Oh Taste & See: Elijah Craig 12 Y.O. KY Straight Bourbon Whiskey

For my first whiskey review I thought I'd finish off the bottle of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old (EC12) bourbon that's been slowly disappearing from my bar over the past few months. Elijah Craig, the man, was a Baptist preacher from Virginia who migrated to Kentucky in the late 1700's and is credited by some as the 'inventor' of bourbon, or at least of the process of aging bourbon in charred oak barrels.

Elijah Craig 12 Year Old, the whiskey, is one of the premium products made by Heaven Hill Distilleries of Bardstown, KY - one of the 800-pound gorillas of the bourbon world. EC12 is an excellent bourbon all around, as attested by the numerous accolades and rave reviews that it has been receiving for years, but to me where EC12 really shines is in its value. The tag on the bottle claims that EC12 was a "small batch" bourbon before the term "small batch" even existed. Too me "small batch" is, in many cases, a marketing term used to justify single-barrel pricing for non-single-barrel whiskeys that really aren't much better than mass-produced blends. For EC12 however, Heaven Hill keeps the price competitive with more mass-market bourbons making this one of the best all-around values you'll find. At  $20-$24 per 750ml bottle, EC12 is in the same price bracket as Jim Beam Black, Wild Turkey, or Maker's Mark - all great bourbons, but not quite in the same league as the more expensive bourbons that EC12 can go head-to-head with in terms of quality, presentation, and complexity.

As far as tasting it goes, the first thing I noticed about EC12 is its unique deep orange/amber color - a far cry from the light, straw-brown color of many younger bourbons, and a indicator of the deeper taste imparted by this spirit's long barrel-aging. The most prominent scent on the nose of EC12 is alcohol, and this may be the one fault separating it from other high-end bourbons. It is a 94 proof bourbon and you wouldn't mistake it for anything less, but if you throw a couple ice cubes in and allow the drink to mellow out for a minute you can easily get past the alcohol to experience the nutty, oak-y nose imparted by 12 long years in a charred-oak barrel.

As I tasted the EC12 I picked up hints of sweet citrus, like orange marmalade, and again plenty of oak flavor. It is certainly a whiskey that you can allow to linger in your mouth - it isn't at all harsh - but you are always aware that it's a higher-proof, heavyweight drink that you wouldn't want to slurp down too quickly. The finish is relatively quick, but very nice with more hints of marmalade as the taste fades into the background. The drink also has a slight oiliness that coats your mouth for a while, allowing the flavors to linger and giving it a more solid, viscous feel. Overall it is a very approachable, sweet whiskey that at the same time has more than enough unique character to make it an interesting sipper. Given its deep flavors and weighty feel EC12 seems most appropriate as a whiskey to sip by the fire on a cold winter night - the heavy down comforter of bourbons.

Aside from being great to drink and an excellent value, I think Elijah Craig 12 Year Old makes a smart addition to your home bar because it's a relatively inexpensive way to add a splash of character to your liquor shelf. For the price of a bottle of Wild Turkey, you can instead show-off a uniquely shaped flask of 12-year-old bourbon that will have people assuming you spent more than double what you actually did. Your guests will feel honored as you pour them a generous glass of EC12, and even more honored when they taste this excellent whiskey - that is if you don't decide to hoard it all for yourself.