I've said it before and I'll say it again, Elijah Craig is the best bang for your buck barrel proof bourbon that is somewhat accessible. While over the years I believe Heaven Hill has done a great job keeping the quality consistent, that changed a little bit with the last batch. Based on feedback from other reviewers, I did a side by side of the A117 vs. an older batch and the A117 was a noticeable step down. By all means it was still a good bourbon that on its own was very enjoyable but when scrutinized it was lacking in the proofy, bold, deeply woody oak bomb category which is the hallmark of the product. Given that experience, I go into the latest release dubbed B517 with some slight skepticism but hopeful A117 was an outlier. My fears are slightly heightened by the fact that this release is the lowest proof batch yet.
Aged 12 years; 62.1% ABV; special thanks to /u/ctarbox for the bottle
Nose: A wallop of sweets like burnt caramel sugars and oak. Smells about right for cask strength and 12 years old which is to say pretty damn good.
Taste: A mirror image of the nose. Huge waves of burnt caramel, honey, oak, and a bit of spicy pepper bite in the finish. The finish lingers with a lot of wood but it's not overly bitter. I'm not really getting a lot of darker fudgy sweets that I usually look for in these though.
Thoughts: I tasted this alongside the batches from my previous review so here are side by side thoughts on all three:
- A117 - Same complaint as previous reviews, it drinks slanted towards a younger profile and is a less deep and rich version than is typical for these. Rating: B
- B517 - The most balanced of the group and rather nice. Not quite a wood bomb but very oaky with lots of sweets. Also has some spicy heat but drinks the easiest of the three. A step back in the right direction over this year's previous release. Rating: B / B+
- Batch 11 - Still significantly better than the last two batches. Bold, rich, punch you in the mouth flavors so it's not as balanced as the B517 but it's a straight up sweet oak bomb with loads of wood depth and dark fudge notes that are very reminiscent of George T. Stagg. Rating: A-
Note that price is not considered when assigning a rating.