The oldest of the lineup, Elijah Craig 23-year-old bourbon (EC23) is back again this year. The release from Heaven Hill Brands marks the second year EC23 is available. The older Elijah Craig releases, 18 years and up, have all been single barrels, and this year’s EC23 is no exception. My bottle was barreled on 06/19/1990 from barrel 186. The Elijah Craig 21-year-old I picked up a couple of years ago was barreled close to the same date. Keeping in line with the older EC releases, EC23 is bottled at 90 proof and is most likely chill-filtered. Suggested retail pricing for EC23 is about $200.
It’s generally held that bourbon reaches its peak between 8 and 12 years. Bourbon aged longer than that can be thrown out of balance as the barrel influence on the whiskey’s flavor grows. Some older bourbon can keep the oak flavor in check. These tend to be far and few between. Keeping that in mind, you’ve got to have an expectation of a heavy dose of oak in older bourbons. It doesn’t make them better, just different. The Elijah Craig 18-year-old and 21-year-old releases, while showcasing a strong oak note, have kept things pretty well balanced. How does a couple more years in the barrel change things?
The nose on this release of EC23 starts off with maraschino cherries and a thick dose of old oak, followed by vanilla, leather, and caramel. The entry is softer than I would’ve imagined. Maybe this is the proof, age, chill-filtering, or a combination of all three. Dry oak and honeyed fruit are prominent over layers of sweet vanilla and dark brown sugar. Elijah Craig 23 finishes with a bitter-sweet note, soon turning dry.
Knowing oak is going to play a big role here, I think Elijah Craig 23 does a fantastic job at avoiding the dreaded “oak-bomb”. The fruit and vanilla notes act as a great counterbalance to the drying wood. Although this is a single barrel release, I’m fairly certain there will be a consistency between the barrels that are chosen. I don’t think Heaven Hill will choose a completely over-oaked barrel just to release a 23-year-old bourbon. Kudos to them for this release. Highly recommended.