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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?”

A Suitcase of Lightning

June 30, 2015 1 comment
Taos Lightning Rye Single Barrel, 5yr, and 15yr.

Taos Lightning Rye Single Barrel, 5yr, and 15yr.

While in New Mexico, I became aware of Taos Lightning Rye. Both the craft whiskey thing and the sourced whiskey thing (aka I’m not telling you where the juice is from or how long it was barreled) are getting out of hand. A lot of new whiskey is super-hot brown firewater and there will be a serious reckoning and culling of the population in the coming years.

Taos Lightning, it turns out, is a product of KGB Spirits in Santa Fe, NM. I purchased a number of different bottles from Total Wine and from Jubilation in Albuqurque, the latter of which was offering 2 different exclusive single barrel bottles, at very reasonable prices. If you’re in town, don’t let the odd location and prison-barred windows fool you, Jubilation is an excellent shop for spirits (I honestly didn’t check out their wine selection, but they did acquire a bunch of Merkin Vineyards wine for my neighbors’ wedding- of which I highly approve).

Taos Lightning Rye 5yr.

Taos Lightning Rye 5yr.

Now, the juice: Taos Lightning Rye 5yr is visually attractive, a medium reddish deep golden brown. A fairly sweet round nose gives way to a sweetly vanilla palate, a touch of bright cherry fruit to the mid-palate, and a nice spicy, medium-hot finish. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Willett’s excellent 4yr Rye– which is amongst the highest praise one can give a younger rye. According to co-founder, John Bernasconi, “All current whiskey was sourced from Lawrenceberg and the 15 year had the Jos. Seagram’s stamp on barrel. We are about to switch to house made with San Luis, CO grain. The aging in NM along the Rio Grande is what gives these products their uniqueness. We have a high elevation, low humidity climate and the river brings constant air flow exchange.” With so many shady stories in the current US whiskey market, we very much appreciate the candor, and anxiously await tasting what comes next from the fine folks at KGB Spirits.

And now, the case…

I was sufficiently smitten with the Taos Lightning 5yr that I was on the hunt for a styrofoam 12-pack shipper, common in the wine shipping world. However, the incoherent and arbitrary nature of state liquor law has left Albuquerque stryo-shipper-free. It’s illegal to ship wine or spirits within the state of New Mexico, let alone to the outside world. Albuquerque is a scorched barren wasteland, where the food sucks, people drive ridiculous cars, and a law abiding citizen can’t get a styro 12-pack. If the Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce would like to sponsor this blog, they know where to find me.

Next, at the absurd yet demure, banal megaporium of intoxication that is Total Wine in Albuquerque- I love this town- I ask if they have anything suitable to safely transport at least a dozen bottles through the meathook paws of JFK baggage handlers. There is something they tell me, it’s a rolling travel suitcase fitted with styro insert, cut for .750ml wine bottles, 12 of them. The only one left in stock is the floor model, they’d be happy to take 10% off the sticker price for the pre-scuffed exterior shell and slightly stained interior fabric. Five minutes later, I was in a parking lot, cramming copious piles of fine New Mexican and Californian rarities into my new VinGarde Valise.

The suitcase of Lightning: Title Achieved!

The suitcase of Lightning: Title Achieved!

First, the idea is great: it’s a rolling suitcase containing 6 inserts, each cut to hold and protect 2 bottles each, such that one can remove as many or as few as necessary to adjust to any clothing and toiletries needed for the journey. But I was already out on the road and had my regular suitcase in hand, and used my new VinGarde Valise to full bottle capacity. Unfortunately, the follow-through is not nearly so inspired as the concept. The materials are fairly flimsy, the foam inserts made to separate the two halves aren’t even cut to the same size (one doesn’t fit at all such that the case will not close), and the bottle slots are cut to a fairly impractical stencil, unless they intend one only to carry obscure sherry. It’s one thing if the owner is going to be extremely careful with the cheap zippers, but on its maiden voyage, mine was tossed by the TSA, and returned to me in less than new condition (and containing the requisite slip letting me know my privacy had been violated). The guts of the bag are poorly constructed of insubstantial materials, and while not space efficient, I’d still recommend a much less expensive styro 12-pack shipper over this unit. Simply put, VinGarde Valise have a long way to go to make the quality of the case fit its $200+ price tag.