Well this is exciting.
In the last two weeks, I’ve become the proud papa to two different releases of Elijah Craig 18 year. The first is a 2015 release which I acquired through a friend and fellow member of the Bourbon Underground. The second is a 2019 release from a local store and part of the recent influx of these that the New Orleans area has seen. It was also opened immediately so I could tip my mule with a 2 oz sample to show my appreciation for not having to leave my house. After the second acquisition, I thought why not over analyze both of these bottles head to head and do another write up? Like a reasonable person.
2015 was the first re-release of the Elijah Craig 18 year single barrel after taking a 3 year hiatus due to a shortage of quality barrels. About 15,000 bottles were released in 2015, making me extremely grateful to even have an opportunity to taste this stuff. By this point you would figure they are already drunk or making their way around the secondary market at a price that I probably couldn’t touch. Since its reintroduction, the 18 year has been an ongoing release. For some reason, it appears to me that at least in the Nola area that this bottle was available on a much wider scale than years previous – at least according to all the shares in local facebook groups.
This bottle remains one of the most sought after on the market, and according to Heaven Hill, is one of the oldest single barrels continuously released. I’ve previously tasted the 2019 release, but don’t remember anything about it due to how late in the night it was. Just that it was pretty good and I should probably look for a bottle. When it rains it pours, I guess. Let’s go head to head!
Both pours sat in glencairns for 10 minutes prior to tasting. Scores are between 1 (not great) and 5 (exceptional).
2015 Elijah Craig 18 year Single Barrel
Nose: Immediate butterscotch. Vanilla and sweet oak. Reminds me of a what an aged wheater would smell like until the leather hits at the end - 4
Palate: Complex mouth. Caramel and oak come to the front, but I also get cinnamon and I want to say a fruit mixture as well - 4
Finish: This finishes like maple syrup and I have no complaints. There’s like a cherry flavored twang of sweetness before it becomes all oak in the back of the mouth - 5 Total: 4.33
2019 Elijah Craig 18 year Single Barrel
Nose: Oak right off the bat. Leather and sweet tobacco come in followed by honey and cherries - 4
Palate: Oily coating in the mouth and I get nuts, orange, cinnamon, and oak throughout - 4
Finish: That was easy. It’s sweet vanilla down and heavy oak when I breathe the alcohol back out - 4 Total: 4.00
I’m thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to get to do these for science. Both of these pours are fantastic in their own right and share a complexity that is lacking in the day to day whiskey I’ve been drinking lately. If I have to sum up these pours, I’d call them the same. But different. But still the same. They share a number of qualities that show they’re related like the leather, cinnamon, and of course the oak that comes with its age statement. However, they were different enough, especially on the nose, that made these bottles excel in different ways. Overall, I gave the edge to the 2015 release simply because that was one of the more unique finishes to a dram that I can remember. But…due to the variety of change you might find in single barrels and since there hasn’t been any major overhaul (I believe there was a minor mashbill tweak) to the recipe in this time, I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying that the juice released in 2015 is invariably better than 2019.
The big knock you’ll hear about Elijah Craig 18 comes from its 90 proof. Most seasoned bourbon drinkers who drink Hazmat Stagg like water would say that the 12 year Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases offer a lot of the same profile with the proof they enjoy for a much greater value. While I do think that a bit more proof certainly wouldn’t hurt – it might even take my rating on the palate from a 4 to a 5 – I don’t believe that the lower proof means this should be skipped. The MSRP has ballooned to close to $150 in the last couple of years, which would give most people pause, but this is certainly something I would look to have a pour of in a bar and judge its value for myself. When you can, of course.
For me, I’ll be looking for another once I’m low enough to get nervous.