If you've been in the whiskey game for awhile, you may have noticed a trend in your wallet over the past several years. Here's a hint: it's not getting fatter. Prices for the brown booze have been skyrocketing as demand has exploded. The aged spirits industry is a particularly interesting economic case—brands need to predict what the market will look like 6, 10, 15, or more years in advance. Some brands have reacted to the current state of of the market (lots of demand and low supply) by jettisoning age statements, introducing new, younger, products for sale, and generally trying to get as much booze out on the shelves as possible. Others have doubled down on quality. Case in point: Elijah Craig.
Setting aside the incredible Elijah Craig 18 and 20 year old offerings of recent years—which, while competitively priced for super-aged bourbon, were limited releases and are now a prized find (if you spot one of these on a shelf, do yourself a favor and snap it up), the flagship EC 12 has been a benchmark of classic, quality bourbon with unbeatable value at around $25 a fifth. Now, Elijah Craig is putting out another limited release that won't break the bank: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon.
This 12-year old expression (the age statement is relegated to the back label) is bottled at full cask strength and non-chill filtered. (What does that mean? I address chill filtration here). The kicker? It's listing at an MSRP of $40, which in the current whiskey landscape (where cask strength bourbons are rare, and often go for $60 to $90) is an absolute steal. But value is about more than price, so let's pop the cork and see what's in the bottle.
Pouring a deep, dark mahogany (seriously, think grade B dark amber maple syrup), it's clear this whiskey has gotten friendly with the barrel. My bottle is a whopping 134.2 proof (67.1%), and the smell is huge—massively boozy and hot, with woody forest notes sneaking in around the edges, caramel, and vanilla dancing around. Tasted neat it's a wallop of alcohol, finishing with baking spices and a burn that won't quit. I enjoyed it, in a masochistic kind of way. But after cutting this whiskey down to size with a healthy splash of mineral water, the flavors blossom impressively. Now there's a deep, satisfying dark chocolate sweetness, interesting grassy notes, cinnamon, caramel, and syrup. It's a chewy dessert whiskey, and each sip leaves me wanting another.
This isn't my #1 favorite bourbon of all time, but it is damn tasty, and at $40 for a barrel strength bottle that turns into at least a liter once you cut it to ideal drinking strength, it's tough to beat for the money. Pick up a bottle while it's still on the shelves, and show the whiskey gods that your wallet is not their plaything.
Have you tried the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon? Do you have any other favorite value whiskeys to recommend?
About the author: Andrew Strenio is a lover of all things potable. Since sneaking his grandmother's bourbon balls, he's moved on to touring distilleries and sipping snifters. He works by day making documentary television and films for an independent production company in Brooklyn.
Sample provided for review consideration.