- On January 27, 2016
Another week passes and another great bourbon bites the dust. Sort of. Heaven Hill recently announced that the classic Elijah Craig 12 year would no longer be just that, 12 years old. Going forward, all batches of Elijah Craig going to bottle would be a blend of bourbons with a minimum age of 8 years. Almost a year ago Heaven Hill quietly moved the big, red 12 on the front of the package to the back, prompting many to believe that they would soon be doing away with it entirely. Heaven Hill steadfastly denied that there would be anything of the sort any time soon. Clearly, that is not the case. Does this mean the death for one of the best mid-shelf standbys? That remains to be seen. This week, we salute some of the best bourbons flying under the radar.
While some might bemoan Heaven Hill’s move to decrease the minimum age on Elijah Craig, you definitely can’t fault them for how forthright they’ve been. They’re still a family company, and are nothing but open about how they do business, which in this industry is something of a rarity. Many companies in this circumstance would just quietly move and then discontinue an age statement and hope nobody notices. It’s happened before, and it will surely happen again. Until we taste the new version versus the old, there’s no reason to get up in arms over a hypothetical defect. Hell, it might make it BETTER! A younger, brasher bourbon might liven the finished product up a bit. One other alteration to the current Elijah Craig creation process that Heaven Hill is making is to increase the size of the barrel dump for each batch. They will be doubling it to 200 casks, and we must hope that the resultant liquid doesn’t get washed out in the process. Elijah Craig is one of Heaven Hill’s flagship whiskeys, being an extra aged version of Evan Williams. We don’t know if we can think of more bang-for-your-buck bourbons than them. Another contender for the throne at that price point (Buffalo Trace) is strongly rumored to be a 7-9 year old whiskey, and whose sibling (Eagle Rare) recently moved the 10 year age statement it sported to a much more discrete location. One might say that this is just a show of things to come in the bourbon industry. Bottled at 94 proof and 12 years old (for now) Elijah Craig delivers an incredibly smooth experience. We know, we know, smooth is a terrible way to describe a spirit, but darnit if it isn’t on the nose! It has a pretty standard rye small grain content, and has just the right amount of spice to balance out the tannins. The wood and char flavors are fairly prevalent, giving it a butterscotch and caramel quality with a nose redolent of honeyed fruit and toffee. The body is outstanding and it certainly doesn’t drink like 94 proof. Drink up while it lasts! ($26.99)
If you’ve ever stopped in the store and asked for a recommendation in the bourbon section, odds are that every staffer you’ve talked to has gushed about their love for Old Grand-Dad (OGD). It is truly an incredible whiskey at an incredible price. First distilled in 1840 by the Hayden family, the brand has changed hands a number of times since then. OGD was named for the founder’s grandfather and mentor Basil Hayden (you might recognize that name). The most recent owner of OGD is Beam-Suntory, who bought it from National Distillers along with Old Crow and Old Overholt in 1987. Beam now produces the spirit at their plant, but with a different recipe than their own namesake bourbon. OGD has about double the normal rye content of a standard bourbon, making it incredible spicy and crisp. It has long been a bottom shelf darling and beloved in the cocktail scene, but after getting a VERY much needed packaging update (and unfortunately a price increase), it’s finally starting to catch on in a big way. For those who have loved Basil Hayden for a number of years, guess what? You like OGD! Same recipe, same juice, just aged longer. OGD Bottled in Bond could be called the flagship, but for us it doesn’t get better than the 114. A barrel proof, rye heavy bourbon for $25? Sign us up! There is evident alcohol on the nose, to no surprise, but we also get a big whiff of orange, burnt demerara and mint. Vanilla, caramel and bold tannins grip the tongue on the initial sip. Cinnamon, mint and clove follow on the second pass, all leading to a languorous, oaky finish. Truly unreal at its current price and a brand we can’t recommend often enough. ($24.99)
Last but most certainly not least we have Four Roses Single Barrel. Four Roses has been making bourbon for a while now. The company was founded in 1910, purchased by Seagram’s in the 40s, then again by Kirin in the early 2000s. After their first sale, Four Roses bourbon was actually discontinued in the United States to focus on the booming, cash rich business of blended whiskey. Somehow, their bourbon caught on in Europe and Asia, more specifically in Japan. To this day, there are Four Roses products made in Kentucky that are sold exclusively in Japan. Four Roses is a unique distillery for a couple of reasons. The first is the fact that they make 10 bourbons out of only two recipes. How is that possible you ask? Good question! Four Roses spent many years cultivating yeast strains and currently employ five specific strains for fermentation. Four Roses uses a complicated coding system to delineate their different whiskeys, and their openness on that is quite cool. On top of that, Four Roses uses rickhouses with only one story. All other bourbon distillers use aging facilities with a handful at least. This gives the warehouse a very consistent temperature across all the barrels, which makes the whiskey that comes from them much more uniform. Four Roses takes these 10 different bourbons and makes three products from them. Their Single Barrel might be the most beloved of them all. Made using only the OBSV recipe, it has a rye content similar to Old Grand-Dad, and a yeast strain that results in a lightly fruity, very creamy bodied whiskey. Each bottle is hand labeled with the warehouse location and cask number the bourbon came from. Each cask will be slightly different, but the flavor profile will be similar. The nose is full of spice and fruit, with a woodsy maple note to it. On the palate dark fruits burst forth with a robust, full body. The balancing act it maintains is superb, with enough of a bold flavor to keep you on your toes, but with enough soft touches to keep things mellow. Like their recently retired Master Distiller Jim Rutledge, one of the all-time greats. ($42.99)