Welcome to another year of putting the three batches of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof into a steel cage, three-way wrestling match and seeing who emerges victorious.
When I wrote my 2020 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Collection review, I was sweating. It had nothing to do with criticism over my opinions—all of those were correct.
I was sweating because of the heat coming 2020’s 136-proof monster release.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof has been called a lot of things over the years, including a full proof monster by me in 2020 when the folks at Heaven Hill tried to melt our faces with two 130-proof point releases in the same year.
As with 2020, this is a 12-year, unfiltered, batch strength release, and they can be pretty intense. I can still feel that one burning a bit (I might have some more tonight).
According to Heaven Hill, the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches are characterized by three things: a high proof point, a 12-year age statement at minimum, and flavors including leather, tobacco, chocolate and spices.
What You Should Know about the 2021 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batches:
You already know the accolades for Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. Whisky Advocate named batch B517 the best whiskey of 2017. It picks up other awards all the time, as if people needed a reason to snatch most of it up before it touches a shelf.
The 2021 batches were all a $60 deal (MSRP) if you can find it these days, with enough batch variety to make the search interesting.
But Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is also showing off some year-to-year variety in 2021. After the palate firestorm that was 2020, this year is comparably calm—like the eye of a storm. The highest proof point, for instance, is almost five points below last year’s low end. 2021’s top is 123.7 as 2020 started at 127.
Before we get into batch numbers, it would probably be a good idea to go over how the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof system works.
It’s actually pretty straight forward. The letter at the beginning of the code is the batch number for the given year, so in A120, it’s the first batch. The first numeral of the code is the release month, and then the last two digits mark the year. So Batch A120, then, is the January batch of 2020, and the first of that year.
Heaven Hill has often said that the plan is to always have them in January, May, and September—three a year for the foreseeable future.
Alright, let’s get to the results. Here’s my ranking:
The 2021 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batches Ranked:
#3 B521 – 118.2 proof
The third best batch of 2021 was batch B. The lowest proof point for the range, Batch B made up for the lack of alcoholic power with its donation—it’s an absolute baking spice bomb, with a dry, lip-smacking texture and structured sugars on the finish.
But then the spices. The rye spice on the palate delivers an extra punch in this batch, which sort of double bounces cinnamon note over everything. It just gets a bit messy, like the last minute or so of “1812 Overture.” And that’s a beautiful piece of music, but not every song calls for a cannon.
#2 C921 – 120.2 proof
In the middle of this year’s field, we had Batch C. Batch C was Elijah Craig Barrel Proof spaghetti western in a bottle. Re-read that.
An inky leather chewer of a whiskey, Batch C clings to your teeth with oak spices, wood sugars, and a smacking dryness. Everything—the whole of this whiskey—is filtered through those dark, antiqued layers of age flavor—like a tea made from a bag of leather and oak chips.
Deep, nutty cola flavors resonate darkly though this whiskey—and save it from causing you to pucker your mouth like it’s full of Warhead-infused sour beer.
Thankfully, this one knew when to stop, and did so on a dime.
#1 A121 – 123.6 proof
Call me a sweet tooth drinker, but the best batch of 2021 was Batch A, which happened to be dessert in a glass.
Gorgeous, sweet vanilla pops on the palate, before they throw malted milk chocolate notes at us. This is followed by a caramel-corn taffy pull of a finish, highlighted by the softest, steaming-fresh yellow cake note.
It’s decadent. It’s delicious. It’s unquestionably the best of the year. It accomplishes everything by doing the opposite of what we expect from Elijah Craig—it’s not the spiciest or the oldest.
Ironically, though, Batch A is what you want to find every year, in every collection—and it’s a good sign of the work going on at Heaven Hill right now. Let’s hope for more like these in 2022’s ECBP crop.