Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Elijah Craig Distillery Co. (Heaven Hill)
Distillery: Elijah Craig Distillery Co. (Heaven Hill)
Release Date: September 2023
Age: 13 Years, 7 Months
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye
Color: Dark Amber
MSRP: $70 / 750mL (2023)
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof was introduced in 2013 and is released on an allocated basis three times per year: January, May, and September. Each release features a different proof and up until 2023, consisted of bourbon aged at least 12 years. In mid-2023, Heaven Hill announced that they would remove Elijah Craig Barrel Proof’s 12 year age statement and instead now include an age statement that will vary per release.
Each batch is identified by a four character batch name. The first character in the batch name designates which batch of the year that bottle came from (A, B, or C), the numeral that follows represents the month of the release, and the last two digits indicate the corresponding year of the release.
The bourbon opens with a beautiful sangria bouquet that is anchored by a dense oak scent. An acute red raspberry scent stands out the most, but it's the aroma’s layers of red wine soaked fruits of blueberry, lime, plum, and nectarines that truly elevates this nose like few others. It's love at first whiff, as the mix of fruit, thick heavy caramel, and charred oak combine to a near-flawless effect.
The palate’s delivery seems straightforward at first, though as it slowly pulls back and reveals itself, it is anything but. The intensity of the proof begins to be felt immediately as the flavors are forceful and potent right out of the gate. Dark red raspberry and black cherry combine to formidable results with a layer of sweet barrel char that adds texture, while black pepper and cinnamon add pungent spice. The palate’s complexity is fully known with the reveal of hazelnut, barrel aged maple syrup, and coffee bean. All of the flavors work in a complementary manner and its full effect is impressive as a result.
An upsurge of rich charred oak hits fast and has a strong fiery grip. As it holds, molasses combined with brown sugar do their part to effectively tame the sip. It is the inclusion of warm brownies that carries this bourbon to the finish line and it beautifully caps it off in an enthusiastic embrace. The finish’s dark sweet flavors combined with a receding emphasis on heat works incredibly well as the bourbon reaches its coda.
When Heaven Hill announced Batch B523 they dropped the news that Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases would lose their 12 year age statement going forward. Batch B523 is an 11 year, 5 month old bourbon which immediately distilled fear in bourbon drinkers that their beloved brand would be skewing younger, and not older, as the result of this decision. Heaven Hill wisely made a note at the time that the final release of 2023 would see the oldest age statement for the brand yet.
True to their word, Batch C923 features an impressive 13 year, 7 month age statement. I noted in my Batch B523 review that relaxing the constriction of the 12 year age statement would allow a greater degree of blending freedom. As a result, Batch B523 was a unique expression for the brand that seemed to be stuck in a creative rut. In fact, tasting all three of the 2023 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches side by side shows the dramatic transformation with an increase in quality, but also unique characteristics missing from the brand’s batches over the last few years. The change is very apparent directly comparing Batch A123 to C923, with the aforementioned batch much more astringent, tannic, and overall less impressive in every regard. And though C923 isn’t as full-on unique as B523, its collection of flavors, intensity, age, and how they all come perfectly together is what makes this bourbon special.
Usually, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is well worth its $70 MSRP regardless of the batch. Heaven Hill is a storied Kentucky distillery that makes a lot of great bourbon. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has had a few years of forgettable batches, but pound for pound, it's almost always a solid value buy. Of course all of that changes when Heaven Hill releases a batch that is head over heels better than the previous ones. There are times when consumers benefit from consistent pricing from producers who don’t price based on the quality of a given batch (that’s left up to the secondary market).
When a batch comes around like Batch C923, consumers really make out. It’s actually surprising that Heaven Hill chose to bottle this batch for a standard Elijah Craig Barrel Proof release. This could have easily been relegated to either a Parker’s or Heaven Hill Heritage Collection release, or even a new brand altogether. Depending on batch size, Heaven Hill likely left a lot of money on the table with Batch C923, but perhaps that’s by design. Batch C923 will likely have more buzz surrounding it than any Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batch the company has released in years. Sometimes it may be worth more to show some love for one of your core brands that has been on cruise control for far too long, than investing in another new brand. On the consumer side, purchasing it at MSRP is a no-brainer, and as Batch C923’s reputation grows and its stores become wise, its price will likely grow with it. Though this is one of the rare occurrences if you have to pay double or triple the price, it might still be worth it. Don’t fault the messenger, as anyone who has the opportunity to taste Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C923 will know it to be true.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C923 could be the brand’s best batch yet.
If there ever was a bourbon that was created to prove a point, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C923 would be it. That’s not to say there hasn’t been amazing batches of 12 year old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bourbon in the past, but removing the age restriction in crafting Elijah Craig Barrel Proof in 2023, is to all of our benefit. Simply put: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C923 is an amazing bourbon.
Like any amazing bourbon, its greatness is the result of a flavor profile that comes together (near) flawlessly. Out of the gate C923’s nose is full of rich caramel and wonderfully fruity notes that come across more like sangria than a bourbon. The palate runs with the nose’s fruitiness, and is filled with dark and complex fruit notes. The finish is in the classic barrel proof bourbon style with its rich oak, molasses, brown sugar, and to top it off, a delicious warm brownie note. Even at first sip, this bourbon screams Heaven Hill to the point where this could have easily been put into a Parker’s bottle and no one would have batted an eye. At 133 proof, it's definitely potent, but still remains remarkably expressive and drinkable with its flavors that shine through its proof. With Larceny showcasing two amazing batches recently with C922 and B523, it is finally time for Elijah Craig to get its due. What we got is an Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon that is very reminiscent of the first Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases in 2013, but very much still has its own things to say. The result is a bourbon that is easily one of 2023’s best.