Top 20 Whiskies of 2017

#1 • Elijah Craig Barrel Proof B517

  • Rank: 1
  • Year: 2017
  • Score: 94
  • Price: $60
  • ABV: 62.1%
  • Style: Straight Bourbon
  • Place of Origin: Kentucky

As bourbon matures in new charred oak barrels over time, it approaches a perilous point when the oak dominates the flavor. To sip Elijah Craig at 12 years of age—at full barrel proof, without dilution or filtering—is to taste bourbon at its apex, so dangerously close to going over the crest of the hill, yet delivering a massive mouthful of incredibly robust flavors that drape leathery oak over a gooey caramel core, sprinkled with baking spice, while candied nuts and tobacco leaf notes appear on a drying finish dusted with cocoa.

Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig line casts a wide net, from the entry-level Small Batch at $30 to the oldest, Elijah Craig 23 year old, which costs around $200. This year’s release of Barrel Proof, the middle child, boasts a few new developments that are notable for enthusiasts and collectors. After Small Batch dropped its age statement last year, Barrel Proof assumed the 12 year old mantle. We’re pretty certain Barrel Proof drinkers got the better end of the deal here. Secondly, the whiskey has a new bottle and label, which makes tracking the batches much easier. The letter of the batch number—B517 for the batch we tasted—indicates which of the three yearly batches the whiskey came from. The first number is the month of release and the last two numbers represent the year. This year’s previous batch (A117) rated 94 points in Whisky Advocate (Fred Minnick, Spring 2017), suggesting Elijah Craig is capable of impressive consistency.

Pitted blind against pricier competition from the U.S. and the world, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof held its ground again and again. Our tasters put the whiskey to a real-world test, dousing it with water and sipping it on ice, the way many of us enjoy cask strength whiskies. Our tasters were amazed at how this bold whiskey stood proud. It is a mouth-filling, deeply satisfying whiskey, amazingly palatable even at full proof, that will delight many drinkers at a great price—virtues we can all agree on. —Jeffery Lindenmuth