I've long been more of a critic than a believer in these barrel proof single barrels. I was excited at first when I found out they would be releasing one of my favorite products (94 proof store pick single barrels) at their straight-from-the-barrel proof. What I'd find later on was disappointment after disappointment where the single barrel products just couldn't live up to their 12 year age-stated batched product counterparts. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof C922 just recently rocked my world and earned my top mark. So what gives?
Only recently did I start coming back around to these releases when I found a few stores actually doing really great barrels. First, Liquor Junction did a barrel that was one of the earliest as far as I know. I crushed two of those at a spectacular price point. Then I was invited down to Kentucky to help pick another barrel from Heaven Hill. While it was far from the coolest barrel picking experience I've been on, there's nothing better than the smell of the inside of a rickhouse. Hammering out the bung on a few barrels that could be yours and sipping your way through nuances to find the one that is just right is more challenging than you would think. You've got to form a consensus across a few palates and then also consider what your average consumer is going to be looking for as well. When I pick a barrel I have to have the following conditions met for me to be willing to put my name on it:
I have to love the whiskey enough to be willing to buy a minimum of 6 bottles of it for myself
It has to do something unique; I don't want a barrel that tastes exactly like the shelf option - people ultimately need a reason to choose your barrel pick versus someone else's
It can't be too weird... being unique just for the sake of being unique is more detrimental than fitting in
Stores who keep these things in mind and have a core group of good palates end up putting out consistently good picks, building repertoire with their customers, and elevating the entire whiskey experience for the community. Finding these stores is more difficult than you might think. Everyone wants to do barrel picks these days - but that doesn't mean everyone should. Today's review comes from a store that is definitely starting to earn my respect. From the surprise Willett purple top barrel to a sleeper of a value bourbon, I've been impressed thus far. Will this Elijah Craig pick sing or flop? Let's find out!
Company on Label: Elijah Craig Distillery Co. (Heaven Hill)
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 78% Corn, 10% Rye, 12% Barley
Age: 8 years
Further identification: Barrel serial no: 6688127 was picked by the Dion's team
Nose: Sugary tones immediately jump out of the glass. Peanut brittle, toffee and classic Heaven Hill vanilla are omnipresent aromas as I inhale off the surface of the glass. Almond starts out simple before blooming into the smell of a sweet amaretto. A tinge of linen creeps up next to rich oak and caramel popcorn. Overall the glass feels dark, earthy and funky in all the right ways. Rich barrel influence gives this a sturdy backbone. Let's jump in for a sip.
Coming back more traditional vanilla and dark woodshop tones are dispersed through the glass. Overall this smells like a solid, well-aged bourbon with black pepper and leather just starting to come around. Bright red peppers provide a little heat on deep inhales on a well rested glass. Swirling things around produces more notes of the lovely medley of vanilla and black pepper that tickles the nostrils. The disturbed liquid below has upset the balance of the glass and an angry proof wall guards the surface from supplanting any aromas. Brown sugar and funky rum sweetness linger near the bottom of the glass. Lavender calms the glass from doozy to dozy. The empty glass smells of buttercream frosting, nectarine and silky smooth oatmilk.
Palate: A small sip to open the palate up is ladened with dark cherry, plum, orange peel, and a thick mouth coating of caramel. Another sip is again fruity with new layers of heft and spice reminiscent of the first bite into a hot tamale. Light tarragon leans more towards the sweet side of bittersweet and introduces a nice wave of lemongrass and honeysuckle. Sugar cookie evolves into a cherry tart. This doesn't have a ton of depth, but it makes up for that in high quality flavors. Raspberry scones sit towards the back of the tongue while lemon Italian shaved ice tingles on the tip. Mmm-mm! The linger is distinctly warm and buttery as if there was some in a pan getting ready to receive a drizzle of pancake batter. My last sip is delicate, creamy and well put together like a strawberries and cream waffle spread.
Overall this is incredibly far from a flop. It doesn't quite sing enough for me to personally say I would pick it or buy a case, but I'd definitely put this at an approachable tie to many of the batched products I've come to know and love. There are unique layers and vast similarities to the traditional Elijah Craig profiles that one might expect. This is another solid pick from the Dion's team.Where this would shine is in a blind lineup of several releases in order to have fun picking apart the subtle nuances. Let me know in the comments where you'd rank some of the single barrels you've tried. Cheers!