Our guide today is going to be a battle between two powerhouses of the bourbon and whiskey world – Elijah Craig vs Buffalo Trace. We’re going to find out which is better…. Well, at least by my opinion.
Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace both have a long history, and this battle will see one of these go down. Who will come out victorious? The small batch bourbon in Elijah Craig? Or the highly coveted, hard to find Buffalo Trace?
Before we get to the head to head tasting, we’re going to discuss some of their histories, production methods, price, and any other relevant information.
Elijah Craig vs Buffalo Trace History
Buffalo Trace Bourbon was only released in 1999 as the distillery’s flagship brand, but the real history lies in the Buffalo Trace Distillery.
In 1858, a distillery was put up on the land that would be purchased 12 years later by one Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. – E.H Taylor. And just a couple years later, in 1878, it was purchased by George T. Stagg. In 1921, Albert B. Blanton became the president of the distillery. These names should ring a bell as E.H Taylor Jr., George T. Stagg, and Blanton’s are all top shelf whiskeys that are highly coveted.
Buffalo Trace is also home to Weller, Eagle Rare, Pappy Van Winkle, and many others.
Elijah Craig, on the other hand, is named after a Baptist preacher who is known as the father of bourbon. In 1789, Elijah Craig aged his whiskey in new charred oak barrels. It’s said that an accidental fire charred the barrels and changed the whiskey inside to whiskey we know today – bourbon.
Elijah Craig is distilled at Heaven Hill Distillery alongside brands such as Evan Williams, Rittenhouse, Larceny, Henry Mckenna, and Heaven Hill to name a few.
Elijah Craig vs Buffalo Trace Overview
|Elijah Craig||Buffalo Trace|
|Spirit:||Small-Batch Straight Bourbon||Straight Bourbon|
|Owned By:||Heaven Hill||Sazerac|
|Distilled By:||Heaven Hill||Buffalo Trace Distillery|
|ABV:||47%, 94 proof||45%, 90 proof|
|Mashbill:||78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley||75% corn, 10% rye, 15% malted barley*|
Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace Age
The first thing to discuss is the age of Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace. They are both NAS, no age-statement, bourbons which means they are at a minimum 4 years old. However, both are thought to be a bit older than that.
Elijah Craig originally donned a 12-year age statement, but that was dropped in 2016. It is thought, now, that Elijah Craig is composed of 8-12 year whiskey.
Buffalo Trace isn’t aged quite as long as Elijah Craig, but it’s thought to be made of 6 – 8 year whiskey.
Elijah Craig is aged in barrels with a #3 char, and Buffalo Trace is aged in barrels with a #4 char.
Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace have very similar mashbills. We know Elijah Craig’s mashbill is 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley. Buffalo Trace, on the other hand, is very secretive of their mashbills, but Buffalo Trace Bourbon uses their #1 mashbill. It’s thought that the Buffalo Trace #1 mashbill uses ~10% rye, 75% corn, and 15% malted barley, but this is perhaps a bit of guesswork.
Both of these bottles MSRP for right around $25-30, give or take depending upon location and individual store. While you’ll likely be able to find Elijah Craig at about any liquor store at this price, the same cannot necessarily be said for Buffalo Trace.
The demand for Buffalo Trace has sky rocketed and it’s extremely difficult to find at any liquor store. Buffalo Trace is also likely playing the game a little bit by limiting the supply to drive up demand. With that being said, you may have a hard time finding a bottle at a liquor store, and if you do, you may pay a bit more than MSPR.
Elijah Craig vs Buffalo Trace Tasting Notes
Now that we’ve covered most of the basics, let’s find out which is better, Buffalo Trace or Elijah Craig? Time to pour myself a couple glasses and get to drinkin’.
Elijah Craig Tasting Notes
Nose: lots of vanilla, cherry, dark fruits, floral and nutty undertone, oak, cocoa.
Palate: vanilla, cherry, and fig. cinnamon and licorice. wood spice. nutty at the back end. On the thinner side of a medium/moderate mouthfeel, but still buttery.
Finish: nutty notes with black pepper. Moderate length.
Taste Summary: I was expecting a typical bourbon profile here, and that’s not what I got. I mean, it still has those typical bourbon notes of vanilla, oak, and cherry, but their was some more complexity with the dark fruits, a strong nutty tone, as well as some various spices. It vaguely felt like a whiskey that would be barrel finished in ex-cognac casks.
Points for having a more unique profile than anticipated. A quality whiskey that I wish was a bit thicker and richer.
Buffalo Trace Tasting Notes
Nose: Some oak and strong and sweet vanilla upfront. light fruits as well as some rich cherry.
Palate: Vanilla is very present with some green apple. It starts out sweet, but the oak on the nose is more leather and tobacco on the palate. Still a little bit of dark cherry as well. Very good mouthfeel, on the thicker side and quite rich.
Finish: Short – medium in length. The leather and tobacco transforms into a nice black pepper and a touch of vanilla before fading away.
Taste Summary: Here is your typical bourbon profile but done really well. The vanilla is sweet and strong, and the oak turned to leather and tobacco after a sip or two. Reminded me a bit of Heaven’s Door with the connotation of your typical strong bourbon – strong as in strong flavors, not necessarily proof.
Which is Better: Elijah Craig or Buffalo Trace?
These are two bourbons located about an hour away from each other that are produced by two of the largest whiskey distillers in the world. There is a couple year age difference, but both go a good bit over the minimum 4 year mark. They are aged in #3 and #4 charred barrels, and have a very similar mashbill.
I was expecting Elijah Craig and Buffalo Trace to be very similar. But that is not the case.
In my opinion, these two are very close. Elijah Craig is going to offer a more unique bourbon, with dark fruits, roasted nuts, and wood spice. Buffalo Trace thrives on the richness of the oak, vanilla, and fruits.
I’m going to give the edge to Buffalo Trace, though. You may prefer the flavors of Elijah Craig, but when it comes to the quality of the whiskey, Buffalo Trace is clearly out in front. It’s more rich, it’s more full, and I even preferred the flavor of it, too.
There’s a reason Buffalo Trace is so hard to find. The demand is HIGH. Sure, Buffalo Trace is probably limiting the supply, but the bourbon in the bottle has a pretty big role to play.
It’s not that Buffalo Trace is the best whiskey in the world, it’s not. It’s that, for $25-30, there are so few bottles that can compete with it. The bottles that can compete with Buffalo Trace from a taste and price standpoint, can’t compete with it from a marketing and production standpoint.
All of these reasons go into driving the value and demand for Buffalo Trace so high.
Don’t let all of this make you forget about Elijah Craig, though. I thoroughly enjoyed my glass, and for $30, it’s a pretty good sipper, as well.
I don’t drink a whole lot of the mass produced Kentucky Bourbons. There are so many small distilleries out there that make unique whiskey that’s really good. I often feel that once you have one Kentucky bourbon (from the big boys), you’ve had ’em all. Reviewing Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig served as a reminder that that’s not really the case (it’s been a couple years since I’ve had either).
Every whiskey is going to have some unique qualities. Even if you have the same mashbills, age statements, and everything else, the barrels, the environment, the grains, – everything – will play a role in the production and flavor.
Both Buffalo Trace and Elijah Craig are high value bottles that work as great sipping bourbons. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Buffalo Trace, I’d bet you’d enjoy it. And if you find yourself looking for a bourbon with dark fruits and nutty notes, Elijah Craig is widely available.
Do you have a different experience? Let me know in the comments!