90 proof; 21 years old (obviously)
The story: This limited-edition bourbon from Heaven Hill follows on the heels of its Elijah Craig 20-Year-Old Single Barrel released last spring, which was named American Whiskey of the Year by Whisky Advocate (and quickly sold out). “A number of years ago we carefully identified several hundred barrels that are at middle to high storage in our best rickhouses, and these are the source for this very special 21-Year-Old and for future Elijah Craig Single Barrel editions,” master distiller Craig Beam says in a Heaven Hill news release. “These are some of the best older barrels of traditional rye-based bourbon we have in our inventory.” The 21-Year-Old should hit retail stores by September; Heaven Hill kindly sent The Bourbon Babe a sample for this review.
Aroma: First, I don’t always mention color, but I feel compelled to with this bourbon, which has a particularly beautiful orange-tinged hue. We took a minute to admire it before lifting the glass up for a nose. The aroma is very sweet, tinged with spice, with notes of creamy vanilla, caramel and pralines and a little white pepper from the rye.
Taste: Rich and flavorful right up front. My fellow taster was surprised to learn this bourbon was just 90 proof – the high rye content kicks the burn up more than most bourbons in that range. We were also pleasantly surprised by how little tannin the bourbon picked up after 21 years in the barrel. The wood is represented by a nice nutty flavor, almond or walnut. The taste is spice-forward, with cinnamon and that white pepper, but that quickly gives way to a lot of fruit – orange and dried cherries – vanilla, some leather and the wood notes, and the whiskey settles into a “glow” in the back of the throat for a long, velvety finish.
Verdict: This is a terrific bourbon. My fellow taster, no real fan of either high-rye or overaged bourbons, loved it as much as I did. The $140 pricetag will deter some people, but if you are willing to spend $100+ on a special bourbon, definitely put this one on your list. (And then drink it! What is with all these Facebook galleries lately of amazing bourbon collections that are obviously untouched?)