There’s a couple new faces at the local liquor store. Not literally — everyone is in a mask these days, which is a good thing — but there are definitely a few new bottles on the shelves. One of those newer products is Barrel & Banter, a whiskey that was launched in March of 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic was shifting into full swing.
This whiskey seems to be purposefully cagey about who makes it and where it comes from. The bottle and the website both claim that the whiskey is distilled in Texas… without listing an actual distillery as the source. The Barrel & Banter company only seems to take responsibility for the bottling of the spirit in Richardson, Texas.
Usually this kind of setup (a “bottled by” whiskey with no associated history) means that it’s a sub-brand of some other distilled spirits company. And after some internet sleuthing, lo and behold, Barrel &Banter is listed as a trademark of the Lockwood Distilling Co which the TTB records confirm is the actual “manufacturer” of bottles under this label.
The Lockwood Distilling Company of Richardson, Texas opened its doors in late 2019, just in time to have a taste of success before the COVID-19 lockdown. Founder Evan Batt has a history in the distilled spirits industry, first working in sales for distributors before co-founding Pilot Point, Texas based Western Son Vodka in 2012. He left that company to strike out on his own with his wife Sally, focusing on local craft spirits and building a sense of community.
Like I said, this bottle is a bit cagey about where it comes from and what is inside. But we can make some informed guesses.
This is marketed as a “straight rye whiskey” — so right off the bat, we know that the majority of the grains that went into this whiskey (at least 51%) are from rye. Whether this is a 100% rye or if there’s something else in there as well, we don’t know… but it’s highly likely a decent portion of the recipe comes from other undisclosed grains.
Once the grains are mashed and fermented, they are distilled and then placed in new charred oak barrels to age. Bottles of straight whiskey without any age statement are required to be aged a minimum of four years, but Barrel & Banter snuck in a very tiny statement in very fine print on the back of the bottle saying that this was actually aged ‘at least 2 years’. So, at a bare minimum, the youngest drop of whiskey in this bottle is two years old and likely it isn’t aged much (if any) beyond that.
Given that this whiskey needs to have been aged a minimum of two years, and the fact that the Lockwood Distilling Co. is only a little more than a year old, there’s a mathematical impossibility that this whiskey was distilled on-site by them. However, the bottle does claim that this whiskey was distilled in the state of Texas, so it’s my guess that they are sourcing their spirit from another distillery within the state and then re-bottling it at their location under their brand. Which specific distillery is a huge question mark — but I do commend them for sourcing within the same state.
It doesn’t sound like Barrel & Banter is doing any processes with this whiskey when it comes through their door, just straight putting it in a bottle and slapping a label on it.
This is one instance where the “less is more” approach actually seems to work well.
The bottle design is pretty standard and straightforward: a bulbous round base with straight sides that quickly rounds into a medium length straight neck. The bottle is capped off with a synthetic cork stopper. That design is simple and seems to be one of a number of “standard” designs bottle manufacturers create for smaller brands who don’t have the funds for a custom bottle shape.
As for the branding, this label is pretty light on embellishments. The label is square, with perforated edges on the top and bottom as if it was printed on a strip of paper and torn off for labeling. There are very few items on the label, just the brand name and the legally required markings in a somewhat artfully arranged style.
With this brand of whiskey, there are a number of different offerings they produce. The different styles are denoted by different colored labels for quick recognition. In this case, the emerald green label absolutely draws the eye, which is presumably great for store and bar sales.
This whiskey certainly looks the part, with a nice amber color to the spirit when you pour it in the glass. But there’s something about the aroma that indicates that this might not all be smooth sailing. I get some of the usual “honey on a piece of rye bread” notes that I usually get with a rye whiskey, but there’s also a good bit of harsh acetone / nail polish remover mixed in there that ruins the experience.
Taking a sip, the first thing I get is some caramel and rye bread with a hint of apple. Off to a good start. But then there’s some bitterness that comes in along with some extremely deep charred oak flavors that, like dropping an elephant into the middle of a formal brunch, completely takes over and makes it impossible for anything else to stay. It straight up ruins the experience.
The whiskey finishes with a good bit of tingling on the lips and some black pepper spice.
Typically with a bit of ice, things calm down. The louder and more obnoxious flavors are reduced, albeit usually at the expense of the lighter and sweeter aspects. In this case, a bit of ice definitely starts to help.
The acetone flavor is still present in the aroma, but the charred oak flavor is significantly reduced. Not gone completely — it still is a bit dominant for my taste — but it isn’t quite as bad as before. The honey and rye bread flavors have more of a chance to make an appearance here, and that apple is more of a consistent character. But the flavor is still unbalanced, way too bitter, and doesn’t really make me want to keep drinking it.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
This is a trainwreck.
First of all, the spirit was already plenty bitter. Adding even more bitters just tips things over the edge into a near-unpalatable mess, unless you correct with even more sugar. Which I don’t recommend — it isn’t worth the calories.
As for the actual flavors, this is where we have a bona-fide civil war taking place. There is no harmony or balance; instead, it is an outright brawl and my taste buds are in the line of fire. I don’t think there is any hope of rescuing this, no matter how many cocktail cherries you add.
In all honesty, this is actually fine. Not great, not even very good… but fine.
The ginger beer actually does a good job balancing with the charred oak flavors and toning them down a bit, the combination making for a somewhat interesting flavor profile with that apple flavor. The bitterness remains, unfortunately, but it is much in the background and almost barely noticeable at this point.
As for that black pepper spice, it does make a showing by adding some texture and a peppery aftertaste to the cocktail.
When you run a bottling operation like we see here, you always run the risk that the product you are putting in the bottles just isn’t very good. Someone else has made all the decisions for you, and you are just taking the end result for better or for worse. In this case, I think they got the worse end of the deal in terms of flavor. It just isn’t very good, unfortunately.
I can’t wait to see what Lockwood Distilling Co. comes out with when they finally have a whiskey of their own… but in the meantime, I’ll pass on getting any more bottles of this stuff.
|Barrel & Banter Straight Rye Whiskey
Texas, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $26.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
There was no friendly banter with my taste buds — just straight up abuse.