Heaven Hill Brands is discontinuing its age statement on Elijah Craig Small Batch. The former Elijah Craig 12-year-old Small Batch will now be a composite of 8- to 12-year-old barrels.

The Elijah Craig Barrel Proof product will keep its 12-year-old age statement and there are no plans to remove it, officials said. The company said the Barrel Proof will see “a little more availability.”

The updated product is set to hit the distribution pipeline later this week. It will remain 94 proof.

Heaven Hill is increasing the Elijah Craig Small Batch barrel dump from around 100 casks to 200 barrels. The suggested retail price will remain around $30, officials said.

EC Back Label 1

In 2015, Heaven Hill moved its 12-year-old age statement of Elijah Craig (see photo above) from the front to a much smaller print on the back.

EC Back Label 2

Today, Heaven Hill informs me it’s dropping its age statement altogether on Elijah Craig Small Batch.

In 2014, for my WhiskyAdvocate.com Burning Down the Rumor Mill story, Heaven Hill steadfastly denied removing the 12-year-old age statement. But last year, Heaven Hill moved its age statement to the back label Elijah Craig, when the company was debating  the brand’s age statement. Why?

Barrel inventory.

The company says there’s not enough 12-year-old bourbon to grow the Elijah Craig brand and still supply future 18-year-old and 21-year-old versions. Elijah Craig Small Batch is a 70,000 nine unit case product, and the company believes it would decrease 30 percent in case volume at the current rate when factoring holding stocks for 18-year-old Elijah Craig. “We are trying to protect flavor profile of brand. We will have dumps closer to 11 to 12 {year-old barrels},” says master distiller Denny Potter. “We’ve been handcuffed a little bit because we can’t distribute like we want to. I feel this brand has been under appreciated because it’s not as visible as others.”

They did not consider lowering the proof and said will make it publicly known if they must lower the 8-year-old minimum barrel target. Heaven Hill also cited the goal for on-premise whiskey and a desire to keep Elijah Craig at its current price.

When the Heaven Hill private barrel selections are restarted this fall, buyers will be able to select from 8- to 12-year-old Elijah Craig barrels. Heaven Hill’s Bernheim distillery is also expanding, adding a new still and fermenters, so maybe the age statement could return with increased production (the possible return is not a Heaven Hill statement, it’s my hope.)

So there are the facts. How do I feel?

Well, I enjoy many bourbons. But Elijah Craig 12-year-old was special. I sipped on it while watching Oklahoma State. If I didn’t have a bottle, I’d take a pull from Evan Williams, which is the same whiskey just different age and barrel dump amounts.

From the business perspective, I totally understand. Heaven Hill is trying to grow the Elijah Craig brand and you cannot justify keeping an age statement if you want to maximize the brand’s potential and profits. If you think age statements matter from a business standpoint, then, why are Woodford Reserve, Maker’s Mark, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam White, etc., all selling case after case?

But from a consumer perspective, age statements matter, because it gives us something to compare and contrast. That’s why we like knowing the mashbills and barrel chars. Bourbon consumers just want what is afforded to wine drinkers: Production information. Wine lovers can tell you which side of the hill grapes were grown, while beer people recite the hop styles as if they’re the Pledge of Allegiance. Meanwhile, bourbon affords us a brand name and alcohol by volume / proof. That’s why I included mashbills, grain origins, barrel-entry proofs, barrel chars, and then some in my book Bourbon Curious. We just want information.

If Heaven Hill sticks to their whiskey transparency plans, there shouldn’t be a problem. They’ve become one of the most-transparent companies in bourbon, giving me unprecedented access to Bernheim production logs, mashbills and to production people who make the company tick. All of the transparency is great, and I’m sure Elijah Craig Small Batch will be delicious and as drinkable as before.

I will be receiving the new Elijah Craig Small Batch sample and hope to write a side-by-side comparison. For now, I’m mourning. I’ve lost an old friend.

 

Fred Minnick is the author of Bourbon Curious.