Heaven Hill, one of the largest bourbon makers in the world, is bidding farewell to Elijah Craig Small Batch's 12-year age statement. It's a major sacrifice for the brand as they struggle to meet growing demand.
Small Batch bottles are already appearing on shelves nationwide with non-age-statement labels, in some cases alongside the last of the 12-year stock. So if it's not 12-year-old bourbon, what is in the bottle? According to Heaven Hill, the new small batches will include whiskey ranging from 8–12 years of age.
Heaven Hill released a statement, explaining that it's part of a larger plan to meet demand for an often hard to find product. "This will allow us to continue to make Elijah Craig Small Batch available and not have to limit its accessibility to consumers or have outages at the shelf," said communications manager Josh Hafer, in an official release.
The problem for consumers is that Small Batch is hard to find for a simple reason: it's really, really good.
It's no secret that the 12-year-old Elijah Craig Small Batch is one of the most beloved products on the market, among experts and fanatics (and journalists). At 12 years of age and about $25 retail, it was an incredible value, when you could find it.
But Heaven Hill wants more product on shelves, and the reason they needed to make the change is because it could compromise other (older) products in the portfolio that they want to keep around. "Overall, Heaven Hill does intend to retain age-stated bourbons within the Elijah Craig brand franchise," the company said in the official statement.
Small Batch, to be fair, is the "bottom" tier for the Craig brand. The company is making this change in hopes of having more stock available for the remaining two products: a 12-year barrel-proof bottle, and an 18-year-old single barrel that they’ve brought back after discontinuing it three years ago.
This isn't a new phenomenon. Age statements have been on the chopping block as whiskey makers struggle to keep up with demand, and it's totally understandable that, in order to turn a profit, they’d like to produce more product (for less money). In 2013, Maker's Mark even tried to lower their proof to increase supply — an announcement that resulted in so much backlash that they backpedaled.
With Elijah Craig, it's unlikely this decision will be reversed any time soon. Heaven Hill has among the best stocks of whiskey in the bourbon world, and if they're this desperate, it begs the question of whether we'll see more of these changes from other distillers this year.
Let's hope not.