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Comparison Review: Elijah Craig 12 Year vs. Elijah Craig 18 Year Single Barrel Bourbon

Elijah Craig 12 Year Bourbon, 47% abv (94 Proof), $25/bottle

Elijah Craig 12 year is deep amber in color with one of the best noses in bourbon. It floods your nose with vanilla, caramel, oak, char and spiced fruit, with backnotes of dried fruits, flint, and mineral. Burned sugar, rye, vanilla, and spices assert themselves with the first sip. Maple syrup, char, and oak further anchor this whiskey giving it depth and heft that usually comes with far more expensive bourbons. The finish is long and intense with dry spice, char, and burned sugar. Elijah Craig 12 year is one of the best value whiskeys on the planet with richness, depth, and intense character.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Superb/Outstanding)

VS.

Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel, 45% abv (90 Proof), $50/bottle

Elijah Craig 18 Year Old Single Barrel takes time to open up. At 18 years on the barrel it’s a little bit understandable that this one would need more oxygen to really unfold itself to the sipper. The nose is tight to begin with and very barrel heavy – oak, char, cedar, and dryness. Light maple and vanilla tease but never quite assert themselves fully. An almost nail polish or acetone scent is given off that is actually very intriguing. Still the nose disappoints with its one sidedness. The flavors of char, resin, barrel tannin, light caramel, and pepper continue this one sided aspect with the first taste. Once again maple and vanilla linger in the background to add some depth and sweetness. Elijah Craig 18′s thin and light body yield a finish of moderate length with leather, spice, and oak. While a good bourbon, the one dimensional aspects left me wanting a bit more richness and sweetness to balance things out.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 7.8 (Good/Solid)

40 Comments

  1. I totally agree with your ratings. The 18 is more widely spread a supremely good value, but I prefer the 12 too. Much more intense and just loaded with flavor!

  2. Sjoerd,

    Appreciate the comment. Thank you for checking out the post!

  3. sam k says:

    The Elijah 12 is available in PA, only in the 1.75 size, but at less than $35 it is an amazing bottle of booze, and is among my top three American whiskeys, period. Good review, Jason!

    I remember this brand from 20 years ago when it was a more harsh and less forgiving pour. Heaven Hill has done an amazing job with it in that time, and I think they do the best job of any distillery of balancing quality and price across their entire line.

    Thank you, HH!

  4. Amen. I think Heaven Hill is a well balanced distillery. You go from a fantastic casual sipper and great mixer in the Evan Williams Black Label to I think one of the best value pours in all of whiskey with the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2000. Then the Elijah 12 and 18. And you can even get up into the high range with their limited Parker Heritage Collection. A fantastic distillery.

    Thanks for the comment Sam. Much appreciated and welcome back to the site.

  5. Texas says:

    Agree completely. The 18 is nowhere near as good as the 12. I think in general 18 years is too long for bourbon although I am sure there are exceptions. The one time I had PVW 20.. have to say I liked the 15 and even the Lot B better.

  6. I concur. The Pappy 15 is simply a better whiskey than 20. In fact, and I shouldn’t give this away just yet, but it’s probably my favorite on the planet.

    Thanks for the comment and visit!

    -Jason

  7. Dave says:

    IMO EC 18 is so over-aged that I find it to be unenjoyable. You’re right — it’s not got the body of the 12, and I even get a camphor flavor… For lack of a better term, I’d say that the EC 18 tastes “musty” to me. The 12 is a totally different story, and you’re right on. Much more body and sweetness. A very trace amount of a mint or eucalyptus in the background but it doesn’t approach what I get from the 18.

    Great review. Keep ‘em coming!

  8. Thanks for the comment Dave. I feel that Elijah 18 is a well made bourbon, but I think it definitely suffers from too much time on the oak. Interestingly I have confirmed that it is the same whiskey as Elijah 12, just 6 years older and a 2% less alcohol. Amazing what that time can do.

    Thanks again for visiting!

    -Jason

  9. JMac says:

    Howdy Jason,
    A few weeks ago you gave me some advice on some bourbons to try and I’ve managed to get around to some, but just barely. At the two local liquor stores, I couldn’t find EWSB, any Four Roses, Elmer T Lee, or Van Winkle products. I guess that’s what happens when you live in a college town and all anyone wants to do is shoot vodka or Wild Turkey 101. I did find EC 12 year, so picked up a bottle of that and Makers Mark to see what all the hype was about and compare to. From the start I could tell I could tell I like the EC 12 better. When I first smelled the Makers Mark, my first reaction was that it just smelled like alcohol and not much stood out. The EC 12 had a much richer aroma and actually made me excited to start sipping. When it came to taste, I actually enjoyed the Makers very much, but once again it didn’t stand out to me as much as the EC 12 did. The EC 12 had much more flavor, and honestly seemed smoother in the front of my mouth with a much nicer, longer finish. Despite having more flavor altogether, the EC 12 seemed to have less of one flavor the MM had that, although I’m not experienced enough to tell what it was, I kind of missed. However, the EC 12 definitely came out ahead and seems a better value. Sorry for being so longwinded, but thanks for the advice and reviews.

