My first allocated bourbon I ever got my hands on was a bottle of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch B518. I was so excited when the owner of Rural Inn pulled one out of his back room that fateful day in 2018. In fact, even as the years past, I still rank that particular bottle near the top of my favorite “new label” ECBP batches. I continued finding, buying and drinking each subsequent batch up until C921. But then a strange thing happened. I had found that batch in a store in late October, 2021 and it was the first time ever that I put it back on the shelf. To this day, I haven’t bought a batch since.
It’s not that I can’t find ECBP anymore. On the contrary, I’ve seen every batch since then on the shelves at some point or another. The reason is that ECBP has turned into a somewhat boring release that suffers from lack of variety. Speaking of variety, let’s talk about that for a moment. Heaven Hill has never released an exact bottle count for every batch, but I’m estimating it to be probably around 50,000 per release. After doing multiple blind comparisons between the batches, I came to the realization that the margins of which batch I preferred were razor thin. In fact, I found myself changing my batch preference depending on the day. I do know people that claim to have favorite batches but if I’m being honest, I have never found a particular batch that is that much different from the others.
All this means that Heaven Hill has done a really good job at consistently nailing the profile they want Elijah Craig to taste like. There are no outliers among batches of new label ECBP (I do find Batch 7 from the “old label” was off-profile though). With such consistency, I found myself preferring batches with higher proofs. However, I started to recognize a strange pattern starting with B519; each year since that release, “B” releases were the lowest proofed batches released that year. Then in 2021, none of the batches were proofed above 123.6.
Heaven Hill does not try to conceal the fact why Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batches now carry such a (relatively) low proof. If you take the “You Do You” Bottle Filling Experience at their Visitor Center in Bardstown, they tell you the reason is that they have switched to harvesting barrels for ECBP from only three warehouses. And when they’re plucking barrels from those warehouses, they’re only selecting them from the middle and bottom floors. That’s not saying that the barrels that they select from the lower tiers will never hit a high proof, but the majority of barrels used are under 125 proof these days. I predict we won’t see any future batches over 123 proof in the future unless a drastic change in barrel selection happens.
All of this is just fine with most Heaven Hill enthusiasts and drinkers who avoid high proofs. I can even relate to not wanting to burn my tastebuds away most nights. But I don’t reach for ECBP for a regular pour. I reach for it when I want a high proof oak-and-candy-bar bomb. That’s all I’ve ever really known ECBP to be. On top of that, it’s basically the only way to obtain a highly-aged, fairly-priced barrel proof product of Heaven Hill’s ryed bourbon mash bill. That made it unique in a way but each batch does not taste unique from another. It’s just that I can’t see pursuing these batches any longer if they’re all going to be so similar in taste and proof. If you’re like me and crave variety among your whiskey collection, you may have already came to this conclusion too.
I never said that ECBP was not a great bourbon to drink. But if you’re like me, you seek out the newest releases for a chance to experience something new and exciting. My whole point is that ECBP is just not exciting anymore. I have enough of it left to last me a long time and I no longer feel like I’m missing out anymore when I pass a bottle on the shelves. I’m sure that future batches will continue to sell well and still maintain their (slightly) allocated status. But until Heaven Hill begins to allow some profile variation (and proof variation) between these batches, there’s really no reason to continue dropping $80 every 4 months on a bottle. Once you’ve tasted one, you’ve kinda tasted them all.
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