A bit of history
In about 1789, a Baptist preacher named Elijah Craig founded a distillery in what was to become Bourbon County, Kentucky. There were plenty of distillers in the area who were producing corn liquor in abundance, but the Rev. Craig was about to change the world. Elijah Craig is generally regarded as the first distiller to age corn liquor in charred oak barrels, mellowing the spirit and imbuing it with an entirely unique flavor.
More recent history
In 1935, following the end of Prohibition, Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery was opened in Bardstown, Kentucky, with Joseph Beam (Jim’s cousin) as master distiller. Today, it’s known as Heaven Hill Distillery. In addition to Heaven Hill Old Style Bourbon, they also produce the Evan Williams and Elijah Craig labels.
While my college friends and I mocked the entire line of “Heaving Hell” liquors, I have since come to be a big fan of both the 10 year aged Evan Williams and the higher end Elijah Craig bourbons. The Elijah Craig can be found in both 12 year small batch and 18 year single barrel varieties. According to the packaging, the 18 year old is the oldest single barrel bourbon in the world (any bourbon claiming a greater age is a mult-barrel blend).
The other night, I got down my bottle of Elijah Craig 18 year old single barrel bourbon to have a sip. The contents of my bottle were placed into barrel number 2718 on September 14, 1990. This means my bourbon survived the 1996 fire that destroyed much of the Heaven Hill production plant along with several warehouses and 90,000 gallons of bourbon.
This is a damn fine bourbon. The first drops were almost like sweet, golden honey on the tongue. The initial sweetness was quickly followed by rich oak, butter, caramel, vanilla and smoke. The finish is warm and dry with an echo of the initial sweetness. The angels take a pretty hefty share when bourbon spends 18 years in the barrel – 66% according to the folks at Heaven Hill. But what they leave behind is a very smooth and refined whiskey that I am glad to have on my shelf. This is a bourbon that, while being very easy to drink, deserves your full attention. Take your time and enjoy the complex flavors that the good Rev. Craig brings to the table.