Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is one of the most hotly sought-after small batch products on the market, and the only thing more important to most bourbon drinkers than getting a bottle is getting the best bottle. And since I nailed my ranking for 2020 Booker’s Bourbon batches, I thought I’d put things in order on the ECBP front as well before the year closes.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is a full proof monster with a few cousins on the market. It’s a high-proof whiskey, released in several batches per year, and it’s generally seen as the most authentic option for drinking well-matured Elijah Craig bourbon straight from the barrel. This puts it in the company of bourbons like Booker’s, Stagg Jr., Old Forester Birthday Bourbon, and others at the top of the proof pyramid.
But for a $60 product with wide distribution, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof really holds its own against these others. There is even reason to argue it’s superior.
We’re only a few years into the new system of labeling for Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, which has made some batches into cult favorites. Whisky Advocate named B517 the best whiskey of 2017, and it has seen plenty of accolades since to boost its reputation further.
Haven’t tried it? Haven’t seen it? That’s not surprising. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof tends to exist in that sweet spot where people will both hoard and consume it—making secondary finds and on-premise pours a little harder to come by. It’s age stated to 12 years, making it one of those rare double digit age stated releases people *could* actually try.
What You Should Know about the 2020 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batches:
This is a 12-year batch strength (and unfiltered) release, and these batches can be pretty aggressive. The variations can also be great between batches; in 2020 there were nearly 10 proof points of difference between the highest and lowest proof releases. As a reminder, all Elijah Craig Barrel Proof releases are aged at least 12 years old.
The batch numbers may seem a little odd to the eye at first, but the code is actually pretty straight forward. The letter at the beginning of the sequence is the batch number for the given year. The first numeral of the code is the month it was released, and the last two digits are the year. So Batch A120 is the first batch of 2020, released in January. So Batch C920 is the third 2020 batch, released in September.
Unless something unexpected happens, the plan is to always have them debut in January, May, and September of each year. And for the time being, there are no plans to scale up to release more batches (sorry).
If there’s a gold standard for the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof batches, it consists of three things: high proof, a minimum 12-year age statement, and restrained, nuanced flavors of leather, tobacco, chocolate and spices.
How did they compare this year? Here’s my ranking:
The 2020 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batches Ranked:
3. Batch B520 (127.2 Proof)
With apologies to Heaven Hill, Batch B of 2020 did not hit like 127-proof whiskey. The flavors are subdued and this is a menacingly sippable bourbon batch. That said, this batch also played it safe, with round and fruity sweetness of apple and orange that lazily rolled through the finish, where it was met by quiet but distinct brown sugar and toasted oak notes. Some mild background spices kept it from being boring, but an exceedingly delicate finish was almost a let down given the proof point.
2. Batch A120 (136.6 Proof)
Batch A120 is the whiskey version of the last 10 seconds of every allergy commercial ever made. What do I mean by this? Bright and aggressive freshness, sinus clearing, grassy spices. A big, full-of-life whiskey from the start with simple formula: waves of grain up front, waves of spice out back. It stays in this grain-forward space through the end, but big colorful pops of other flavors punctuate the experience—fudge on the nose, toasted oak spice and dark cherry on the palate, and a little hint of lemongrass ties everything together with just the slightest hint of citrus.
1. Batch C920 (132.8 Proof)
The last batch of the year dazzled—really dazzled—with unusual dessert flavors and balancing grip and grace. From the nose this batch comes in hard with dry oak toast, cocoa fudge, and those notes turn sweeter and darker on the palate, where this evolves into espresso powder-laden tiramisu. Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Batch C920 is a scythe—a big, sharp whiskey with a full chocolate burnt sugar body. Its finish is long, dry, and coats the palate in silky layers of tea and tobacco flavors.