Whiskey Review: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B519

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Heaven Hill. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.

You may remember the kerfuffle a few years ago when Elijah Craig parent company Heaven Hill made a few people (thousands) who like bourbon a bit (experts like Steve Ury) sort of ticked (enraged) when they removed the 12-year age statement from their cornerstone product. A consolation prize was that Barrel Proof would maintain its age statement and allocations would increase. Well, thankfully we can stay above the mêlée here and walk the positive side of Elijah Craig press. 

As we know, barrel proof bourbons aren’t proofed down, and the branding for Elijah Craig states that poetically about your opportunity to enjoy the whiskey in “much the same way our Master Distillers do.” They also have a fairly new master distiller, Conor O’Driscoll. He went from earning a degree in chemical engineering at University College of Ireland, Dublin, to working in the epicenter of American whiskey: Kentucky.

Initially, he came to the States to create chemicals like citric acid through a fermentation process. He found love and settled in pre-bourbon-boom Louisville. As the spirit is inescapable there, he started to think whiskey might be a compelling way to use his skills. 

“I started knocking on doors in 2002,” said O’Driscoll in a Forbes interview, “Brown-Forman hired me in 2004… It turned out to be everything I thought it would be: scientific engineering background, the history of Kentucky, the art and magic of the whole thing. It just kind of all came together. That was 15 short years ago.”

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In those 15 years, O’Driscoll has made a name for himself as “that fermentation guy.” He’s eager to challenge himself. “What can we do with age, what can we do with innovative mash bills, what can we do with barrel finishes, what can we do with different types of wood? …With a million and a half barrels, there’s a lot we could do.”

So, he’s found a good home at his new distillery. According to Heaven Hill’s own Global Whiskey Ambassador, Bernie Lubber, components affect flavor like so: 10% yeast strain, 15% distillation, 25% recipe – specifically small grains (AKA not corn), 50% maturation. Estimates and opinions vary, but this is a reasonable rule of thumb. Since you can’t have distillation without fermentation, and various grains behave differently under fermentation, it sounds like half of the flavor in your glass comes from O’Driscoll’s specialty, and half from the new directions he plans to push.

With regards to the release of Barrel Proof I’m reviewing, here’s something interesting to note regarding the batch number – B519: The first letter of the batch number indicates its place among other releases that year, the first digit correlates to the month of the year and the last two digits indicate the year.

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B519

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (image via Heaven Hill)

Tasting Notes: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B519

Vital Stats: This Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is made from 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% malted barley, clocks in at 122.2 proof and was aged 12 years. Suggested price was $49.99, and bottles now fetch $82 on average.

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Appearance: Spirit is a mellow copper, forming quick, thick legs with beads remaining at the waterline.

Nose: The nose is rich and sweet – easygoing for the proof. First notes are banana peel and acetone, followed by caramelized pineapple and blown roses. Peach and apricot linger on the end of the inhale.

Palate: On the palate, this whiskey is aggressive but not rough; warm and mouth-filling. Leather and black tea hit on the back palate, as everywhere else is overwhelmed at first. Adding a drop of water opens up a wealth of flavor: it’s candied, super-sweet at first, like agave syrup. Vanilla bean, black pepper and cigar-box cedar mingle on the mid-palate, as the spicy tannins linger on the finish.

The Takeaway


This barrel proof is indeed burly, but lacks the harshness of others. It works well and makes me curious about future releases of this line.

User Rating 3.06 (53 votes)