Back to Kentucky, and back to Elijah Craig. More interestingly, back to a 12 year old bourbon but this time bottled at barrel proof (or 'cask strength', in English!) - considering how much I enjoyed the standard 12 Year Old edition, this could be a very interesting dram indeed.
Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Barrel Proof is bottled at a remarkable 67.4% ABV. I don't mean simply that it's a remarkably high strength - although it is - but that it's surprising to me that so much alcohol has remained in the barrel after 12 years in Kentucky. Perhaps the angels aren't as thirsty for their Share down there as I expected.
The nose is heavenly; sherry-soaked raisins, dark honey and charred oak, with a powerful but not overwhelming alcohol punch. Water knocks the fruit back a touch, bringing the wood to the foreground - spirit-soaked barrels and light alcohols putting me in mind of whisky warehouses.
In the mouth there's sticky salted caramel slowly joined by big old oak notes, touches of black pepper and only then does the alcohol come through - huge, powerful heat washing everything away briefly. Once that calms down, the caramel returns in the finish, with deep wood tannins.
Watered, the flavours are turned down just a touch - the alcohol takes longer to arrive but it's still there and plenty powerful. The caramel and oak blend beautifully, with that pepper background adding a little zing to the finish.
This is a big and complex bourbon; more approachable with water but thoroughly enjoyable - with care! - without, which is a special thing in such strong spirit. 4 stars.
Many thanks to Master of Malt for providing their excellent Bourbon Advent Calendar this year.
This review was originally published 20th December, 2015. It was last updated 1st June, 2023.