Elijah Craig is a brand of bourbon made by Heaven Hill Distilleries. It comes as a 12-year-old or an 18-year-old, both excellent.
Elijah Craig was also a real person, c. 1738-1808, a Kentucky pioneer, community leader, entrepreneur, and Baptist minister.
But he did not invent bourbon whiskey.
The durable but unsubstantiated claim that Elijah Craig ‘invented’ bourbon can be traced to Richard Collins and his 1874 History of Kentucky. Collins does not identify Craig by name, but writes that "the first Bourbon Whiskey was made in 1789, at Georgetown, at the fulling mill at the Royal spring." This claim is included, without elaboration or substantiation, on a densely-packed page of "Kentucky Firsts." Since Craig operated "the fulling mill at the Royal spring" in that year, the "invention" is attributed to him.
There are several major problems with the claim. First, what made Craig's whiskey different from other whiskey made in the region? Second, the Georgetown site was never in Bourbon County, so if the place name and the whiskey have to go together, Craig cannot be the originator. In fact, the name 'Bourbon whiskey' was applied to all whiskey from that region beginning early in the 19th century but the style of whiskey we now call bourbon didn't really evolve until many years later, in about the middle of the century, long after Craig’s death.
The Craig claim has been convenient. His ministerial vocation was played up by wet forces in the run-up to Prohibition. When something has an inventor the story of its origin is much easier to tell, but actual history is seldom so neat. Whatever else it may be, historically the Craig claim is unsupported.