to assume the worst, and at this point the age unknown small batch blend likely contains barrels of 6-12 year old bourbon, but with no statement, it can literally be any age combination. It will likely get younger and younger over time as Heaven Hill struggles to keep up with world thirst. As of today, the 94 proof Elijah Craig Small Batch is a little lighter in color than the last of the 94 proof 12 year, a little less red, slightly more golden, visually. The difference in nose is similar, but a less measurable contrast, the small batch comes off as a little brighter, the 12 year a little deeper, more overt wood, and a ghost of faded smoke.

Flavor-wise, the difference between the two is subtle, but noticeable, though it’s hard to say that my beloved 12 year is empirically better. It’s deeper, darker, more complex, greater overt wood affectation- and all the little secondary and tertiary flavors that go along with that. The small batch is comparatively lighter, sweeter, prettier, livelier, but not hotter. One man’s ‘lighter’ is another man’s ‘flatter’. I’m sure many will prefer one over the other, but I don’t think in a blind panel collective preference would necessarily skew toward the elder.

In short, the quality per dollar is still high in the new NAS (no age statement) Elijah Craig Small Batch; this is not just a cheap imitation of the original. That being said, for your own future enjoyment and edification, you may want to check out your nearest retailer, flip the Elijah Craig bottle(s), and if the back label says ’12 year’, maybe squirrel a couple away. Nobody ever said, “What am I going to do with all this nice 12 year bourbon?”