Classification: Straight Bourbon
Company: Heaven Hill
Distillery: Heaven Hill
Release Date: September 2020 (Ongoing thereafter)
Mashbill: 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, 10% Rye
Color: Dark Amber
MSRP: $50 (2020)
Elijah Craig was a baptist preacher who is credited by some as pioneering the process for “true Kentucky bourbon” in 1789. He is credited with being the first to put his distillate into charred oak barrels, one of the key requirements for a whiskey to be classified as bourbon.
First brought to market in 1986, the long-running Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon provides the base for Toasted Barrel Finish. According to the company Press Release, “The process begins with fully matured Small Batch, which is dumped and then re-entered at barrel proof into a second, custom toasted new oak barrel designed in partnership with Independent Stave Company. Made with 18-month air dried oak, the finishing barrel is first toasted and then flash-charred using a moderate toast temperature and toast time. An extensive research and development process resulted in a final barrel toast profile bringing forward dark sugar flavors within the wood to create a balance of smokiness and sweetness after months of finishing.”
Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Finish will be a permanent line extension for the brand, and is slated to launch nationally on an allocated basis in September 2020.
Toasted marshmallows, rich caramel, vanilla, and baking spices make for a sweet and inviting nose. Light undertones of oak, summer fruits, and Granny Smith apples are also present, but need to be teased out with a swirl of the glass and deep inhale. The apple note hints towards a presence of acetaldehyde, however if it is present, it's a welcome amount that serves to add more dimension than anything else. Rich and appealing overall.
Sweeter flavors of graham cracker, chocolate, and caramel contrast nutmeg and pepper spice notes. A touch of seasoned wood is evident, but fleeting. The presentation of flavors is characteristically sweet, and quite enjoyable.
A blast of rye spice is followed by a rich caramel, brown sugar sweetness. Fireball candy heat along with hints of tobacco and oak lightly tease as the flavors taper off. The finish is slightly dry and tannic, more so than is found with the standard Small Batch. While a slight blemish to the experience, it’s still an acceptable finish overall.
The toasted barrel finishing process succeeds in creating a totally different product than Elijah Craig's standard Small Batch Bourbon. The result is a sweeter, spicier, less oaky, and slightly more complex bourbon that provides a uniquely different flavor profile and drinking experience. Regardless of an individual’s preference for one flavor profile versus the other, the fact that the toasted oak finishing changes the base bourbon cannot be debated.
In the world of bourbon, finishing in a new secondary barrel with a toasted finish is actually not so common. Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish is the closest and most notable comparison, and then reaching a bit you find Woodford Reserve Double Oaked and Old Forester 1910 (both of which are finished in a secondary toasted barrel that is also charred).
While they are all a bit sweet with evidence of chocolate notes, Elijah Craig’s finishing process results in a sweeter, spicier, and admittedly more tannic end product than Michter’s and the Brown-Forman products. Importantly, this finishing process maintains the “straight bourbon” class and type designation, as new charred barrels are used for both the original aging and secondary finishing process (though they are so lightly charred they are referred to as “toasted”).
While the standard Elijah Craig Small Batch has maintained a sub-$30 price tag, it is not surprising to see a line extension that requires a second round of aging in additional new barrels at nearly double the price. This is consistent with Heaven Hill’s re-release of Heaven Hill 7 Year Bottled in Bond at a much higher price ($40 versus $12) as compared to its 6 year old predecessor. Notably, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($45), Michter’s Toasted Barrel Finish ($50), and Old Forester 1910 ($55) are similarly priced.
With Small Batch Elijah Craig typically having an age of 9 years or more, adding secondary aging in a new toasted oak barrel is no small feat. Moreover, this not-so-common technique adds a layer of dimension to the base bourbon. So while $50 is certainly premium price territory, it’s in line with other major brands that have gone through the additional work required to rebarrel a bourbon in a second new barrel.
Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel Finish is a sweet, unique tasting bourbon that results from a not-so-common finishing process.
Heaven Hill continues to expand their Elijah Craig bourbon line, this time with a unique yet straightforward finishing process. While some may prefer the more oak-forward flavor profile of the standard Elijah Craig Small Batch, no one can argue with the fact that the toasted barrel finish truly changes the flavor profile of the base bourbon. I found myself enjoying the shift towards sweeter notes, preferring it to the standard Small Batch by comparison. Uncorking a new retired bottle of age stated Elijah Craig 12 Year reminded me of how oak-forward Small Batch’s predecessor was, with the new no-age statement Small Batch shifting away from oak in favor of more common caramel and vanilla notes. While it won’t be for everyone, Toasted Barrel Finish brings some much-needed character to the brand, character that is evident in Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, some single barrel Elijah Craig single barrel picks, and older age-stated Elijah Craig releases like their 18 Year. At $50, it’s a splurge, but well worth it for bourbon enthusiasts seeking a bourbon with some additional character.