It seems like every distillery in America is offering a single barrel program these days. The concept is pretty straightforward. Your store, restaurant, or private group chooses a barrel (either remotely from shipped samples or straight from the barrel at the distillery) and commits to buying the contents of that entire barrel. Every distillery runs things a bit differently based on their company’s stock availability and business logic, but at the heart of each program is the opportunity for a group to buy a unique single barrel product that will never be repeated.
I have one major gripe about distillery barrel picks and it only seems to happen with the bigger players in this space. Barrels are sampled at full barrel strength during the tasting process but at bottling time, the whiskey is proofed down to a lower standard bottling strength. This always bothered me when it came to Elijah Craig single barrel selections. Elijah Craig showed the market what their whiskey can do at full barrel proof and once I was exposed to that line, the lower proof stuff could rarely compete. As time passed and more distilleries offered single barrels at barrel strength, I hoped that Heaven Hill would eventually give in. For a while, it seemed like wishful thinking. Heaven Hill is a huge distillery and have been known not to give in to market pressure. Brand ambassador Bernie Lubbers even discussed in detail the complexities of hand labeling hundreds of individual barrels with unique strengths on a fairly recent episode of Bourbon Pursuit.
Last year, however, news broke that Elijah Craig single barrel selections could finally be bottled at full barrel strength. I was elated to say the least. I’ve been a fan of the small batch Barrel Proof series for a very long time. What I didn’t expect, however, was to experience a single barrel that took me back to the early batches of ECBP. Those old label bottlings are among some of my favorites of all time and in my opinion, they were noticeably deeper and richer in flavor than the profile of modern ECBP batches.
This selection, titled Cask Craig, is from my good friends at Charred Barrel and is the follow-up to their previous 94 proof selection called Diet Craig. This is a 10 year old single barrel from the third floor of Warehouse Q and is bottled at 129.2 proof.
|Peanut brittle, wood char, sweet corn, toffee, cigar box, allspice, crumb cake, burnt sugar, with a deep oak throughout. It’s unapologetically bold in all the right ways. Water brings out a bit more nuttiness and some Cherry Coke.
|Holy black cherry up front! Dark chocolate, more of that deep oak, syrupy sweetness, fig jam, vanilla, a minty, almost savory note. This whiskey can’t possibly be 129.2 proof. It somehow needs absolutely no water but a few drops adds some white pepper spice and a hint of fresh red berries.
|Thick, mouth coating, and full of flavor. Cherry danish, big sweet oak, pipe tobacco, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, leather, dark dried fruit, baking spice. With water, more drying, spicier, and some wood char. The finish is incredibly long and pleasant.
|Cherries and oak are the stars of the show but what really drives this whiskey home is an incredible supporting cast of flavors. The oak is gigantic in the best possible way and I want to be clear: there’s a really big difference between the “dominant” oak that you’ll find in 20+ year old bourbons and the “deep” oak that’s present here. I love modern ECBP as much as the next guy but this barrel puts every release of the past five years to shame. It reminds me a lot of 2015 and 2016 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches from before the label change and I think that 3rd floor location really helped develop this barrel’s flavors. If you haven’t had an old label ECBP before, this “blast from the past” profile is an absolute treat that I just can’t get enough of.