    Until next time, I’ll keep sippin and watchin.

  10. Thanks for the update. I understand that sometimes these can be difficult to locate depending on your location. I am glad you enjoyed the EC12!

    -Jason

  11. KipFromMI says:

    I had my wife buy me the Elijah Craig 12 year as a Christmas gift (on Jason’s recommendation) and I must say it’s fantastic. The only bourbon I had to compare it to was the Jim Beam Black I had in the cupboard and it was a night and day difference. The Elijah Craig was just fantastic. It’s the first bourbon I’ve tasted that packed such a “punch” while tasting so good. It was really sweet on my nose, almost an airy sweetness. When I had my first sip on Christmas Eve, it was unbelievable. Very smooth, coated my tongue nicely. It has that nice, “oakey” taste. I had watched this review before I got it but I re-watched it and couldn’t help but thinking how spot on this review was. I had a glass of the JB Black a few days ago and was struck by the lack of taste relative to the EC 12. I’m not blasting JB Black b/c as a sipping bourbon, I really really like it, but it just couldn’t hold a candle to the EC 12.

    I’ll be hanging on to the EC 12 for a while. Excellent, excellent bourbon.

    Kip

  12. Glad you enjoyed it Kip. It’s a great Bourbon!

    Thanks for the comment.

  13. Jeff says:

    I think EC12 has the potential to be one of the best values on the market. My only complaint, and this is with most Heaven Hill bourbons, is the inconsistency. Don’t get me wrong, when it’s good, it’s great, but why take chances? For around the same price I’ll take WT101 any day of the week.

  14. KipFromMI says:

    Just picked up another bottle of this at my local liquor store. They were out last time I was there. I couldn’t believe it but the 750ml only cost me 20.95. Nedless to say I was shocked that I as able to get it that cheap so I bought myself another bottle. This bourbon has quickly become my go-to bottle. Just a fantastic value for the price. I’m also enjoying the Four Roses Single Barrel. Another fine bourbon I’ll be keeping in my cupboard.

  15. Kip, I’m clad you enjoy it. That’s an awesome price as well. It’s good that you’ve tried it and the Four Roses Single Barrel because both are different bourbons for sure. Thats a great way to start to pin down all the differences between them. Thanks for sharing and I appreciate the comment.

  16. Alan says:

    Just got around to trying EC12. Excellent pour! This is equivalent to bourbons twice the price. I compare it to Prichard’s Double Barrelled. Waiting to see what you think about Prichard’s Jason.

  17. Alan, will definitely be on that Prichards soon!

  18. Marc says:

    That review is spot on!!!! A while ago I sat down with both, side by side (along with some Noah’s Mill) – certainly subjective, but I too prefer the full body of the 12 to either the mildness of the 18 or the heat of Noah’s Mill.

    Spot on review!!!! – and possibly the best value out there (the Four Roses didn’t do anything for me).

    Thanks!

  19. Thanks for the comment Mark. Cheers!

  20. Chris says:

    I actually liked the Elijah Craig 18 better than the 12 year old. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the 12 very much, and I would recommend it. But, the 18 was very complex ( I thought ). It’s one of my favorites. It’s in my top 5 so far. Try adding a touch of water to it, it opens up a little more. Unbelievable. It’s like a fine Cognac of Bourbons INHO. I haven’t tried the Pappy 15. But, the Pappy 12 I would highly recommend. It’s my favorite to date. Jason, thanks for your reviews. I enjoy them very much. Keep them coming.

  21. JK says:

    Gotta say everyone at our tasting group was impressed with the EC12. Agreement was reached that this is the first Bourbon whisky we’ve had (among eight bottles) that might disappoint no one – at $20/per btl. It delivers such good things for each tasting element (aroma, taste on entry, taste in mid-palate, and finish) for both sipping and occasional mixing that it’s going to be available in my cabinet for offering for quite a while.

  22. iskch1 says:

    Agree. I got a bottle for my birthday from my lovely wife that by the way she likes bourbon too. One of the best values out there.

  23. Doug A says:

    Jason….I sadly learned that Elijah Craig 18 is being discontinued in favor of their 20 year old bourbon at almost 3 times the price! I have rated EC 18 SB a bit higher than you….but add a good cigar to it and it is one of the best I have had. Alone it has an excellent nose and an ok taste…lots of barrel char….but add an Olivia Cigar…and wow, it made me think twice about it. I will be sad to see it go. They say they might bring it back in the future, but at a higher price point. If that;s the case…I will hold out for Pappy! Sad to see an affordable 18 year old bourbon go!

  24. Doug A – I’ve heard the same. My guess is this frees up Heaven Hill to do some more limited releases. For me personally i’ve never loved this one. It’s over oaked in almost every case that I’ve tried it. Let’s see where this goes.

