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Heaven Hill Distillery. Bardstown, KY © 2023
Think Wisely. Drink Wisely. ®
Charred to start. Toasted to Finish. This unique expression takes fully
aged, award-winning Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon and finishes it
in a custom-toasted barrel for even more sweet oak complexity.
Proof: 94 Proof
For Heaven Hill Distillery, Bourbon in the 21st century is all about preserving time-honored
methods while pushing the industry towards new levels of creativity and innovation. Barrel
finishing is just one of the techniques that allows us to help nurture the future of Bourbon and
develop new, nuanced flavor profiles.
In finishing, we place fully-matured American Whiskey in a specialty "finishing" barrel,
either one that has been used to hold flavorful goods (other spirits, coffee, etc)... or a new
kind of barrel, something altogether different and exciting.
Fully matured Elijah
Finished in toasted
new oak barrels
Left to develop more
complex, sweet oak flavors
For Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel, we worked with our cooperage partners to craft entirely
new barrels that were custom toasted and then flash charred to our exact specifications.
These finishing barrels fall squarely under the legal definition of "charred new oak
containers," and maintain all the requirements to be a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
Conor O'Driscoll, Master Distiller
Toasted oak, just before it
is flash charred.
As any American Whiskey fan knows, without a charred oak barrel, there is no Bourbon. But the high-heat charring process does much more than simply creating a blackened surface on a barrel's interior. In fact, the "char layer" has little to no impact on the final flavor, but serves an entirely practical function: filtration. This top layer of black, broken down wood fibers is essentially charcoal, and affects the spirit in the same way as the charcoal water filter in your refridgerator or those used to process other spirits like vodka: it removes off flavors and odors.
Level 3 Charred The intense heat of charring creates a blackened surface with fissures in the wood. Elijah Craig Bourbon ages in these traditional barrels until it meets peak maturity.
Toasted & Flash Charred The lower temperature darkens the oak but leaves the surface intact. The aged Bourbon is finished in these barrels, adding depth and complexity.
Instead, the beloved barrel-aged flavors of Bourbon come from the "red layer" that lives just
beneath under the char layer. Here, the intense flame from the charring process caramelizes
the hemicellulose and breaks down the lignin in the oak, forming the necessary flavor and
aromatic compounds that give Bourbon its signature taste and color. Typically, Heaven Hill's
barrels are a level 3 char, blasted with heat for about 45 seconds.
Our custom toasting process affects that same red layer, albeit in a different way. By using a
lower intensity heat over a longer period of time, toasting creates a thicker red layer, with a
unique concentration of flavors that the Bourbon can then absorb. Imagine cooking food over a
screaming hot grill vs. the low and slow approach in barbecue. Both delicious, just different.
Most importantly, the toasting process gives the cooperage complete control over the flavors that
can be developed within the barrel. For Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel, we worked with the
Independent Stave Company over a period of several months to find the right toasting profile to
complement the signature spice flavors of Elijah Craig Bourbon.
We started with barrels constructed exclusively of premium white oak, air-dried for 18 months.
As we began the research and development process, our early experiments taught us that if we
heated the oak too quickly, the barrel lent strong, smoky flavors that, while interesting, ultimately
overpowered the complex fruit and spice notes that make Elijah Craig so special.
As we continued, we discoverded that starting the barrel over a medium-low flame, but then employing a smooth and steady increase in both time and temperature, we were able to produce the right balance of dark sugar flavors that resonated with the warmth of Elijah Craig.
With this new information in hand, we continued to work with Independent Stave Company's engineers to develop our own a signature toasting profile, exclusive to Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel.
A medium-low heat to start with a slow and
steady increase in temperature created the
perfect flavor balance to complement
Elijah Craig Small Batch.
Andrew Wiehebrink, Independent
Once poured in the glass, the sweet oak complexity rings forth. The sipping experience is
excited by chocolate notes, spice, pepper, and just a hint of smoke.
The finish is exceedingly smooth and conveys the nuance of the toasted oak.
- Conor O'Driscoll, Master Distiller
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