In the waning months of 2017, the Elijah Craig brand completed the fifth year of its tradition of tri-annually releasing separate batches of uncut 12-year-old bourbon.
Released three times per year under alphanumeric tracking code, this year’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon series included A117, B517 and most recently C917. While the code sounds vaguely like a naval vessel naming convention, the letter “C” indicates this was the third release of the year, “9” indicates that it was released in the ninth month of the year (September), and “17” marks the release year (2017).
Since Heaven Hill Distillery made the controversial decision to drop the age statement from its formerly signature Elijah Craig 12 Year Old and begin blending 8- to 12-year-old batches together, the Barrel Proof bottlings seem to have filled as Elijah Craig’s mid-level offering. The previous two batches this year were especially highly regarded by Whisky Advocate, with B517 earning “Whisky of the Year 2017.”
Each Barrel Proof bottle is 12 years old, obviously uncut, and “bottled straight from the barrel.” Each batch is unique and will come in at a different proof than the others – 131.0 proof in the case of C917. The triannual release and the tracking system, according to those behind it, offers drinkers the “unique opportunity to explore the impact of the angel’s share” from one batch to the next. That is how the gradual evaporation of alcohol from wood casks during the aging process uniquely affects each barrel, though I like to imagine angels sucking up alcohol like Bette Midler sucking the life force of children in Hocus Pocus.
Vital stats: 12-year-old bourbon, specifically released in September, 2017. Bottled at barrel proof of 131.0.
Appearance: Amber with a copper hue that makes it darker and redder than average.
Nose: The high proof is certainly apparent from the first whiff, but not overpowering, leaving room for the scent of a richly sweet vanilla with notes of orange and oak. That gradually gets a bit earthier with notes of caramel, apple, oak, and cinnamon,
Palate: My first, undiluted sip started out with the sweetness of light, floral honey, but that only lasted a moment before an intense wave of cinnamon- and clove-like spiciness generally overwhelmed my palate. Given that potency, the finish was surprisingly mild with notes of smoky, earthy caramel and nutmeg. While I don’t typically dilute my drams for tasting, I did so in this case as the accompanying press release suggests. Adding a dash of water certainly curbed the intensity enough for me to further ponder the flavors I perceived – more vanilla on entry, more pepper in the middle and finish – but the overall flavor profile doesn’t change much except to make it more approachable.
Although I’m torn as to whether I see routine releases of cask-strength batches as empowering the whiskey lovers or just a cop out, I can’t find anything to fault in this whiskey. It’s smooth and has a nice ebb and flow between spiciness, and the distillers encourage drinkers to add water to each person’s individual tastes. That said, I found nothing particularly jaw-dropping about C917. It’s smooth and above average but predictable and not likely to surprise.