Whiskey Name: Elijah Craig 18 year old Single Barrel
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Release Date: I suspect my sample is a 2016 release. But my suspicions have been wrong before...
Price: Depends on the shop. Expect prices to start at £150
Age: 18 years old
Mashbill: Standard issue HH rye-recipe bourbon: 75% corn, 13% rye, 12% malted barley.
Introduction/Background: A bourbon old enough to order itself (in the UK, at any rate). And from the excellent Heaven Hill distillery no less. First introduced back in 1994, before the devastating fire of ‘96, and brought back to shelves in 2015.
Like its venerable stablemates, the 21 and 23, this bourbon is bottled from a single barrel. At the start of the much-protracted binning of their celebrated 12 year old, Heaven Hill announced that part of the decision stemmed from a desire to be able to continue releasing these longer-aged expressions. Probably wasn’t the chiefest priority, but the luxury whisk(e)y market is what it is.
This particular luxury is bottled at 45% ABV; 2% less than the 12-year, which I’m not sure I fully understand. It doesn’t get quite the same press as some of the competition in its price category, and I wonder whether part of that lies in the fairly miserly cut.
Personally I don’t think whisk(e)y always needs to be cask strength; indeed you taste a good few that could do with a little less enthusiasm from the alcohol. But at least bottling straight from barrel affords drinkers the luxury of choice, which you might be forgiven for hoping for when spending 150 of your English pounds.
At that price, age, and proof the obvious competition is Buffalo Trace’s Eagle Rare 17. Generally the most missable of the BTAC, but actually relatively decent in the newest vintage. Let’s see how Heaven Hill’s late-teenager stacks up.
Appearance: A ruddy sort of hazel.
Nose: Honeyed, with rather a lot of spicy oak influence. Too woody? No, I don’t think so. Not quite. Benefit of the doubt. There’s an intriguing lift of black fruit (blackcurrants, I think) and menthol, which puts me bizarrely in mind with top-end Chilean Cabernet. [ed. We get it – you work in wine]. Overall it’s developed and assertive, without being overly powerful. Not a nostril-scorcher. Good start.
Mouth: Ah. Here’s where the oak was. Slightly bitter start suggests that 18 years might have been a bit of a stretch for this particular barrel. It’s also slightly dilute; that modest 45% has robbed the texture of much of its potential lustrousness. There’s still a lot of honey flavour, and a dab or two of fruit has carried across from the nose, with a little cinnamon and nutmeg threatening to add interest. On the whole though this feels rather ordinary I’m afraid. Tamed, and not especially complex.
Finish: Caramel popcorn precedes a return to light, woody bitterness. Medium length.
Value for Money: Meh. (A pretty firm one).
Summary: I loved the Elijah Craig 12, and it makes me sad that ‘loved’ now ends with a ‘d’. I was hoping that my first proper sit-down with the 18 would be a bit of a celebration of that, and an elevation of everything that the 12 is; fuller, richer, more complex.
Unfortunately, to me at least, the 18 doesn’t really deliver. Certainly not to the tune of £150 (which, for the record, I also wouldn’t pay for Eagle Rare 17). That’s a special occasion price, and this doesn’t quite taste like special occasion whiskey. Not when you consider the alternatives available for the same money, or considerably less. (@london_liquor is discreetly muttering “Elijah Craig Hazmat” somewhere...)
The potential frailties of single barrels are also on show, particularly on the palate. Though I admit that I thought the nose was pretty great. And this is definitely an example of a bourbon that needed a slightly bigger engine. Even bottling at 50% would have made a significant difference to the texture. At £150+ I’m pretty sure their profit margin could have taken the strain.
Bottom line: if you’re terribly rich, and just want something pretty old and pretty hard to come by for your collection, Elijah Craig 18 is an option. If, like me, you can’t afford to buy whisk(e)y that you don’t really love to drink, I’d keep looking.
Overall Verdict: The name “Elijah Craig 18 year old Single Barrel” ticks a lot of boxes. But the whiskey itself doesn’t, to my taste. It’s ok. But you’ll be paying over the odds if you invest in a bottle.
Word by WhiskyPilgrim