Elijah Craig 18

Elijah Craig 18
The Elijah Craig 12 is one of the great values in American whiskey—or at least it used to be. Heaven Hill, which used to make it, has dropped the age statement and it is now NAS (please read Sku on the slimy way Heaven Hill went around denying this was going to happen before it happened). This is now a good time to remember Heaven Hill’s recent history with the 18 yo. When it was discontinued in 2012 we were told the usual story about limited aged stocks. Skeptics noted that the discontinuation of the 18 yo was accompanied by the introduction of a limited release 20 yo and then a 21 yo that cost more than twice as much (so much for limited aged stocks). Then in 2015 Heaven Hill brought the 18 yo back but didn’t bring the old price back. Instead the official price of the new 18 yo is about the same as that 20 yo’s (though most stores are currently asking for a LOT more)—presumably helping justify the even higher price of the 23 yo that they’ve also managed to introduce despite all that pressure on their aged stocks… American whisky has well and truly gone crazy, hasn’t it? I guess everybody is trying to keep up with the Van Winkles.

Anyway, this sample of the Elijah Craig 18 is from before it was discontinued. I’ve had the 18 yo before and quite liked it but that was before I’d had much bourbon. Let’s see what I make of it now. (And, of course, the old 18 yo was a single barrel release—the new one may be too—and there was doubtless some variation.)

Elijah Craig 18 (45%; Barrel 4002; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Rich caramel with some orange peel, some light maple syrup, ripe plantains and then some rye. After a minute or so there’s some pencil lead as well and it’s mintier. With time the rye notes subside and there’s almost a sherry character. With water there’s a bit of plum too.

Palate: More oak on the palate and more rye, but otherwise pretty much as it is on the nose. Nice mouthfeel: very smooth and drinkable. Gets spicier and woodier with time. Water knocks back the wood but now it’s off-balance in a different way that I can’t quite put my finger on (more bitterness).

Finish: Much more spice on the finish, and more minty/clovey coolness plus some expanding sourness. More drying/tannic with time. That bitter note with water really expands on the finish.

Comments: It’s been a while since a bourbon’s nose put me so much in mind of sherried malt whisky (different story on the palate and finish). I liked the nose a lot more than the palate—it was mellow to start but got just a bit too woody for me with time. On the whole, wish this was still available <$50.

Rating: 85 points.

Thanks to Florin for the sample!

4 thoughts on “Elijah Craig 18

  1. As only the latest drop in the bucket, I don’t see the big deal about Heaven Hill; when the real problem is that many are in denial (or simply don’t know) if age matters to whisky if the industry, for its own purposes, increasingly (but selectively) says otherwise – and so whether the importance/relevance of age CAN somehow be label dependent is now hilariously “debatable”. The number of people who will say that, at its very foundations, the message of NAS (“age matters to whisky here, but not over there, depending on how the marketers feel today) represents a clear lie about the very nature of whisky, much less take tangible action against it, are so few and far between that whisky “experts”, and consumers, really only have themselves. Whisky, American and otherwise, hasn’t gone crazy; people have gone stupid.

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  2. The old Elijah Craig 18s are also interesting because they were produced at the old Heaven Hill distillery which burned down in 1996. I think the latest Elijah Craig 18 is either that same old stock or bourbon HH acquired from neighboring distilleries while they were settling into the Bernheim distillery.

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  3. I have similar notes as you, but I reached a different conclusion. I was put off by the woodiness, and it’s interesting to see that other people find it enjoyable. It just tells me to steer clear of any old (>10yr) bourbon. I did give it 3* (80±2pts), with the pithy 3-word review “woody but nice”.

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