At this point, I’ve introduced Elijah Craig Barrel Proof reviews or tastings at Paste often enough that almost anything general I’d say about the product will simply be me repeating myself. Suffice to say, here’s the short, short version.
ECBP is the cask strength, 12-year-old version of Heaven Hill’s classic mid-shelf champion Elijah Craig Small Batch, a whiskey that made our list of the best bourbons for under $30. ECBP is beloved in the whiskey sphere for its potent flavors, often soaring proof point and bang-for-your-buck. Unlike so many well-aged, high-proof bourbons that draw rave reviews, it’s fairly accessible thanks to its trio of yearly releases, and its MSRP of around $70 (Heaven Hill says $60, but it’s not easy to find for that) is hard to beat when you compare it with almost all of its direct competition. There’s a reason why so many list it as a perennial favorite, especially if you enjoy Heaven Hill’s distillery house style.
A quick primer on any given ECBP label: This release is “C922,” which simply means the following. “C” means this is the third of three releases for 2022, to be followed by next year’s “A” in early 2023. The “9” means that this is a September release. And the “22” just stands for 2022. The next release will likely be A123, assuming the usual schedule holds.
As for this release, its 62.4% ABV (124.8 proof) is the highest for the ECBP series in 2022, and a level that will likely be welcome news to bourbon geeks who had worried that the series would permanently be dipping beneath the 120 proof mark, as it has done several times in the last few years. Still, event his 124.8 proof mark does continue the trend of relatively lower strengths for ECBP, given that it was previously common for the series to feature proofs in the 130s or even 140s. Personally, I’m fine with this—my favorite ECBP releases are often in the 120s anyway—but I know there are plenty of “proof hounds” out there who are still wondering if ECBP will ever return to its more high-octane roots. They’ll have to keep waiting for at least one more release, for that information.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting this C922 batch.
On the nose, this release combines classic Heaven Hill impressions of peanut brittle and pecan praline with slightly earthier, oakier tones. I’m getting plenty of caramel—pretty much a given with ECBP—along with old oak and gingerbread, and a creaminess suggesting dulce de leche. Also of note are notes of clove and a touch of smoke, almost peatiness. Ethanol is a little bit aggressive here, and it certainly feels like the strongest release of the year, while sweetness is a bit less omnipresent than in the other ECBP batches from 2022.
On the palate, this initially leads off with sweet caramel and vanilla frosting, before transitioning into stronger spicy impressions of ginger snaps, cinnamon sugar and clove. The baking spice dimension is pretty strong in this batch, especially the ginger, which is bringing a little bit of heat as well. Rye spice and black pepper flare up as well, along with some slightly tart oak. The overall effect isn’t “dry,” per se, but it’s noticeably drier than the previous releases from 2022, and a little bit more aggressive thanks to the marginally higher proof point. If you’ve tasted recent ECBP batches and were hoping that the series would be moving in a bolder and more intense direction, this should be pleasing to you.
All in all, a pretty solid batch of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and one that lets you feel the “barrel proof” dimension a bit more assertively.
Distillery: Heaven Hill
City: Bardstown, KY
Style: Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey
ABV: 62.4% (124.8 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $70 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.