After a lot of internet chatter from various sources over the last few days, Fred Minnick went on the record with the news that Heaven Hill will drop its 12 year old age statement from Elijah Craig, which will now be NAS (no age statement).
We all know the drill by now. A company claims that they had to drop the age statement because they are short on old whiskey and that they need the flexibility to blend in some younger whiskeys but that the average age will still be around the same, and it will taste the same. For the first few months, maybe a year, it does taste pretty much the same, but after that, it drops off quickly. Then, maybe a few years later, they release a limited edition age stated whiskey at double or triple the price. It's like the plot of the new Star Wars movie: totally formulaic following a very predictable script.
But here's the rub that makes this one extra slimy. Last year, Heaven Hill got rid of the "12" on the front label of Elijah Craig and moved it to the back. Many saw that as a sign that the age statement would soon be removed altogether. Heaven Hill's Bernie Lubbers addressed these rumors on his blog (he also mentions Eagle Rare's similar move with their ten year old, but Eagle Rare is made by a different company):
Eagle Rare (Buffalo Trace), and Elijah Craig (Heaven Hill Brands) have both come under some criticism lately for a label change. The age statements of 10 and 12 years have been moved to the back label. In the case of Elijah Craig, we put a barrel on the front, and emphasized Small Batch more. Well my goodness when you read some of the threads online you’d think were drowning people’s puppies, or are doing something SO devious that we are just trying to hide that we will definitely take the age statement off, and SOON.
Well we are NOT being devious, or trying to be misleading in any way. Whether the age statement is on the front or the back, or in writing, or in numbers, every drop is still 12 years old – PERIOD. There might be a time where we are faced with a decision of whether to take the age statement off completely, or leave it on forever. But these are just decisions you have to make in real time when reality raises it’s head and you’re faced with either keeping a whiskey at a certain age, or taking the age off, and trying as best as you can to keep the flavor profile the same.That was on June 2, 2015. Despite Lubbers' attempt at face-saving caveats, I would say that taking the age off seven months later is "SOON," and that is, indeed, pretty devious. This saddens me as Heaven Hill has always seemed to be honest with their whiskeys and their information. Lying to consumers is bad business and doing it in a condescending way makes it that much worse.
From now on, I will give zero credence to any statement coming from Heaven Hill. Hell, given that Lubbers went out of his way to deny it, maybe they are drowning puppies.
See more good stuff on the Elijah Craig debacle, and a somewhat contrary view, from Red White & Bourbon, who brought my attention to the quote above.