Another year and another barrel of Elijah Craig. The very first single barrel I ever picked out for a bar was a barrel of Elijah Craig for Areal a good five years ago. I’ve been fortunate enough to select an Elijah Craig barrel every year since so its arrival is usually a great touchstone for me to reflect on the previous year. A Bourbon New Year as it were. And it’s been a hell of a year.
I left a bar that I ran for nearly five years that promptly closed six months later. I started a new job at Faith and Flower in Downtown LA, competed in the National finals of three major cocktail competitions, traveled to Tokyo, started this wordy blog, and picked out another barrel of Elijah Craig.
Elijah Craig is often the answer to the inevitable question, “What do you drink?’ I’ve talked about it at length here, and here, and during innumerable shifts behind the bar. The basic gist though is that Elijah Craig is one of the semi-mythical early Bourbon distillers that sometime after his death was decreed to be “the Father of bourbon” after he became the first person to char his barrels before aging his whiskey. It’s a completely unsubstantiated claim that makes a good story. So, we all tell the story and then acknowledge that it’s complete nonsense.
The current Elijah Craig brand was introduced by Heaven Hill in 1986 and has gone through multiple changes in its 30-year history but the past year was quite striking. The iconic 12-year old age statement was dropped from the label with the whiskey instead becoming a blend of 8-12 year old. The old school squat bottle was also replaced with a sleeker, taller, more streamlined bottle that I’m personally not a fan of but does actually fit a pour spout .
If you can’t tell, I don’t like change. And that’s not to say anything against the whiskey. It’s still an earthy, massively tanic, barrel forward whiskey that is one of the few bottles that I think works equally well in both mixed drinks and as a neat sipper. Most of these changes were made because there’s not enough whiskey to go around. Especially not old whiskey. Part of me feels like saying so what? Let there not be enough for everyone, don’t change this bottle that I love. Yet, that view is selfish.
Part of the joy of bartending, and indeed the joy of this very blog, is getting to share things that I love with other people. In the end, these changes aren’t for me. I clearly jumped on the train years ago. These changes are for the people seeing Elijah Craig for the first time on a billboard, or a sports arena, or even hearing about it on its recent NPR advertisements. The old Preacher is growing and hanging out with a younger crowd these days and I’m glad to see it.
In the end change isn’t good or bad. How we react to it, how we deal with it, that’s where the emotion comes in. Sometimes, change is just change. And I look forward to seeing what the Preacher and I have to talk about the next time we see each other.