Keeping track of what brands belong to what distillery and what distilleries belong to what parent company is no simple task. I’d argue that it’s one of the biggest barriers to entry for those looking to become more invested in whiskey. For example, the publicly traded Brown-Forman manufactures the likes of Jack Daniel’s, Old Forester, Woodford Reserve, GlenDronach, and BenRiach, among others. As far as introducing new brands, however, Brown-Forman comes up short, with Woodford Reserve being one of their newer introductions back in 1996.
Fast-forward 20 years and Brown-Forman finally unveiled a new face: Coopers’ Craft. Since Brown-Forman have their own cooperage for producing barrels, Coopers’ Craft was introduced as a way to honor their coopers. Head to the brand’s website and you can take a virtual tour where barrel production is put front and center, with some insights regarding the process. Some of the more interesting tidbits include: choosing American white oak for its naturally occurring tyloses (they help the barrels stay watertight); a 6-9 month wood seasoning period; drying the wood to a 12% moisture level; and how each cooper raises “about 300 barrels per day. Collectively, this totals to around 2,500 per day and over 600,000 per year.”
There are currently two expressions under the Coopers’ Craft name: an 82.2 proof bourbon put through a charcoal filtration process, and the 100 proof Barrel Reserve, where the barrels are “chiseled and charred…this deepens the whiskey’s wood exposure creating a robust taste profile.” We’ll be looking at the latter today.
Nose: Rickhouse and fruity aromas trade blows upfront, with the fruit lingering as a tobacco note develops. Hints of chocolate and some smoky barrel must. Able to coax out an overripe banana note. After sipping, the smoke and tobacco notes begin to give way to generously drizzled pancakes.
Palate: A touch thin. Banana cream and dark brown sugar with a somewhat bitter barrel char. Dark, stewed fruits with black cherry being a standout. Vanilla and maybe a hint of burnt orange accent the barrel char, which manages to be defining, but not overwhelming.
Finish: Light-medium length and intensity. Vanilla and cream develop with a whisper of orange flavor. The lingering barrel char imparts a pepper-like flavor.
This is solid stuff. I dig the unique approach to aging the whiskey, which would theoretically allow the liquid to better penetrate the barrel, drawing more flavor in as a result. This is achieved, and when combined with a slightly different mash bill than Old Forester and Woodford Reserve, turns out an intriguing pour. It’s clearly bourbon through and through, but the way in which the oak-forward personality comes across (while boasting no age statement) can make for a fun discussion piece in and of itself. I also think it does a good job balancing that oaky personality with a prevalent, overall sweetness. Outside of limited releases, Brown-Forman don’t typically age their products into the double-digit range, and I’d be surprised if Coopers’ Craft is aged any older than 6 years. I also wonder if further aging would’ve resulted in a more tannic and ultimately unsatisfactory product, thanks to the added emphasis on wood contact.
There are little things that get in the way of what I feel could be a truly excellent whiskey, however. The mouthfeel does come across as a bit light and hot, which contrasts the flavors on display. Additionally, the finish matches that tone by closing out somewhat abruptly. And while I think the balancing act here is definitely successful, I’ve also gotten tannic and vegetal-like notes on certain pours.
Despite these minor grievances, Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve remains a commendable and intriguing whiskey. If we start considering the competition at its price point of $30, the bottle fits right in and maybe even excels, given how bourbon prices have been trekking upwards. With a comfortable price tag from an established distillery, I can absolutely see people loving this whiskey, particularly if they’re fond of oaky products and don’t mind a potential funk. This comes complete with the possibility for upsets in flights and versus rounds, which I am always a fan of.