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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Elijah Craig Ricky's Pick

Not long ago, my bourbon-hunting daughter helped with a historic review of traditional Elijah Craig Small Batch. When I saw this store pick at a local university liquor store, it was hard to resist. Sporting an 11-year age statement and a price just a few dollars more than the namesake rendition, I grabbed a bottle and struck up a conversation with owner Ricky Rakholia.

Tragedy and Re-birth

Few names evoke more mystery and lore in bourbon history than Elijah Craig, considered, by many, to be the founder of bourbon whiskey. To learn more about Craig and his legacy, check out our review here.

On May 14th, 2018, a disastrous fire struck University Liquors, taking with it much of the roof and the inventory. Eight months later, thanks to solid insurance coverage, Ricky, his wife Varsha, along with son Kumar and daughter Vidhi, were able to re-open. The location has a bit of an interesting past in local history.

Many will recall that this college town was “dry” until ordinances were changed in the early 1970’s. The original occupant of the current location was Specialty House – a restaurant that specialized in fried chicken. As they tried to begin serving alcoholic beverages, they received increasing scrutiny from local officials, and instead, decided to turn the site into a liquor store (some think this may be Normal’s first liquor store).

The rest, they say, is history. Rakholia purchased the business in 2007 and has offered a dizzying array of spirits that cater to both college students and higher-end clientele. When we last spoke, I snagged one more of this special release. Ricky indicated he had a couple more barrel picks up his sleeve. “You did great with this one. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.”

The Tasting

Many still hold a soft spot for Elijah Craig Small Batch. This well-loved bourbon carried a 12-year age statement for many years until dwindling stocks of aged bourbon forced a change. Today, the typical small-batch version is a blend of 8 and 12-year-old bourbon.

This bottle is a University Liquor’s pick, labeled Ricky for U-Liq, from barrel number 5267185. It was aged on the 7th floor (the top floor!) of Rickhouse Q and carries an age statement of 11 years. The mash bill is 78% corn, 10% rye, and 12% malted barley. The finished product is bottled at the typical Elijah Craig Small Batch proof of 94. I found this bottle at a local honey-hole for $39 – just a few dollars more than a typical no-age-statement bottle of Elijah Craig.

Eye: Dark amber

Nose: This has a great nose, layered with sweet caramel, vanilla and toffee, followed by gentle spice and oak. This is, truly, delicious smelling.

Palate: Vanilla bean and oak dominate with a lovely mouthfeel and chew.

Finish: Exceptionally long and led by sweet toffee. Oak and cinnamon spice follow along later in a smooth and balanced manner.

Overall: The regular Elijah Craig Small Batch is a solid every-day pour. Ricky’s U-Liq pick is excellent! This one hit on all cylinders. Don’t be afraid to snag a store pick (or two)! You just might find picks every bit as good as the owner. Cheers!

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