The introduction of Elijah Craig Rye in early 2020 felt equally odd and appropriate. Odd when compared to its peers, but appropriate since other brands were catching on to rye’s growing popularity. Heaven Hill were already producing a budget-oriented rye whiskey in Rittenhouse, a bonded expression commonly used for cocktails, so to see the distillery launch a lower proof rye for a slightly higher price was a bit peculiar. The Bardstown brand pitches Elijah Craig Rye as an “extra-aged Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey,” but without so much as a barrel age range, we can only assume it’s at least four years old.
Like most Kentucky rye whiskeys, Elijah Craig Rye is “barely legal” with a mash bill of 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% malted barley. Another small observation is that, unlike its bourbon counterpart, Elijah Craig Rye isn’t branded as a “small batch.” Heaven Hill isn’t known for disclosing batch size, however, so it’s just as well to the end consumer. Distribution seems to have picked up recently, as bottles have finally made their way into my market with some consistency. Pricing hovers around $30-$35.
Nose: Bright and sweet, almost candy-like. Classic light brown sugar and citrus (orange in this case) profile that Kentucky ryes often exude. There’s a touch of clove and lemongrass in here, which makes a decent contrast to the vanilla and caramel notes. Smells inviting overall without overselling itself.
Palate: Green apple, citrus medley, vanilla, and light brown sugar with a light yet oily mouthfeel. The dominance of vanilla, caramel, and brown sugar notes make this feel like a high-rye bourbon. They come across in a way that’s distinct, but mild with regards to richness.
Finish: The rye shines most here, although not for long. Surprisingly dry given the upfront flavors. I can coax out a little pepper and oak tannins, maybe tobacco as well.
“Safe” is the word that springs to mind while drinking Elijah Craig Rye. It’s an approachable, by-the-books, barely legal Kentucky rye likely intended to throw as few curveballs as possible (if any). Bourbon fans are bound to find this more enjoyable than the likes of High West Double Rye or Whistlepig, and the profile is more rounded off and middle-of-the-road than say, Knob Creek Rye. Furthermore, while Elijah Craig Rye shares strong and expected similarities to Rittenhouse, it also feels a bit more fulfilling when sipped neat. Yet this is barely so.
Heaven Hill’s portfolio often makes them feel like a jack of all trades distillery, a pedigree Elijah Craig Rye mostly lives up to. This is a decently implemented product, with the aforementioned bump in distribution seeming to coincide with Pikesville’s ever-decreasing supply. Established drinkers will likely see this as serviceable and immediately move on while the more casual crowd may find a new, friendly favorite.