Heaven Hill Drops Age Statement from Elijah Craig 12
Fred Minnick broke the news that Heaven Hill will break our little hearts and remove the age statement from Elijah Craig 12 Year altogether. No one is particularly surprised by the decision. Let's start with a roll-up of some prominent blogger opinions:
Steve Ury at Sku's Recent Eats lost respect for Heaven Hill's Bernie Lubbers. Last summer, Lubbers dismissed widespread consumer criticism of Heaven Hill's decision to remove the big red "12" from the front label and plug the age statement into a paragraph on the back label. Now, Lubbers either looks like an idiot or a liar. Ury boldly declared, "[f]rom now on, I will give zero credence to any statement coming from Heaven Hill."
Josh at Red, White & Bourbon, however, is not concerned. As someone who doesn't appreciate older Heaven Hill products, Josh thinks there is potential for Elijah Craig to actually get better. "It seems like Heaven Hill made the right decision."
Joshua from the blog Tipple & Text is angry at the industry in general. He commented on Ury's site that "[they] know that most of their market these days is full of consumers who just want the hot thing and don't care if it's 12 years old, 25 years old, or 2 months old, as long as someone important says its good then its off the shelf and gone even if the distilleries are liars, cheats, or what not."
Chuck Cowdery tries to see the bright side. He gives the industry the benefit of the doubt as distilleries struggle to meet unprecedented demand. "I'm cynical by nature but as I get older I try even harder to find silver linings. I think there is one here...availability should get better."
Breaking Bourbon points us back to their great article about age statements in general. In August 2015, Nick wrote that "[a] popular theory is that the current Elijah Craig 12 Year will eventually become NAS and a bottle with a 12 year age statement on the front will be reintroduced at a higher price point, maybe $50-$75."
That is a well-founded fear...here are my thoughts:
1) Bernie Lubbers has some 'splainin' to do. Heaven Hill's Master Distiller Denny Potter provided a perfectly reasonable explanation to Fred Minnick, but it'd be nice to hear from the guy who dismissed consumer concern in his article entitled "WTF is going on here."
2) If EC12 comes back as an expensive "premium" offering, I will not buy it. I will be unreasonably angry and probably cancel my membership in HH's Bardstown Whiskey Society. I may even burn my copy of Bernie Lubbers' book.
3) We can all agree that age doesn't determine quality, but if quality decreases, the HH move will bite them in the butt. Maker's Mark, Four Roses, and plenty of other top distilleries are guided by their palates, not by numbers on labels. The test will be in a year when we all compare the NAS Elijah Craig to the bottles of EC12 we'll buy this weekend. If quality declines, so should sales. If it doesn't decline, I'll keep buying it and so should you.
4) If this move actually increases supply and consumer access to Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, I will forgive Heaven Hill and just buy that from now on. I may even read my copy of Lubbers' book.
5) Heaven Hill may be miscalculating future demand for the $130+ Elijah Craig 18. Apparently, this move is intended to save 12 year old bourbon stock to supply future EC18 and EC21 releases. At some point, people will stop buying $130 bourbon and HH could be left with older stock that consumers don't want. On that final note, take a look at Arok's post on his blog Bourbon Guy. I gotta say, affordable 23-year-old rum is starting to look pretty tempting.