This bourbon whiskey has a lot to live up to, when you consider that it is named after the man who supposedly created the method by which Kentucky straight bourbon is now made – Elijah Craig. What was his secret, you ask? Well, the Reverend Elijah Craig (yes, a man of the cloth) brought a new twist on the theme of distillery and maturation and is said to be the first person to char the barrels before the new-make spirit was added, and, as a result, really draw those extra vanilla flavours out. The exact story behind how this was discovered is unclear, but Heaven Hill surely take advantage of this mysticism within their marketing, and why not? In fact, if you ever see a bourbon whiskey referred to as “straight bourbon” then, by law, that means that it has been matured in new, charred oak barrels and has to have been in those barrels for at least 2 years. For this whiskey, Heaven Hill forego these bare minimum requirements however and regularly release a 12 year old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey in small batches of 70 or so barrels. Whilst this makes it fairly difficult to come by in the UK, it is fortunately not at a price that would break the bank when these bottles (or samples!) do show up on these shores. Given that they are released in batches, then the percentage may change from to time, but they are generally bottled at ca. 47% ABV.
Oh it’s a bourbon alright! Those sticky sweet smells hit you straight away. There’s vanilla and toffee in abundance and the major ingredient, corn, is evident too.
Once it is in the mouth, the whiskey’s oaky richness really stands out. There’s a maple syrup sweetness and texture to this, with a closing, warming spice (I’m thinking ground black pepper, rather than chilli peppers).
There’s a pretty zingy fizz to this, courtesy of that alcohol content, and a pretty popping boozy finish to it too. The whiskey’s sugary sweet body has a silky texture to it though which smooths out that burn. The main flavours are vanilla and oak all the way but there is a little fruity tang left at the end of the sweet cart.
This is good stuff. It is a pure, straight bourbon whiskey by name and nature. It is a straight talking whiskey too. It says oak. It says vanilla. It says corn. Then it doesn’t have to say anything else. There is a great balance between these flavours too. When drinking this whisky, it conjures up a mental image of tasting a crème brûlée dessert served in a wooden cup. Which I would totally opt for, if I saw that on the menu. Then I’d order one of these to go with it! What’s more is that the flavour profile lingers for a long time and develops as an aftertaste. After adding a drop of water to take some of the alcoholic sting away (that 47% ABV really makes itself known on the finish) the flavour profile becomes more like a treacle tart but without the treacle-like texture. As I finish the dram, this crosses off another whiskey from my copy of Ian Buxton’s 101 Whiskies To Try Before I Die – though, as I’ve said before, I do not want to tempt fate! In summary, I repeat: This is good stuff. Pure and simple, like the drink itself.