Barrell Craft Spirits is one of those brands that gives off a rather distinct aura. Visit their website and you’ll find a succinct statement from founder Joe Beatrice regarding their vision. Long story short, distillation takes a backseat in favor of blending and bottling cask strength spirits based on consumer demand. This has allowed Barrell to give us several bourbon batches and single barrel selections to choose from, as well as more unique takes such as Dovedail, Armida, Seagrass, and the Infinite Barrel Project. Add a healthy dose of transparency and some comprehensive tasting notes to the mix and you’ve got a company that’s all but guaranteed to impress from the offset.
Perhaps the only inhibiting factor for Barrell’s portfolio is the cost of entry. Prices typically hover in the $70-$95 range, with one or two commanding over $200. I tend to be a stickler when it comes to value, and if I’m dropping nearly three digits on a bottle of whiskey, I’m most certainly going to have expectations going in. Thankfully, I was sent samples of two Barrell Bourbon batches, so I get to find out if I think either are worth considering while providing some personal tasting notes. Let’s have a look at Batch 025:
Nose: Mellowed fruit notes to include pineapple, melon, orange, and lemon. Some vanilla with accompanying brown sugar and rye spice. Caramel corn seems to reveal itself as the backbone over time. Borders on being candy-like, but a level of grain is always present to offset it. Sweet earth essence with borderline pine-like notes.
Palate: Rye spice, citrus, and tart fruit. Outstanding mouthfeel offset by earthiness and crisp flavors. Lime, molasses, and hints of oak. Pepper, tart green apple, and an impression of key lime pie. Flavor profile isn’t necessarily my favorite, but the mouthfeel is so rich, full, and spot-on that it’s easy to be won over all the same.
Finish: Pepper spice with impressions of caramel and brown sugar. Lime zest seems to persevere above all else. Lengthy with slow-developing vanilla, caramel, and butter offsetting the residual citrus notes.
I tried both of my Barrell samples (this and Batch 026) in a blind versus, which I followed up by checking the aforementioned tasting notes and batch information. Describing Batch 025 as “citrusy and peppery” absolutely checks out; I kept thinking this was either a rye whiskey or rye-heavy bourbon blend. It wasn’t until I tasted Batch 026 (more on that in a future post) that I began picking up on what is most likely Dickel distillate in here. Even then, I’d say it served more to mellow out the dominant characteristics, which I imagine are largely thanks to the 9-year-old high-rye bourbons (MGP?). As I mentioned in my notes, Batch 025 doesn’t exactly have my favorite flavor profile, but the outstandingly long finish does eventually introduce more of what I like to find. Also, I can’t understate how amazing the mouthfeel is on this blend. More viscosity will generally win me over, but some expressions definitely take this too far. Batch 025 isn’t among those. I’d describe whiskeys that overdo their mouthfeel as clingy, like taffy that refuses to let go of your teeth and gums; Batch 025 hugs the palate more like a bite-sized truffle.
If it isn’t clear by now, Barrell Bourbon Batch 025 did quite a bit to impress me. The one word that keeps coming to mind when I think of this blend is “appreciation.” It’s easy to pick apart the various aspects while acknowledging how they play together (quite well). What keeps me from being completely won over, however, comes back to the flavor profile. I don’t tend to be fond of heavily citrus-forward whiskey unless I can pull out a good amount of complementary dessert notes, which Batch 025 didn’t give me until the finish. What it comes down to is that I appreciate this blend far more than I enjoy it. I’d compare it to the 2002 Sam Mendes film Road to Perdition, which is absolutely beautiful from a technical standpoint, from the music to the directing to the cinematography. However, when it comes to the story and characters, it falls a bit flat and narrowly avoids becoming a personal favorite.