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. 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.
The bottle says it best; uncut and straight from the barrel, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon is one intense spirit. While Elijah Craig is more commonly known for its 94-proof bourbon, several times a year the brand branches out with high alcohol barrel proof batches, an effort to innovate and expand the otherwise predictable flavor profile of the well-known label.
Still known in certain circles as the “Father of Bourbon,” Elijah Craig was a Baptist preacher who, in 1789, is said to be the first distiller to age whiskey in new charred oak barrels, the process that gives bourbon its distinct color and unique taste. While Elijah Craig’s legacy has lasted for over 250 years, there are many who believe the lore of Craig’s ingenuity has been overly hyped, and that he was simply distilling his whiskey in the same manners as other distillers of the time.
Elijah Craig enlists the power of four distinct elements: grain, water, fire, and time. On top of that they add “The Human Element,” applying a hands-on approach to the distilling process. The grain elements utilize signature mash bills of malted barley, rye, wheat, and local corn. Kentucky limestone water is used in the fermentation process. Taking the bourbon from the barrel uncut preserves the natural flavors cultivated in the aging process. The barrels receive a Level 3 char, developing an earthier, spicy flavor that really stands out along with the rich caramelization and deep color.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C921 has been aged 12 years and is pulled straight from the barrel. Barrel proof bourbon has not been diluted with water. This gives the drinker more freedom to control the levels at which they consume their spirit, as they can choose to add ice or water depending on their taste.
The way Elijah Craig arranges its batch numbers on the label offers specifications on each release of their barrel proof expression. The tasting today is release C921; the first letter indicates the order of release for the year, so this is the third release of the barrel proof in 2021. The first number represents the month of release (September) and the final two numbers indicate the year of the release.
Over the years the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon has been a favorite and has garnered awards and accolades, but the truth remains that if one does not appreciate a powerhouse, 120 proof bourbon, this will be a challenging sip that will need some finesse to be fully enjoyed by the lay-drinker.
Tasting Notes: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C921
Vital Stats: Aged 12 years. 120.2 proof (60.1% ABV). Batch C921. $69.99/750mL.
Appearance: Dark honey hue, smooth and clean.
Nose: The bourbon is musty, cask forward, with the scent of spiced wood and faint notes of apple.
Palate: The high alcohol content overwhelms a deeply complex flavor profile. I needed a drop of water to open the bourbon up and once I let it sit, I was able to make out the bittersweet flavors. Peppery notes combined with exotic spices blend well with lightly muted vanilla.
After releasing the flavors with a bit of water this bourbon really opened up for me. My preference tends toward a lower proof, but this expression is very pleasant on the palate and manages to be powerful without overpowering the well-developed flavors.
User Review3.89 (9 votes)
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Jerry Jenae Sampson
Jerry Sampson is a freelance writer, editor and screenwriter. Her creative work is ever improved by her love of whiskey and craft cocktails. She enjoys taking cool fall days to explore the great distilleries around Portland to get a closer look at the inner workings of her favorite spirits.