As those who have read my reviews of the various batches of Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof over the years, the original 2013 white-label/red-12 Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof (129.7 proof) has been my standard-bearer for all subsequent editions. Then Batch B517 (124.2 proof) gave the 2013 original a run for its money. I’ve reviewed several between those and since, and while they’re all top-level bourbons, none could really challenge the top two.
Let’s see if that changes with the latest Batch A119, the first release of 2019, at a stout 135.2 proof. My first pour of Batch A119 was live on air on The Mash & Drum, where we also talked about Bourbon Justice (available here on Amazon). Batch A119 struck me immediately as a home run. While finishing the sample for this review, I compared it to three 94-proof private selections of Elijah Craig to test flavors of the same brand with such a wide difference in proof. I finished it alongside of a 2013 12-year old pick from Evergreen Liquors and two 2018 picks from The Bourbon Crusaders, both aged in Deatsville, with one being 10 years old and the other 11 years old.
Bourbon: Elijah Craig 12-year Barrel Proof Batch A119
Distillery: Heaven Hill, Bardstown and Louisville, Kentucky
Age: 12 years
ABV: 67.6% (135.2 proof)
Disclaimer: The brand managers kindly sent me a sample for this review, without any strings attached. Thank you.
Amber-brown, and darkest of the four, as expected, due to the lack of added water. The 11-year was the second darkest and the 12-year was by far the lightest, somehow.
More intensity on the nose than the 94-proof private selections, but flavor intensity, not in-your-face high ABV intensity. It has a caramel signature with candy cinnamon for overall sweet aromas. The aromas of the private barrels showed the variations possible within the same brand with a reputation for being sweet; they were all less sweet and the Evergreen selection was downright earthy.
The first sip has noticeable heat until you acclimate to it. The best and most noticeable feature is its creaminess. Batch A119 has a creamy, mouth-coating quality that is harder and harder to find among current-day bourbons with high barrel entry proof. It’s mostly sweet (caramel and vanilla again) but has oak balance and fantastic cinnamon. It’s phenomenal.
The 11-year Bourbon Crusaders pick was the best of the 94-proofs. It has an absolute blast of flavors that can be savored precisely because of the more manageable proof, and a lingering finish. The Evergreen pick had the most oak, as expected, along with earthy flavors as predicted by the nose, but the shortest finish. The 10-year was more oaky than sweet, with mouthwatering baking spice flavors.
The finish for Batch A119 is long with a sustained cinnamon flavor and a fade to oak. I enjoyed its finish most out of the four, but the 11-year Crusaders pick was nipping at its heals.
Just as I said on The Mash & Drum livestream, Batch A119 is a home run; buy it if you find it. Without the benefit of doing a side-by-side of the original, B517, and A119, and instead just based on memory, I think A119 is the third best Elijah Craig Barrel Proof behind those two, but really folks, you can’t go wrong with any Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
Also be on the lookout for private selections of Elijah Craig, which presently are still limited to bottling at 94 proof. Even when being proofed down from what is probably an average of 65% ABV to 47% ABV, Elijah Craig private single barrels have a way of holding up.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 4.0
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Swill. I might dump the bottle, but will probably save it for my guests who mix with Coke.
2 – Hits the minimum criteria, but given a choice, I’d rather have something else.
3 – Solid Bourbon with only minor shortcomings. Glad to own and enjoy.
4 – Excellent Bourbon. Need to be hyper-critical to find flaws. I’m lucky to have this.
5 – Bourbon perfection. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.