Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (B522) Review

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Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.

On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.

Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums, and other spirits. They own 62 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute hundreds of brands. Under the Heaven Hill Distillery portfolio, they produce award-winning products such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery is on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels again this year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.

First introduced in 1986 as the bourbon market was nearing a historic low, the Elijah Craig brand consisted of a 12 y.o. premium bourbon offered by the Heaven Hill Distillery as a statement against the younger, cheaper, and lower quality bourbon offerings that were dominating the bourbon market at the time. Named in honour of the Baptist preacher of the same name, Heaven Hill accredit the first discovery and use of barrel charring in producing bourbon whiskey to Craig. The Elijah Craig brand is comprised of multiple offerings with current releases including the Small Batch, a barrel proof offering, an 18 y.o. offering, a 23 y.o. offering, and a distillery-only Barrel Select offering. Previous bottlings under this brand have also included the popular 12 y.o. age-stated Small Batch, and 20, 21, and 22 y.o. offerings which have since been discontinued. Despite the Small Batch losing its age-statement in 2016, due to demand outstripping supply, the barrel proof offering still retains its 12 y.o. age statement as do the older releases such as the 18 and 23 y.o.

As the first barrel proof offering from Heaven Hill, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was released in 2013 as an uncut, minimally-filtered, small batch of 12y.o. Elijah Craig bourbon bottled straight from the barrel. Being a limited release product there are three releases each year in and around January, May, and September, with each batch bearing a batch number (since 2017) and a unique proof. This variance in proof between batches gives Elijah Craig fans a unique opportunity to explore the impact of the long ageing and resulting proof in a small batch of approximately barrels. The first letter of the batch number indicates which of that year’s releases the bottle was a part of, starting with “A,” the second digit indicates the month of the year the bottle was released, and the third and fourth digits indicate the year.

Today I’ll be taking a look at the second release of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof for 2022 that was released in May.

Vital Stats:

Name: Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof Bourbon (Batch B522)
Age: 12 years old
Proof:  120.2 Proof (60.1% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Malted Barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery, KY
Website:  https://elijahcraig.com/barrel-proof
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with warm thick caramel and baking spices, followed by notes of dark fruit, a touch of peppery rye, and charred oak. As you nose deeper the caramel notes transforms to brown sugar, whilst the fruit and baking spice notes also pick up some intensity and further complexity, giving black cherries, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a touch of cloves.

Palate: The palate is viscous and thick, opening with sweet dark syrup before a kick of peppery rye spice flashes out alongside some fruit notes whilst warm tannins dry out the front and sides of the tongue. As you keep chewing and the spice fades, barrel forward cacao powder, peppery rye, and dark baking spice notes continue to linger and develop on the tongue alongside black fruit notes and becoming darker with an added herbaceous touch as you continue to chew.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering rye and tannic spice from the palate alongside brown sugar caramel, a touch of dried fruit, roasted almonds, and a warm aftertaste of caramel, tannic charred oak, dry rye spice, and faintly herbaceous baking spices.

Overall

As I sit here writing this review with the taste of this release lingering on my palate, I can’t help but wonder if there has been an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof release that hasn’t hit the mark for me in the past 3 years. B522 is another proud addition to the line-up, and not just because of its complex and robust flavour profile, but by the standout element, it’s sweet and syrupy viscosity on the palate. From the moment it enters your mouth to when the last drop is gone it coats the palate with a thick syrupy veneer which releases a steady trickle of nuanced flavours and warmth giving deep caramels, complex fruits, mature oak, earthy spices, and peppery rye notes all at a proof which drives these flavours without overwhelming the palate with spice. Yes, at times on the nose and initially on the palate it seems like the flavours are fighting to escape the viscosity, however, once your body heat warms it up the flavours break free with the viscosity now helping to keep some of the oak and rye spice in check. With a few drops of water this viscosity peels back somewhat to give a wider variety of notes on the nose, whilst the palate loses some of the peppery notes and becomes sweeter with more caramelised nuts and fruit coming through.

At this stage I’ve had the privilege of trying a number of the modern Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases and one thing you’re always guaranteed is bourbon that’s uncut, unfiltered, aged well, and gives a unique twist on the classic Elijah Craig profile. Yes, there is a general target profile, but this appears to fall on a spectrum which allows Heaven Hill freedom to play around with flavour aspects and combinations meaning the difference between a good batch and a fantastic batch very often comes down to the very fine details. This release easily falls into the fantastic category with its complex and robust bourbon profile combining with its viscous mouthfeel to provide a terrific barrel proof bourbon sipping experience.

Try or Buy?

If you see it, buy it. With a wide dustribution and a recommended price of $60 (£85 in the UK), if you can only get your hands on one bottle of barrel proof bourbon from 2022 make it this. You could not ask for a more complete bourbon and any barrel proof whiskey fan not buying this is seriously missing out.

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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Your contribution is appreciated and will ensure I can keep this website impartial, operational, and stocked full of new content. Cheers!

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