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Elijah Craig GNS Market Private Barrel

“Behold, Elijah is here.” – 1 Kings 18:8.

I don’t think there’s a bourbon whiskey brand that has ascended my personal league table more strongly than Elijah Craig. Judging from what I am able to see and read on social media, I am not alone in terms of my waxing enthusiasm for the Reverend Craig. Heaven Hill has been making all the right moves with this name lately, including the release of a toasted barrel (currently a “flavor of the month” among bourbon lovers) and a steady stream of full strength releases.

Speaking of full strength: after an inauspicious start in the form of a very “meh” bottle of the standard Small Batch, I had more or less sworn off Elijah Craig in favor of its Heaven Hill stablemate (and my personal favorite) Evan Williams. Thankfully, I was peer pressured into trying a batch of the Barrel Proof expression, which knocked my socks off and comprehensively redeemed this marque for me. I’m a fan of bourbon presented at high proof without chill filtration, so this should have come as no surprise.

What did surprise me, however, was how much I enjoyed revisiting Elijah Craig in its various 94 proof incarnations. For example, a bourbon group I’m involved with did a stunning 10-year-old barrel pick from the Deatsville rickhouses, said to be the favorites of Heaven Hill’s erstwhile master distiller Parker Beam. Though I can’t review it for you here (given the conflict of interest), I’m happily sipping away at the bottle and am contented to have another three in the cupboard. There’s great flavor and texture throughout, despite the fact that it was diluted down to bottling proof.

I can therefore credit Elijah Craig with rekindling my interest in lower-proof bourbon. This is not for nothing; a preoccupation of mine, discussed here (several times, actually) is the havoc that industrial-strength whiskey can wreak on a palate. Once becoming accustomed to the forceful punch of the heavyweights in the 120-proof-and-up division, a return to welterweight whiskey can seem like step down, particularly with respect to the textural aspects of the experience.

However, as with all things in life, there’s a trade-off here. I have found that the all-encompassing mouthfeel of extremely high proof whiskey can actually crowd out some of the subtler flavors contained therein. Empirical evidence of this phenomenon can be obtained by adding a little water to a dram and noting the “new” aromas and flavors that emerge as a consequence. While I retain my general preference for less monkeying around with whiskey (including, but not limited to, dilution), I am more open minded about lower proof whiskey, particularly when it comes recommended – or selected – by a trusted source.

Speaking of trusted sources: since I first reviewed a store pick from GNS (their precocious 9-year-old Knob Creek), the business has increased the intensity of its whiskey selection program. It also added a social media presence in the form of an Instagram account. This has been a mixed blessing, at least from a customer’s perspective. It’s now easier to find out about their barrel picks, which means more folks know about them, which means they sell out more quickly. However, the policies of placing desirable bottles on the shelves and pricing them fairly persist, and as a consequence I am I happy to continue to support them with my custom.

With all of the above as prologue, you’ll not be surprised to learn that I picked up a bottle of their Elijah Craig store pick as soon as it caught my eye. This is from barrel serial number 5802855. The store’s Heaven Hill representative kindly informs us that this was from the sixth floor of rickhouse O on the main Heaven Hill campus. Barreled on 9/3/2010 and dumped on 6/17/19, this whiskey comes to us at the age of eight years. Bottled at the standard Elijah Craig Small Batch bottling strength of 94 proof (47% ABV); I paid $30 for 750 ml.

Elijah Craig GNS Market Private Barrel – Review

Colour: Rusty orange.

On the nose: This smells very all-together, in the sense of the elements having knit well and tightly. This makes them hard to pick out individually, but some concentration allows me to produce the following list: vanilla, clementines, banana taffy, damp metal, clods of dry earth, red licorice, eucalyptus, red rocks, chocolate cherry fudge. If this doesn’t seem to follow a logical progression, it’s because these aromas don’t present themselves in isolation, but rather swirl and disappear and re-emerge in a fascinating way. It’s got some unmistakable Heaven Hill elements, but I’m not certain I have ever experienced this form of presentation from the distillery before.

In the mouth: Dry entrance, with a chalky and mineralic mouthfeel of limestone toward the front of the tongue. This takes on some green and tannic flavors as it moves toward the center of the mouth. The high point comes in the middle of the tongue, when a tart citric note of Meyer lemon is married with some salted cashew flavors and a sweet oakiness. This quiets down as it moves into the finish, with a lingering flavor of candied cherries, some iodine, and another mineral note, this time less austere and more subtle. All through the mouth, there’s a warming sensation that makes this feel more potent than the stated 94 proof.

Conclusions

A well-above-average whiskey for a below-average price. Though the flavors are subtle, they are present, diverse, and distinct in a way that is a marked improvement over the retail shelf Elijah Craig Small Batch. This is a convincing argument for the store pick format generally, Elijah Craig barrel picks more specifically, and continued patronage of my local whiskey bodega-cum-boutique most of all. I’m very satisfied in both the intellectual and hedonistic senses, and am happy to award this a solid score as a consequence.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

  1. Avatar
    Greg B. says:

    While currently the availability of Elijah Craig where I live is virtually nil, with only the “meh” Small Batch being available, I have some good feelings about the brand generally resulting from a gift perhaps 8-10 years ago of a bottle of the now-discontinued EC 12 y-o version. I had no previous experience with EC at that point and as a result it sat on my dusties shelf until about 3 years ago when I found it and decided to try it. I was actually quite impressed and liked it rather more than the bourbons in a similar price range such as Makers and Knob Creek. Sadly for me, by the time I discovered that, the 12 y-o was no longer available. Hopefully a version like this will make an appearance here one day.

    I also fully agree with your comments regarding high-proof whiskies and the utility of adding water. Even with a 43-46% ABV whisky, a few drops of water (literally added with an eyedropper) can sometimes bring out surprising new flavors that would otherwise be hidden. The effects of water are widely known in the whisky world but sometimes I feel it gets overlooked.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Greg, thanks for the comments! Barrel Proof (if you can find it) still carries the twelve year age statement, and you can dilute it down to suit your tastes. There are also a number of really excellent barrel picks floating around in the high-single-to-low-double-digit age range. Hopefully we’ll see more of these over time. Happy hunting and cheers!

    2. Avatar
      Jon says:

      Any idea on the barrel proof was on this one? One cool thing which comes from the distributor in my market is a side label for the EC store pick barrels that lists the barrel proof. Generally try to go for the lower proof barrels that are closer to the 94 proof bottle proof. That 140 proof barrel may of tasted great when sampling it in the rickhouse or in a sample bottle but can be a very different animal when it’s bottled at 94 proof.

      Personally kind of got bored with the EC profile and really prefer the profile from EW. Wish they did EWSB at higher proof. The 2017 Parker’s which is cherry picked barrels with the EW profile at barrel proof was a favorite for me. On paper one would think EC barrel proof is the same but not a fan of ECBP. That’s fine more ECBP for everyone else.

      One last point of your an EW fan give JW Dant BIB a go. I prefer it over EC and can be found in my market for like $18 a handle.

      1. Taylor
        Taylor says:

        Jon, unfortunately I don’t have the barrel entry proof info. I agree that having the Evan Williams profile in a barrel proof single barrel (or at least in a barrel proof small batch a la Elijah Craig and Larceny) would be a welcome addition to the Heaven Hill stable, and tops on my whiskey wish list. I’ll certainly try to remember to snag the JW Dant BiB and appreciate the recommendation. Cheers!

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