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Friday, August 4, 2023

Barrell Craft Spirits, Part 3: Four bourbons

I don't think I've ever tried ten different American whiskies in one week before, but here I am in the middle of a intensely humid summer drinking a half score of barrel strength oak extracts. And yet I always insist I am not a masochist.

This three-parter concludes with Barrell's original product, blended bourbons. There are no wine, rum, brandy, beer, or hot sauce casks involved this time. Just oaks and whiskies. All four of these batches include bourbons distilled in Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (Dickel?), and Kentucky (up to three different recipes?). The first two are from the standard bourbon cask strength batches, the third one is of the fancy schmancy Gray Label series, and the fourth comes from the Vantage series (a mix of Mizunara, French, and toasted US oaks).

Mixing bourbons does indeed sound like a good place to start blending experiments, allowing for more focus and fewer embarrassing flubs. It's less risky than most of their other products, but does it produce better results???

Part 3: Four bourbons

Barrell Bourbon
Cask Strength
Batch 14
9 years old, 54.7%abv
Barrell Bourbon
Cask Strength
Batch 34
6 years old, 57.3%abv
Barrell Bourbon
Gray Label (NAS)
Batch 5
Vantage Bourbon,
Three oak types
The nose stomps in full of corn, citrus, and bluster. It's sugary, with its Luxardo cherries, maple syrup, and corn whiskey. But it also has paint VOCs and wet cardboard in the background.Peanuts in the nose. Peanut dust and burnt peanuts. Candy corn, barrel char, and caramel also sit up front. It picks up smaller notes of dijon mustard and watermelon Jolly Ranchers with time.A surprisingly earthy nose offers soil, black walnuts, and mesquite smoke. Oats and caramel sauce, with just a hint of the peanut dust.Dried peaches, dried cherries, and a hint of cabernet sauvignon arrive first in the group's most expressive nose, followed by flowers and brine. Maple and vanilla stay in the background.
Got some boozy, honeyed barrel char going on in this nose. Lemonade, tart nectarines, and roses fill the middle, with a slight nuttiness in the back.The barrel char here reads smoky. Lots of salt and umami in the palate, as well. Moderate tartness and sweetness. Mint candy and black pepper appear after some time.The palate is all cinnamon and tart cherries at first. A piece of halvah here, a few red Twizzlers there. Some savory and tart notes stay behind.Fruits and flowers, begins the nose. Ripe cherries and plums. Cinnamon, cardamom, and just the right amount of sweetness. Pretty!
It finishes tangy and sweet, with mild tannins.Tart and sweet balance out in the finish. It's also leafy and minty, with a vanilla hint.Halvah, cherry lollipops, and red Twizzlers finish it up.It finishes with toasty wood spices rather than barrel char (duh?). It's mildly sweet with a few tart cherries as well.
I certainly do
Ah yes, getting closer to classic bourbon territory. Its palate is the least "craft" element, and the most satisfying, never reading too raw or oaky. Decent stuff but I started to forget about it with each successive bourbon here.Another one with a palate that tops the nose, though I didn't mind the peanutty side. Very satisfying and better balanced than I'd expected. It feels like a single bourbon rather than a mix, which is a success!Much different than the first two, this Gray Barrell's earthy nose was a fun surprise, and it was very very drinkable, perhaps due to a good abv as well as quality blending. I'll have more to say about this whiskey below**.My favorite Barrell whiskey yet. The mix of oaks seems to make more sense than cask seasonings; they play so well together here, offering a great swirl of fruits and spices. I may seek out a Vantage bottle of my own.
Rating: 81Rating: 83Rating: 84Rating: 85


**From what I've read, the first four Barrell Bourbon Gray Label batches had 15 year age statements. The fifth, the very 50.29%abv batch I tried today, had no age statement and yet the price remained the same as the age-stated batches. To bourbon fans everywhere I say, "Welcome to Scotch Land!" Yes, you've all been here before with Elijah Craig and others, but when a smaller and more independent company follows suit, it just hurts a little more. Such is the marketplace. We fans of other whiskies know your pain.

Today's grouping was best of the three, probably due to what I'd mentioned in the intro. Blending bourbons without playing with barrel finishings will deliver more consistent results. Maybe it sounds boring, but the bourbon is good.

Of course, to be partially contradictory, the one real experiment here was the Vantage and its various oak types, and it bested the rest. It highlighted the pleasures of toasted (as opposed to charred) barrels, which is safer than in-cask-blending various spirits, so you'll get a bright union of fruits and spices rather than a potential Long Island Iced Tea in a bottle. 

I am certainly not saying Barrell should discontinue their blending adventures. They've wisely diversified their whiskey ranges, offering more standard bourbons for a curmudgeon like me, and wilder stuff like Seagrass for weirdos like me. From an outsider's view, they seem to be having fun. May they also find continued success.