Elijah Craig is a well-loved whiskey brand from the iconic Heaven Hill distillery and warehouses. The line of four bourbons and one rye are all finely crafted expressions — with a few premium whiskey offerings. Like most brands these days, they issue unique releases whenever they see fit, but today we’re going to stay focused on the core bottles.
Speaking personally, the now-discontinued Elijah Craig 12 was one of the first bourbons I remember truly appreciating back in the day. So much so, that I collect the bottles from old liquor stores when I see them gathering dust on the shelf. I’ve also been lucky enough to taste the phenomenal Elijah Craig 23 Single Barrel — thanks to very old friends from my bartending days.
I like these whiskeys, I’ve enjoyed them often, and even when shiny new expressions pull my interest away for a spell, I always end up returning to them at some point.
For this ranking, you’re getting my professional opinion based on taste alone. Price isn’t too much of an issue with Elijah Craig. Their Barrel Strength releases are starting to get serious awards attention (making them a little harder to find and running up the cost) and their 18-year-old Single Barrel is more of a special occasion buy, but overall Elijah Craig is generally availible and affordable. Best of all, there’s a great value-per-dollar here, with a level of craft that actually outpaces the hype.
5. Elijah Craig Small Batch
Average Price: $32
This is Elijah Craig’s entry-point bottle. The mash is corn-focused, with more malted barley than rye (12 percent and ten percent respectively). Originally, this was branded as a 12-year-old whiskey. The brand decided to move away from that labeling and started blending younger whiskeys in with the 12-year-old stuff.
Classic bourbon notes greet you with a clear focus on vanilla, caramel, oak, orchard fruit, and a touch of fresh mint. The palate holds onto those flavors while adding in mild Christmas spices with a touch of oak and tobacco. The end is short, simple, and will leave you with a warm Kentucky hug.
This really is a solid whiskey at this price point but something has to be last. It’s also a solid Bourbon 101 expression for anyone looking to get into the style and wanting a bottle that squarely hits the standard notes.
Works well as a mixer or on the rocks.
4. Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel
Average Price: $85 ($50 MSRP)
This new expression from the brand uses classic Elijah Craig Small Batch and gives it a finishing maturation. Basically, the aged juice is transferred to toasted oak barrels for a spell so that the whiskey can really capture more of that oakiness.
Naturally, you get a woodiness on the nose that teeters between soft cedar and sweet, almost fruity hardwoods, with a hint of caramel sweetness as a counterpoint. That caramel has a somewhat orange-chocolate edge with hints of clove, cinnamon, and white pepper lurking in the background. The spices dry out (think cinnamon sticks or spice barks), the sweetness subsides, and you’re left with a touch of that soft cedar and some well-warmed senses.
This isn’t overly woody like some “toasted oak” expressions out there. Still, it can be an acquired taste for some. Our advice is to try it with a little water at first to let it mellow and bloom and then experiment with this one in highballs and cocktails.
3. Elijah Craig Straight Rye
Average Price: $30
This is a subtle rye whiskey. The mash bill only has 51 percent rye grains next to 35 percent corn and 14 percent barley. The juice is then aged for several years and then blended, proofed, and bottled with no age statement.
There’s a real sense of a dark chocolate bar that’s cut with dried chili and a touch of cinnamon that draws you in. The palate mellows that spice into a Christmas spice mix while a honey sweetness and texture lead towards sweet oak and the slightest wisp of pipe tobacco smoke. The finish takes its time as those spices keep your senses warm and buzzing on the slow fade.
Against other ryes in this price range, it’d stand up to the best of them. Still, this is a very mellow rye that feels more like a high-rye bourbon until you let it bloom with some water (making it a good crossover for bourbon fans).
All of that being said, it still makes a hell of a Sazerac.
2. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
Average Price: $75
This is a highwater mark in barrel proof bourbon. These are released three times a year (generally) and have been winning award after award. The whiskey in the bottle is generally at least 12 years old and bottled with no cutting down to proof or filtration whatsoever.
This expression is all about finding the best barrels in the Heaven Hill warehouses and letting that whiskey shine on its own.
This will vary slightly depending on the batch, but expect dialed in notes of apple orchards and orange oils on the nose next to a clear oakiness. The palate will dabble in rich vanilla, caramels, peppery and powdery spices, and more of that fruit and oak with a toffee velvet sweetness. The fade will be slow and touch on all the featured notes, leaving you wanting more.
This is where drinking bourbon gets fun. Last year’s releases (labeled A120, B520, and C920) were all well-received with bottlenecks hanging heavy with awards. These bottles are really where you go when you want to start developing your palate and deepening your knowledge while enjoying some seriously easy-drinking whiskey.
1. Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18-Year-Old
Average Price: $250 ($150 MSRP)
This is what you get when you take standard Elijah Craig and let it rest in just the right spot for 18 years. The 18-year-old barrel is hand-selected after a long search through the warehouses. Once selected, the juice is cooled slightly with that soft Kentucky limestone water and then bottled.
You get a sense of oak with a touch of a rock-hewn cellar next to notes of dark chocolate oranges, mild brown spices, a touch of vanilla cream, and a hint of honey. That vanilla takes on a nutty edge as the spices build and the wood softens towards cedar with a hint of fruity tobacco chew. The vanilla creaminess really drives the finish towards a silken mouthfeel with plenty of spicy/fruity tobacco leaving you with a mild buzz across your senses.
This is one of those “smooth” whiskeys that doesn’t even need water — it’s that easy to drink. Still, this bottle has a lot going on that you need to take your time with. Explore the layers by adding water, learning from the nose, and giving the sip time to wash across your senses.