Elijah Craig Barrel Proof A123 Bourbon Review
Another triannual edition of the long acclaimed Elijah Craig Barrel Proof lineup is here! The Heaven Hill Distillery team certainly had their work cut out for them after putting on a true blending clinic that was on full display with the previous release. So unfortunately for A123... The C922 release is going to be quite the hard act to follow.
I've long enjoyed just about everything that has come under the Elijah Craig label. Often called 'The Father of Bourbon' - this brand harkens back to the 250 year old legacy of the innovative Baptist Preacher who changed the face of bourbon with the addition of charring of the oak barrels before beginning the aging process. If you are interested in further understanding the history of the brand, I'd recommend you check out the Elijah Craig website.
As for my experience with the brand, I've thoroughly enjoyed the 94 proof shelf offering, the lower proof single barrel store picks, the 18 year old editions, and have even picked my own single barrel of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. I personally have found that the batched product tend to be much more consistently good than many of the single barrels I have explored, but your mileage may vary there (and there are absolutely no hard truths in whiskey). Perhaps I enjoy a couple extra years of aging that the single barrels don't get, or perhaps the blending skill of the team at Heaven Hill is really exceptional. Either way, I know when I reach for a bottle of this batched product, I'm in for a good time. Now let's not delay any longer before getting to the good part: the whiskey! Will A123 ride the coattails of the previous release, or earn a new spot amongst the highest echelons of whiskeys reviewed on this site? Let's dive in.
Company on Label: Elijah Craig (Heaven Hill)
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Barley
Age: 12 years
Further identification: Batch A123 is the first of three releases for 2023
Nose: Soft pottery clay, dry vanilla bean and hints of leather begin a mysteriously light array of aromas. Peanut brittle, confectioners sugar and sugar cookie sits delicately in the airy nose-feel. Deep inhales produce slightly oily tones with level oak and well-aged leather. Black pepper and anise begin to wake from a deep slumber as the glass is agitated slightly. Cacao sits lazily in the multitude of cracks of a richly aged slab of oak. Buttercream frosted cupcake aromas provide a nice sweet complexity before I find myself entrapped in a cacophony of barrel influence. Time for a sip.
Coming back after a few sips doesn't show off much evolution in the glass, but it does bring me back to my favorite aroma from before, which was the buttercream frosted cupcake. A swirl of the glass unleashes orange peel zest and plenty of stinging black pepper. The faint aroma of warm cinnamon toast can be found near the bottom of the glass. On the empty glass I smell cinnamon, red licorice and milk chocolate.
Palate: Excellent new additions to the nose include flavors of fig and red berry jam upon first sipping this glass. Cherry skins and dark grape juice come across slightly tannic. The mouth feel is rather thin and ladened with bountiful oak. The linger is quite long despite the texture with a lot of the peanut brittle from the nose coming through well. Another sip does well to layer in some new surprises such as raspberry and Christmas fruit cake. This brings a multitude of messy layers of apricot, orange peel, nutmeg, cardamom, clove and brown sugar to the linger. As the glass gets lower, things get even messier. Menthol has now crept into the stonefruit in a way that doesn't quite jive. As the glass wanes, the complexity shrinks with the remaining volume of liquid. My last sip is solidly fruit forward with cherry, plum and raspberry predominantly coming through. The finish carries a soft and sweet mix of floral and fruit flavors.
(Decent. I can go either way on it.)
Well, it doesn't seem like this batch could live up to the legendary batches of old in my memory - such as all 3 of the batches that released in 2020 and especially the fresh in the mind C922. While A123 doesn't push the boundaries of the brand, it certainly continues the legacy of consistency and quality. Ultimately I found this one to be a bit over-oaked on the palate personally, but I am sure there will be folks who enjoy this batch thoroughly. As an easily available sipper, it's just fine and I'm happy to have a bottle of it.