  25. Doug A says:

    Jason, I agree a strong oak presence, but I seem to favor a bit of oak. Neat..it is good but not inpressive, add a cigar and it brought out different flavors interacting with the two. Tasted much sweeter with a good smoke. Am going to try Angels Envy to see how it opens up with a good cigar. I recently tried Jefferson’s Reserve which is reportedly around 15 years old and it or Angels Envy could be a good replacement in the future. And if I want oak…I have found Jim Beam’s Devil’s Cut or their Double Black to bring out the oak. Enjoying my bourbon.

  26. iskch1 says:

    Jason, definetly the 12 yrs. E.C is better than the 18 yrs. version. I tried the E.C 18 yr. old last week and it lacks some of the flavors of the younger version. There is some sort of one – two punch after you sip it. The first part tries to give some flavors and then you get hit by oak char. But, if you add a few drops of water and let it breath some time it will slowly opens up.

  27. Dawn says:

    Jason, The Elijah Craig 12 is proving to be my runaway favorite of the past month’s headlong plunge into “the dark side” (our house’s six bottle investigation into high value recommendations, courtesy of your SMM). It’s kinda got everything for me, intensity of nose and palate, heaps of maple and caramel, but structured too. I assume it’s something that is usually available year-round ?

  28. Ken Miller says:

    Jason, have you had a chance to sample the EC 20 year old? I have heard it is far superior to the 18, but I’d like to hear your take on it before springing for a $140 bottle!

  29. TriMarkC says:

    Jim, I just picked up the Elijah Craig 12yo based on your review and the whole-hearted complimentary recommendation of my local B&M adult beverage establishment. I’m just about to sit down for a side-by-side comparison with the last of my Evan Williams 1783, alongside a Padron 1964 Anniv. cigar.

    Even before tasting and lighting, the aroma from each snifter and the cigar are already complimenting each other.

    I think I’m going to enjoy this new world of bourbon! :-D

  30. TriMarkC says:

    (sorry – JASON (not Jim)) DOH!

  31. Brian says:

    Jason – I havent delved too deeply in the world of bourbon since Ive been plodding my way through the Scottish whisky world, but thanks to you, I have started my downward spiral in this area as well.

    Your comments about the Elijah Craig 12 and 18 – and the receipt of my “ambassador” $5 rebate for Heaven Hill products convinced me to try one. What a delicious, rich, smooth, woody flavor. A drop of water made it almost nectar sweet to me. I had to have two “tastes” to be sure. In PA it was on sale for $21, and with the rebate ($16), this HAS to be one of the best values for a decent bourbon! Thanks again.

  32. Tom Risberg says:

    Hi Jason … I’ve been enjoying reading through your posts, and trying some new items out based on your recommendations, especially Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve and Eagle Rare. I’ve been a fan of Elijah Craig 12 Year Old for a while now, and just had the opportunity to purchase and taste the newly released ELIJAH CRAIG BARREL PROOF BOURBON. Because of its high proof, there is a burn, but the overall taste experience is very pleasant, especially if you let it sit in the mouth for a bit … I hope you will let us know what you think! All the best, Tom

  33. Wes says:

    Currently enjoying a bottle of the 12 yr old. What a bargain, this is fantastic bourbon. Thanks again for pointing out first rate stuff that is reasonably priced.

  34. AJ says:

    Are you planning on doing a review for the new barrel proof bottle? Interested in seeing that!

  35. James says:

    The barrel proof offering of this is one of the best pours I’ve ever had, unfortunately I can’t find a bottle anywhere in KY. I went on a full out hunt and even managed to score PVW 15 and Lot B on the trip, but no ECBP. What’s that say about it, lol?

  36. Andy H says:

    We got in several bottles of the cask strength here today sitting innocently on the shelf next to the 12 year old. Picked up a bottle and I really like the complexity. Of course I’m experimenting with the right water dilution. Might take several tries to get that down.

  37. rami says:

    Jason.

    I opened a bottle of the 18 and a bottle of the 12 last week. I thought both were great. If you’re interested in trying another barrel of the 18, I’d be happy to send you a sample.

  38. Brandon P says:

    Thank you for this review. I’ve been drinking Elijah Craig 12 almost exclusively for years, but have never heard an expert’s take on what makes it so good. It’s an incredible value for how flavorful and versatile it is. EC12 is usually within a few dollars of Maker’s Mark, but with far less sweetness and 10x the character. I still really enjoy a PVW or Willett Family Reserve on occasion, but EC12′s full bodied nose and flavors, coupled with its exceptional finish really reduce the crave for the far pricier options that typically compete on those features.

  39. Jefferson says:

    Jason,
    not sure if you’ve already formally reviewed it, but have you gotten into the EC 21 release yet? My trusty neighborhood store set the only bottle aside for me and i have yet to pick it up. I”ve got reservations due to the price tag ($140!).

    Anyone got any feedback – good or bad, on if this is must-have at 140 bucks?

    thanks in advance

  40. Jefferson I’ve not tried it yet. May not get to with how limited stock is. But you can bet I will review it if I get my hands on it. Cheers.

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