For most whiskies, it’s the blender that is the star of the show. A distillery produces a bunch of barrels of whiskey and, when it comes time to bottle them, the blender makes their selections and combines multiple barrels to create a unique and delicious flavor. It’s an art, not a science. Single barrel expressions — especially barrel proof versions — are trying to change things up, though, putting more of an emphasis on the science of distilling by directly sampling what comes out of each barrel.
Founder Joe Beatrice spent 20 years as a marketing and technology entrepreneur before deciding in 2013 that he needed to do something different with his life. He had been an avid home brewer and wanted to do something in the spirits industry; but, instead of starting his own distillery, Joe decided to build a company that looked for hidden gems in the whiskey stocks of already established distilleries and make those readily available to the public.
Beatrice’s inspiration for the unique twist that Barrell puts on its offerings came when he tasted a bit of whiskey straight from a barrel for the very first time. He says that the experience was eye opening, and ever since that day, he has committed to bottling each batch of whiskey at cask strength — as if it were poured straight from the barrel.
Barrell continues to be an independently owned and operated whiskey bottling company, and in 2017 the company expanded into operating their own distillery. That home-grown whiskey doesn’t seem to have made its way to the market yet, however, and their products continue to use whiskey sourced from other locations.
Just like every other whiskey produced by Barrell, the Single Barrel Select bourbon is a sourced whiskey from another Kentucky distillery. However, where the other items in their line are a blend of multiple barrels and distilleries, this series is a true single barrel experience: one barrel, filled from one single run of whiskey, produced by a single distillery.
That said, there’s still a lot of mystery around what’s in the bottle and where it came from. As a straight Kentucky whiskey, this spirit is required to have started out as a mixture of grains containing at least 51% are corn. What exactly comprises the other 49% isn’t disclosed, and could be any combination of more corn, rye, wheat, or other more interesting cereals.
Once those grains have been cooked and fermented to make a mildly alcoholic mash, the mixture is then distilled to create the “new make” white whiskey. Whether that happens in a pot still or a column still isn’t disclosed (and the difference between these two methods does tend to have an impact on the resulting flavor of the whiskey).
After distillation, the new whiskey is placed into charred new oak barrels and aged for a period of no less than four years. In the case of this specific bottle, it is listed as the 101st bottle to be produced from barrel Z1C0, which was aged for a period of 7 years.
After aging, in this case, the contents of the barrel are placed directly into this bottle and shipped out.
This is definitely the bottle of a man who spent 20 years in marketing and design. And I don’t mean that in a bad way.
Overall, the bottle is a fluid, rounded shape with nary a sharp edge. The body is the shape of a slightly flattened Mike & Ike candy, sporting a wider front face and slimmer sides, but with rounded edges all around. There’s a nice thick glass bottom which should make this stand out and light up on the back of a bar, and the bottle rounds gently at the shoulder as it comes to the medium length neck. That neck is straight, with no bulges, and is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
The label is pretty much exactly what I want to see on a bottle, and (despite having a straight flat top) manages to continue the theme of avoiding an actual 90 degree angle. It’s roughly shield shaped, with all the necessary product information written on the front.
Speaking of necessary information, things like the bottle number and the age are noted in what appears to be a handwritten font. Looking at the label, I can’t see any indication that these items were actually handwritten… but I’m inclined to believe that the bottle number and other items are at least accurate and unique to each printed label.
The first thing you’ll notice is that this bourbon is a darker and richer color than usual. Some of that color is lost during the proofing down process, so it stands to reason that a “straight from the barrel” bourbon would be as brown as a nut (as this one is).
Coming off the glass are some great aromas: brown sugar, cinnamon, baking spices, and a hint of vanilla tying it all together. All of those components are well saturated, but without being overpowering or forceful.
Taking a sip, there’s no way to ignore that this is a cask strength bourbon. The alcohol content has a pretty significant kick to it and the flavors are deep and well saturated. Right off the bat, I get rich brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, some other baking spices, and a splash of vanilla. It’s like a good oatmeal cookie, sweet and spicy. On the finish, there’s a nice black pepper spice that makes me suspect there might be some rye content in this bourbon.
Just a heads up: the flavors here might be a little too well saturated in the flavor for some. Even for me, this seems to ride right on the edge, only occasionally dipping into the “licking a charcoal brick” territory where the flavors are just too loud and lose cohesion. Small sips might be the key here.
I’ll be honest — I’m looking forward to the added ice. These flavors are strong and forceful when taken neat, but I really need to be in a specific mood for that kind of a bourbon. Ice has a tendency to tone things down, and while that might spell disaster for a lighter or sweeter whiskey, it can do great things for dark and rich bourbons.
And sure enough, all of the flavors are still here with the added ice. There’s nothing that tucks its tail and runs home — every flavor is sufficiently saturated enough to stick around and hang with the ice. If anything, this becomes a little sweeter with more of an emphasis on the brown sugar than we saw when taken neat. Otherwise, the flavors are all the same, in the same order, with the same general impression — just not quite as crazy powerful as before.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I like darker, richer bourbons for my old fashioned cocktails. I think the angostura bitters mix much better with that kind of a flavor profile, making for a more delicious drink. And especially when the flavors persist despite added ice in the previous step, you know for sure you’re in for a good time.
In this case, I don’t even think you need the added sugar. For me, the brown sugar flavor in the bourbon adds all the sweetness I’d need for this cocktail, but I wouldn’t judge if you want to add some of your own. The sweetness in the spirit balances perfectly with the bitterness of the bitters, and the darker and richer flavors in the bourbon pair nicely with the herbal notes that you’re adding here.
It’s an absolutely fantastic old fashioned.
There’s a couple things that I look for in a mule. Specifically, I like to see the bitterness of the ginger beer balanced out by the flavors in the bourbon, and then I want to see a novel texture, flavor, or something else that I wouldn’t get with a vodka version of this drink.
I think this hits both of those criteria perfectly.
The flavors are spot on here, nicely balanced and delicious. I think there’s enough sweetness in the brown sugar components to really tone down that bitter ginger flavor, and the depth and richness of the other components all combine to make something much more complex than usual. And on the finish there’s a nice little sting of black pepper spice that adds some excitement to the profile.
In a vacuum, this is a legitimately great bourbon. The flavors are exactly what you’d hope to see in a good bourbon, and the depth and saturation that comes from a cask strength bottling lets it really stand up to some of the tougher preparations like the old fashioned and the mule. It’s a solid offering that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.
The question becomes whether it is worth the price. This clocks in a little north of the Old Forester Single Barrel that we reviewed previously, and had some of the same tricks. But this bottle is missing some of the uniqueness that Old Forester brought to the table. You’re getting the standard bourbon flavors, but there’s no variations on that theme (or, at least none that I could detect). It’s just a really well executed bourbon.
In the end, I do think this is absolutely worth the price, and a damn fine bourbon. Better than Blanton’s, better than Woodford Reserve… but I think there are still some others out there that do a better job at the same price range.
|Barrell Bourbon Single Barrel|
Produced By: BarrellProduction Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 7 Years
Proof: 61.76% ABV
Price: $99.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A solid, well-executed single barrel cask strength bourbon that is absolutely worth the price.