Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Elijah Craig. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Just like Champagne has the iconic monk Dom Perignon, Kentucky Bourbon has the minister Elijah Craig. But just like the legendary monk who supposedly invented Champagne (but really didn’t), Elijah Craig’s role in crafting the first bourbon aged in charred oak has been exaggerated with time.
A Baptist minister, entrepreneur, and founder of Georgetown and its wool processing mill that housed the town’s first bourbon, there is no record that Elijah Craig played a role in its production, per Whiskey Advocate. Nor was this operation ever in Bourbon County, though intriguingly it was at the time in Fayette County and both are named for the American Revolutionary War hero, the Marquis de Lafayette of the French royal House of Bourbon.
Despite Craig not necessarily pioneering the spirit, his legend has had enormous impact on Kentucky Bourbon and American whiskey more broadly. Elijah Craig the bourbon was first released in 1986 as a 12-year premium product from Heaven Hill Distillery. The company leaned into the mythology surrounding the minister, stamping the bottles with the supposed date of Bourbon County’s first whiskey, 1789.
The extra aging in a time when whiskey had fallen out of fashion was a risk for a company best know for inexpensive booze. Yet respect for Elijah Craig Kentucky Bourbon is not without merit. These are well-aged whiskeys released as single batches in lots of 200 barrels, including this barrel proof release: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch B522.
The batch number has meaning that is easy to decode. B522 means that this is the second release of the year, thus ‘B’ as in A., B., and C. (I get a bonus check for obscure British TV references—just kidding), and was released in 5/22 or May of 2022.
The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch B522 is uncut with water and non-chill filtered, so a pure expression straight from the barrels. The distillery describes the whiskey as having rather straightforward bourbon notes of “Rich vanilla, caramel, and butterscotch along with spices of black pepper & cinnamon at the back of the palate.”
Vital Stats: Aged at least 12 years in new American oak barrels with level 3 char. 60.5% ABV. Mash bill of 78% corn, 12% malted barley, 10% rye, SRP $60/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: Golden amber in color.
Nose: This opens with an aroma of sweet vanilla with bruised apple and a dash of animal hide. This has notes of brown bread and roasted grain. There’s a touch of straw and grassiness with a hint of cinnamon. The spirit has a numbing and minty effect on the nose likely due to the high alcohol content. Aeration brings forward the animal notes, veering into a note of clean horse barn and old leather.
Palate: Fiery spice on the first sip, this is painful to the palate yet has a slinky feel to the texture. There’s a hint of tannin, but it’s buried under the sinus-clearing sting of the alcohol. Flavors are difficult to bring forward what with the burning of the taste buds. There’s a note of old wood and sawdust, giving this cantankerous spirit an aged and venerable impression. The finish fades into notes of hot iron, spun sugar, and damp charcoal.
Personally, I found the proof to be a touch high for enjoying neat, but with time and a splash of water, the aromatics were extremely enjoyable. It tastes like a mature spirit, as it should, with intriguing aromas on the finish. Though the name may be surrounded in myth, it’s a fascinating foray of the history of American spirits. I humbly suggest sipping while reading some of the excellent deep dives into the history of bourbon linked above.
User Review3.5 (12 votes)
Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...