American rye whiskey is becoming a hot commodity these days, but the latest brand to jump into the market comes as a bit of a surprise: Elijah Craig, a Heaven Hill property known almost exclusively for its bourbons. Of course, Heaven Hill has no shortage of expertise in the rye world, so the line extension makes a lot of sense. Here’s what you’re getting into:
Elijah Craig Rye is made as a traditional American Straight Rye Whiskey with 51% rye, 35% corn and 14% malted barley. This combination of grains, which relies heavily on corn as the secondary grain rather than a higher percentage of rye, has been the primary Rye mashbill used by Kentucky Bourbon distilleries since taking over virtually all American Rye production post-Prohibition; the same mashbill directly responsible for the Rye resurgence seen today. Extra-aging is a tenet of the Elijah Craig portfolio, and Elijah Craig Rye is no exception. The resulting taste carries a spicy sharpness from the rye balanced with sweetness from the corn. Packaged in the iconic Elijah Craig bottle, the Straight Rye is distinguished by new bottle decoration, face, side and neck labels with green features.
“Elijah Craig was a larger-than-life innovator and the new Elijah Craig Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey celebrates his bold reputation,” said Heaven Hill Master Distiller Conor O’Driscoll. “Heaven Hill Distillery has the privilege within its vast inventory and distilling expertise to create American Whiskeys consumers desire. Elijah Craig Rye celebrates the heritage of Rye Whiskey in Kentucky and adds another quality option to an award-winning lineup of specially crafted whiskeys.”
Note that beyond the “extra-aging” claim, there is no formal age statement on the bottle.
Elijah Craig Bourbon’s mashbill is 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley, so this expression is really just a change of proportions. The result is a classic expression of rye whiskey, with a nose that exudes its trademark spiciness — baking spices and a touch of cayenne, layered with butterscotch and a modest dose of barrel char. Some chocolate and salted caramel notes emerge in time, all part of a solid aromatic structure. The palate is expressive but doesn’t quite live up to this opening volley. While it’s got plenty of fruit and spice in the form of apples, banana, and cinnamon, it comes off as initially a bit dusty, with more raw granary character than expected. More butterscotch and a gentle almond note emerge toward the back end, which is largely informed by a heavy reprise of spice — so much so that it’s actually a bit rough at times.
All told, Elijah Craig’s rye is a solid example of the style, and if the pricing holds it’s destined to fill a role as a cocktail workhorse in higher-class establishments. That said, don’t be afraid to sip it solo, either. Distribution is limited for the time being, so if you can’t find it, stay tuned.