In my previous post, I mentioned how the word is now out on Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. This is a Heaven Hill brand we’re talking about, and if any company knows a thing or two about budget-friendly whiskey, it’s the company behind Evan Williams. Yet even they aren’t immune to the side effects of a booming whiskey market. For example, Henry McKenna, a once $30 bottle, can cost over $100 at some outlets. Some brands (see: Booker’s) have responded to the growing movement and subsequent demand by increasing prices. Others (see: Buffalo Trace) leave the MSRP untouched, but somewhere along the three-tier distribution system, prices skyrocket all the same.
Why do I bring this up? Let’s come back to Heaven Hill. More specifically, let’s look at Elijah Craig and one of their two recently introduced expressions: Toasted Barrel. The idea got popular with Michter’s, who take their whiskey and finish it in barrels that are toasted, but not charred. So last year, not to be outdone, Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel (ECTB) was introduced with limited availability and a $50 MSRP. Many weren’t able to get their hands on a bottle, including yours truly, but someone else was kind enough to part with a sample so I could see for myself what kind of pour I could’ve been in for.
Nose: Nice, mild oak with discrete sweetness behind it. Bright cherry backbone shines through. Sweet and restrained spice—clove, black licorice—and a hint of graham cracker in the background. Swirling brings a creamy, caramelized orange and brown sugar combination out. Cherry, marshmallow, and a touch of cocoa powder. Wonderfully balanced.
Palate: Light butterscotch cream, brown sugar, and graham cracker. Toasted oak tingles lightly but feels nicely balanced with the sweetness. Dried cherry and marshmallow while the graham cracker note begins to taste more toasted. The sweet notes begin to assert dominance after a few sips, resulting in a loss of dimension.
Finish: Toasted oak persists with wood flavor, but avoids feeling overly bitter or tannic. Vanilla and caramel notes are released, along with sweet clove and licorice.
This is a nice bourbon. The toasted oak influence is just right, bringing a tangible tingle that adds a subtle bit of depth to the mix. After a few sips, however, it begins to lose that welcome touch and leans more into the sweet notes you get with Elijah Craig Small Batch (ECSB). My initial impressions had me sad that I couldn’t find a bottle, but as I finished the sample, I started to feel more at-ease with the reality. A big part of this has to do with, you guessed it, pricing and availability.
ECSB already costs $30 where I live, so seeing an extra $20 smacked on top of it for a finishing process has me scratching my head a bit. Is toasted oak finishing actually worth twice the price (or more) over the Small Batch? I already mentioned in my Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B519 review that I’m not the biggest fan of the core expression, yet I found ECTB quite enjoyable. If I saw a bottle on the shelf for $50, I’d probably buy it just to have handy. Otherwise, I have little desire to hunt this down. There’s just so much quality bourbon for around $50 dollars simply waiting to be bought, many of which provide superior drinking experiences to what Heaven Hill offer here.