Review: Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel

Elijah Craig has seen lots of movement in 2020. Back in February (which seems like about 7 years ago), Heaven Hill extended the Elijah Craig lineup with the addition of a straight rye whiskey. Now, the Elijah Craig line grows larger with its new Toasted Barrel straight bourbon whiskey.

Toasted barrel finishing has seem some notable releases the last few years, with Michter’s Toasted Barrel bottlings being the most prominent. Essentially, an aged whiskey sees a short secondary maturation, or finishing, in a new toasted oak barrel. In the case of Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel, the custom toasted barrels come courtesy of Independent Stave Company. According to press materials, the toast profile includes “a smooth and steady increase in both time and temperature at moderate intensity levels during the toasting phase.” The toasted barrel then sees a level one flash char. The standard Elijah Craig Small Batch ages in barrels utilizing Char #3.

In the bourbon world, there’s a debate on whether a bourbon with a barrel finish can be called straight bourbon. In broad strokes, the thinking is the typical secondary barrel used for finishing (sherry, port, rum, etc) 1) adds flavoring and coloring to the whiskey; and 2) is not a new, charred oak container. None of this is an issue for EC Toasted Barrel as it only touches new, charred oak barrels therefore maintaining the straight bourbon standards of identity.

Elijah Craig Barrel staves, from left to right: Char #3 used to mature Elijah Craig Small Batch; Custom toasted barrel stave only; and Custom toasted stave with #1 Char used to finish Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel

Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel comes in at 94 proof, keeping it in line with the rest of its siblings in the range. The $49.99 bourbon will be available on an allocated basis starting in September.

The toasted barrel finish is quite apparent on the nose, kicking up the baking spices, aromatic vanilla, and dark caramelized sugars of the standard Elijah Craig Small Batch profile. Oak spice is also ramped up. Taste-wise, the toasted barrel finish adds a subtle layer of smokiness to the dark caramel, fruit, and oak spice notes that make up the DNA of the whiskey. Baking spices season the bourbon, bringing a bit more balance to the sweet entry. The short-medium finish is a touch uneven with sweet notes fighting against bitter, charred notes.

Not bad, but not the revelatory bourbon I’d hoped for. The nose seems a bit hotter than expected, though a bit of airtime tames it. Compared to Elijah Craig Small Batch, EC Toasted barrel comes across a bit darker, sweeter, and spicier. It also adds more oakiness and bitterness, especially in the shorter-than-desired finish. Maybe letting the bottle of EC Toasted Barrel “breathe” for a bit will help things, but at the moment I prefer Elijah Craig Small Batch.

Thanks to Heaven Hill for the sample. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

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