One could stay busy all year long as a whiskey reviewer with how many unique releases Heaven Hill puts out... The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases are the ones that I try to never miss out on. They have historically agreed with my palate in general and I think their blending team is absolutely fantastic at what they do. They definitely still have duds every once in a while, so I'm here to make sure you know which ones those are! Let's cut to the chase.
Company on Label: Elijah Craig (Heaven Hill)
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Barley
Age: 11 years & 5 months
Further identification: Batch B523 is the second release of 2023 and it is the first batch to drop the typical 12 year age statement for this release
Nose: Bright cherry jumps out of the glass first amongst deep leather tones. Strawberry pie and heaps of whipped cream create a deeply inviting aroma. I can't resist an early sip here. Coming back I find vanilla bean ice cream and level oak have created a creamy fog atop the glass. Deep woodshop aromas and pungent graham cracker tones proliferate late in the glass. The nose is rather simple and easy, but the aromas it does produce are so, so delectable. The empty glass smells of classic well-aged Kentucky bourbon: leather, butterscotch, cherry, caramel and black pepper all culminate in a wonderfully complete blend of aromas. While nosing this is fun, where this glass really shines is on the palate.
Palate: My first sip is delectable with Hershey's strawberry milk. The profile on this glass is incredibly vanilla forward - a fairly typical dominant flavor for Heaven Hill. It reminds me a touch of creamy horchata. Talk about crushable... This one just begs for another sip with the perfect level of sweetness. Indulging, I find the same creamy vanilla profile coats every surface of the mouth in a long, slightly effervescent linger. Touches of praline, graham cracker and Easter candy give just enough depth for this to be worthy of savoring. Mmm. Suddenly the faint candied nut flavors that were hiding in the background become the star of the show. Candied pecans with that rich, buttery texture swing in before soft cocktail cherry notes trail off slowly. A longer sip and swish produce great heft with no heat; cinnamon raisin bread and peanut brittle arm wrestle a bit before the big brother of vanilla swoops in to break things up. Everything about this glass is playful, lighthearted and delicious. It feels as welcoming as the friendliest home, delivering that bread-in-the-oven comfort of a homemade meal to come. My last sip is liquid dessert. Cherry pie, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and infinite undulations of scrumptious praline leave me longing for any other whiskey that can produce that array of flavor. The finish is long, smoldering and sweet. Just lovely.
TL;DR: Very on-brand for Heaven Hill & extremely crushable
Dropping the 12 year age statement? I couldn't care less - it's 11 years, 5 months. If the blenders call this close enough & it still tastes good then let's book that win. I'm just glad they still ventured on the side of clarity; I would certainly be more up in arms if there was no age statement. One has to worry if this is a slippery slope for the future though. Will the age statement be dropped altogether in 2024?
Regardless of age, one has to ask... did they put crack in this release? It's incredible how much this one makes you want to keep sipping. If you can't tell by the fill level on this bottle (I had help), I've clearly been victimized by the deliciousness of this batch. It's not quite exceptional whiskey - not grand enough to earn my 5 score, but it certainly has a place on my shelf for the foreseeable future. As such, it's earned my 'Keep Amongst the Whiskey' distinction which sort of functions like a +0.5 to the final rating if you want to read it that way. I originally intended it to be something that (regardless of score) meant that I wanted to always have a bottle of it on hand, but I think the addition to the base score is totally fair and something I am considering incorporating into my standard moving forward. Let me know down in the comments if you agree or disagree with this strategy, or feel free to join the discussion on IG. Cheers!