- Spirit: Straight Rye Whiskey
- Owned By: Heaven Hill
- Distilled By: Heaven Hill
- Aged: NAS, 4+ years
- ABV: 47%, 94 proof
- Mashbill: 51% rye, 35% corn, 14% malted barley
- Price: $30
Elijah Craig is one of the most notable whiskeys on the market. When you say Elijah Craig everyone, even non-whiskey drinkers, knows what you’re talking about. However, they’re likely thinking of Elijah Craig Bourbon, not Elijah Craig Rye. Elijah Craig has been around for hundreds of years, but Elijah Craig Rye was just released in 2020.
I’m going to cover some of that history, and then touch upon the age, proof, mashbill and price. Finally, I’ll cover the tasting notes and decide whether or not I think Eljah Craig Rye is a good whiskey. Let’s get to it!
Elijah Craig, the brand, was first intorduced in 1986. It’s namesake, Elijah Craig, the man, is often called the father of bourbon… well, atleast by Heaven Hill.
Elijah Craig was a baptist preacher, whiskey distiller, and slave owner. He used slaves to help run the operations of his distillery. Elijah Craig, the brand, at least recognizes this and confronts it from the start. Simply check out their Our History page for more.
Elijah Craig is called the father of bourbon because he was the first to age his whiskey in charred oak. Some stories say it was an accidental fire, some say he used ex-sugar barrels. Was he the first to actually age whiskey in charred oak? ehh I don’t know about that. Regardless, he’s credited with it, and today, you can’t make bourbon unless you age your spirit in new charred oak.
Elijah Craig Rye Mashbill, Age, Proof, and Price
For those of you that like Pikesville and Rittenhouse Rye – and I know there’s a good lot of you – Elijah Craig Straight Rye shares the same 51/35/14 mashbill with the same #3 barrel char. This makes it what is referred to as a “barely-legal” rye. Rye must have a minimum 51% rye in the mashbill, and this barely meets the minimum requirement. A bourbon with 51% corn would be considered a barely legal bourbon.
If Elijah Craig Rye, Pikesville Rye , and Rittenhouse Rye are distilled by the same company, use the same mashbill and the same barrel char, how are they different?
Well, aging for one. Elijah Craig Rye is a NAS whiskey, meaning No Age Statement. If you scour a bottle of Elijah Craig Rye, you’ll find no mention of how long it was aged. A whiskey can only do this if it’s aged a minimum of 4 years. While Elijah Craig Bourbon once held a 12 year age statement and is now thought to be ~8 years, we can’t infer an age statement of its rye counterpart. All we know is 4+ years.
Rittenhouse Rye is aged 4 years, and Pikesville is aged 6 years, but aging isn’t all about length – like a lot of other things 😉 – it’s also about placement within a warehouse. Top floors get hotter because heat rises. The center of a rickhouse is more insulated, so there are less temperature swings. Specific barrels and barrel placement can have a major impact on a whiskey, so all of these can account for differences between these whiskeys.
Another big difference is proof. Elijah Craig Rye comes in at 94 proof compared to 100 proof for Rittenhouse and 110 proof for Pikesville. Everyone likes to drink whiskey at a certain proof, and some whiskeys themselves drink better higher or lower. Personally, my go to proof range is 94-110 proof. Elijah Craig comes in at the lower end of my ideal range, but still within it. For a $30 bottle, I’m very happy with that.
Elijah Craig Rye Tasting Notes
Now that we’ve covered the basics, it’s time to jump into the tasting notes behind a bottle of Elijah Craig Rye. As a note, taste and smell are very subjective qualities. These are the notes that I got from my bottle of Elijah Craig Rye.
Nose: Spice and honey come off the glass immediately. I get that dusty peanut that Heaven Hill/ Elijah Craig is known for, but its more so wood shavings than dusty peanut. There’s a lot of sweetness sitting behind the spice with some citrus zest and lemon icing. Perhaps a little bubblegum as well.
Palate: A lot of that citrus and sweetness sits upfront with the spice gradually increasing. It’s initially allspice but then adds cinnamon and brown sugar. A lot of mint starts to kick in at the back end of the palate.
Finish: A lot of spice, oak, and mint on the finish, but does not burn. Spice fades away somewhat quickly, then the mint, and finally oak, which sticks around for a medium to long finish.
I like Elijah Craig Rye, and I’m a big fan and harsh critic of rye whiskey. Even as a barely legal rye, this drinks like a rye whiskey through and through. It’s not suprising that it’s a barely legal rye, though, as it’s a very sweet rye.
Lemon icing, orange zest, sweet honey sit all over the nose and at the front of the palate. The back end of the palate and the finish is where I thought “oh, yup…. this is a rye”. Baking spice, mint, cinnamon, more orange zest really kick in strong showing some strong rye flavors. Oak shows up that is more reminiscent of oak shavings which gives it a dusty quality. It reminds me of peanut shells and a work shop. There’s also a nice buttery mouthfeel.
I think Elijah Craigh Rye is a great example of how a barely legal rye – or even a high rye bourbon – should drink. There’s the sweet bourbon notes up front, strong rye flavors kick in, a buttery mouthfeel (a quality attributed more to bourbon) stays throughout, and the finish has all of the rye flavors without a hint of burn.
For $30, I think Elijah Craig Rye is a high value play that will leave most consumers pleased. The more pressing question or issue is this: RittenHouse Rye is about the same price, maybe a couple bucks cheaper, and it’s 100 proof…. Should I just buy that instead? I think I prefer Elijah Craig as a sipper, but Rittenhouse in a cocktail. What do y’all think? Elijah Craig Rye or Rittenhouse Rye?