Welcome to Shelf Sleepers, our semi-regular guide to the best booze nobody is buying. This time: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, regular-old Elijah Craig's older brother who's in the NFL but it's not really a big deal.
When I tell people what the best bourbon to gift their whiskey-crazed brother-cousin-uncle-dad, the conversation is always the same. Oh, just Elijah Craig? Isn't that pretty standard stuff? Then I show them the bottle, which looks exactly like regular-old Elijah, and they're further stifled. I don't know, is this really something worth gifting? What makes it special?
In today's bourbon world, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof bourbon is bit of an antique. While most major distillers have increased prices and prestige for their premium, barrel proof products, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof still flutters between $65 and $75 and drops a few times a year, to little fanfare. If Heaven Hill, the company behind the whiskey, decided it was a $150 bottle that released late in the fall, it'd fit right in — it's 12 years old, usually around 130 proof and has won every whiskey award under the sun. But they haven't yet (thank god), and it's wise to capitalize before they do.
Once I've convinced a person that Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is not Elijah Craig Small Batch, and may be worthy of gifting, it's on to the whiskey. What's it like?Massive. The flavors are absolutely enormous. Bourbon review site Breaking Bourbon writes, aptly, that it's "like blasting a stereo on full volume" on classic bourbon flavors (vanilla, caramel, oak and brown sugar). And despite the equally huge alcohol content, it's not a punishing sip in the way many barrel proof whiskeys can be, even at some eye-watering proof points (past releases have climbed into the high-130s).
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is not unpopular bourbon, but it doesn't inspire hype in the way some super-premium whiskey does — consider the clout of Buffalo Trace's Stagg Jr. has, for instance. And thank goodness; if it did, there wouldn't be any of it left.