Barrell Bourbon seeks out unique barrels of whisky from various sources, batches them, and bottles them when they’re ready to go. Their mantra is “no two batches taste alike.” It’s a good mantra. It’s a fantastic idea.
The hard part of making bourbon is having batches taste similar. There’s a lot of variety between barrels of whisky. If you’re a big whisky producer with access to millions of litres of whisky, you’ll be fine. When you’re a bottler that batches thirty of forty barrels at a time, with limited access to available barrels, consistency isn’t your friend.
Some bottlers strive for a similar flavour profile, or use finishes (wine, port, etc.) and other techniques so that he whiskies taste alike. Barrell Bourbon, though, takes this weakness and turns it into a strength. I’ve had a small number of batches of Barrell Bourbon, and they do indeed each taste completely different. Some, like this one, don’t even quite taste like bourbon. I’m not saying it’s not real bourbon; it clearly is. But bourbons have a common profile no matter the recipe and maturation time, and this doesn’t fit that profile.
It is harder to score these. By not fitting a profile, one really has to play on what can be considered a fault, and what was intentional. For a traditional bourbon drinker that loves a specific profile, Barrell Bourbon is going to be a difficult first sip. Though it does get easier; and soon you’re in a different world, drinking a different kind of bourbon, and enjoying a new profile of bourbon you’ve not tasted before. It took a few sips, but I am now a Barrell Bourbon convert.
Nose: Fairly mild on the nose considering the proof. That’s not uncommon in some whiskies, just interesting. Predominantly you’ll get nutty notes (think Old Grand Dad), that is nicely complimented with distant leather polish and notes of raisins. A subtle nose, but there’s a nice story there.
Palate: Nutty, liquorice, spice, caramel, salty, and buttery. Lots of nice notes here coming from the oak (primarily) and the spirit. My only complaint is that it’s a bit thin on the mouthfeel, which is perhaps more of a preference. Many hate the thick oaky mouthfeel on many of today’s high-proof releases. This isn’t that. I’d prefer some more heat and caramel, but the flavours underneath do well to keep this a high scoring whisky.
★ ★ ★ ☆ Excellent, a near must have in its category considering its rareness
Barrell Bourbons tend to be a different interpretation of bourbon. They taste “like” bourbon, but not quite like a traditional bourbon. This isn’t a criticism. Barrell Bourbon has received tons of high praise, and has a huge following. For me, though, I would have liked to have seen this one more on the “oak bomb” side. The intensity is at a nine, and I wanted to see it at an eleven. Beyond that, this is quite a delicious whisky that is a great purchase. I clearly enjoyed it, but I feel this barrel could have done a little bit more. Perhaps that’s hard to explain, but with many great whiskies I feel like I’m tasting them at their best. With this one, I feel like it could have been tweaked (aged longer, or in a different spot of the warehouse) to be an incredible 95 point whisky. Saying that, there’s a category of whisky drinkers that love Barrell Bourbon more than I do, and this is probably their favourite.