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Elijah Craig Branches Into Rye, Looking To Continue Its Momentum

April 28, 2020

Amid the ongoing whiskey boom, Heaven Hill’s Elijah Craig Bourbon has rapidly expanded in the last few years, recently earning Impact “Hot Brand” honors after going from 83,000 cases in 2016 to 200,000 cases last year. The momentum has kept up so far this year, with volume up 65% in IRI channels in the four weeks through March 22. The aggressive expansion has seen the brand refine its packaging, garner critical acclaim, and add a new expression.

Elijah Craig’s core release is its Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey ($30 a 750-ml.), a 47% abv NAS bottling that’s also available as an age-stated single barrel release at select retailers. At the higher end are aged-stated single barrels (18 and 23 years old), limited releases that are among the longest running expressions of super-aged Bourbon in rotation. More recently, the brand has drawn acclaim for its 12-year-old Elijah Craig Barrel Proof offerings, which come out three times a year. The second release of 2017 (B517) was named Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year.

While the backbone of the brand is Bourbon, Heaven Hill has recently expanded the family by adding a new rye whiskey. “Elijah Craig Rye is an accessible aged rye with a mashbill of 51% rye, 35% corn, and 14% malted barley,” says Max Stefka, senior manager at Heaven Hill. “This combination of grains, which relies heavily on corn as the secondary grain rather than a higher percentage of rye, has been the primary rye mashbill used by Kentucky Bourbon distilleries since taking over virtually all American rye production post-Prohibition.”

The $30 release initially launched in Oregon, Georgia, and North and South Carolina and is expanding from there. Elijah Craig Rye comes in at 47% abv and joins other Heaven Hill ryes including the high-end Pikesville Rye (55% abv) and the more accessibly priced Rittenhouse Rye (50% abv), which topped 60,000 cases last year.

From a marketing perspective, Stefka says Elijah Craig will continue its partnership with Goose Island’s Bourbon County Stout to help introduce the brand to beer drinkers. “Consumers will also see more emphasis on the Elijah Craig Old Fashioned with a deeper dive into a pairing of two classics,” he notes.—Shane English

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