It’s no secret that Elijah Craig 12-Year is one of the best values of all of bourbons (usually under $30.00). Heaven Hill has taken its popular Elijah Craig 12-Year bourbon to new heights with small batch barrel proof editions. This review compares the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience gift shop edition (129.7 Proof; the only white label), with the third edition (133.2 Proof; brown label) and the just-released fifth edition (134.8 proof; brown label). Look for the latest edition at your favorite retail stores because the price is a bit higher at the Bourbon Experience ($40 range at retail vs. $55 at the Bourbon Experience) and, unfortunately, I’ve confirmed with the Bourbon Experience that they’re out. Wherever these land, they’ll be gone in a heartbeat.
The Elijah Craig 12-Year Barrel Proof batches have all forgone chill filtering, which contributes to the dark brown color and leaves more flavors behind, but which also results in a slight cloudiness when water is added. Chill filtering involves chilling the whiskey significantly, so fatty acids and proteins created during distillation can be filtered out, thus removing cloudiness in the bottle. I understand this is done for mostly cosmetic reasons.
Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof – 129.7 Proof ($54.99 – Bourbon Experience price)
I reviewed this edition of EC12 against other high-proof options last December ("The High Octane Challenge"). The color is outright mahogany brown. On re-taste, the nose is more complex than the other two, blending caramel, oak and apple, with only a slight burn from the high proof. The taste is really remarkable, with more sweetness of caramel, vanilla and butterscotch, along with pepper and cinnamon spice and hints of oak and almonds, with some slight dark chocolate bitterness. The finish featured these same flavors too, along with a hint of mint, and it was really long and warm.
Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof – 133.2 Proof ($54.99 – Bourbon Experience price)
The winter’s edition seems to be the darkest brown of the three. The nose has deep oak and leather notes, along with brown sugar. The initial taste gave the strongest and hottest bite out of the three, even though it’s not the highest proof (but show me someone who can distinguish 134.8 proof from 133.2 proof…). Remember, the ABV calculates to 66.6, so maybe it’s just the power of suggestion. In addition to the heat, this edition seems to be the spiciest, but after a splash of water, sweet flavors opened up, but it’s still dark cherries, nuts, oak and deep earthy flavors. This one had the longest finish of the three.
Elijah Craig 12 Year Barrel Proof – 134.8 Proof ($54.99 – Bourbon Experience price)
Dark brown color? Check. This edition has the hottest nose, so seriously, don’t inhale too intensely before you add water. Water removes the sting and opens up balanced caramel, oak and pepper. The taste balanced those same flavors with an incredibly robust blast. Try this one with different amounts of water and you’ll see definite changes in flavor profile, bringing out some vanilla, toast and dark fruit flavors. The finish was long like the others, but probably better balanced than the third edition.
I’ve also tried the first release (a 134.2 proof gem) shared by a friend. Like the editions that followed, it was tremendous, and had slightly different flavors like caramel apple and cinnamon crumb cake. But out of all that I’ve tried, the 129.7 proof white label expression nudged out its higher-proof brothers. Each of these editions has its own distinct characteristics, but of course they also have a lot of similarities. After all, they’re all Elijah Craig, they’re all 12 years old, and they’re all relatively close in time on distillation (and therefore aging seasons). I would expect future editions to have a little more variation from these three since those barrels will have experienced different aging seasons.
In addition to all being excellent, one of the most surprising features to me is the drinkability at such a high proof. Don’t drink a whole glass neat, but definitely try it for the full experience, and also enjoy what a Glencairn or NEAT glass can do for the nose (although the nose is astounding even without a special glass). Then you’ll want to use ice and a splash of water to lower the proof, but be careful to not go anywhere near the standard 94 proof.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
EC12 – 129.7 Proof: 4.5
EC12 – 133.2 Proof: 4.0
EC12 – 134.8 Proof: 4.25
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.
Want more information on the non-gift shop Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases? Check out this great summary by Bourbonr: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Release Cheat Sheet.