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Backbone Bourbon Company Single Barrel Bourbon (Brinkman’s Wine & Spirits, Double Soggy)

Backbone Bourbon Company Single Barrel Bourbon (Brinkman’s Wine & Spirits, Double Soggy)
In 2020, Backbone Bourbon Company was hitting their stride.  In prior years, they mainly focused on batches of bourbon and rye that blended together super young barrels (mainly around 2 years old) with slightly older stock (around 8 years old).  These bottles were a bartender’s dream for good reasons; they were cheap, easy to find and had decent flavor.  But Backbone wasn’t content with just being a bottom-shelf brand.  By 2018, they had slowly begun to transition to single barrel store picks.  Their reputation began to attract the eye of the enthusiast community little by little.

Backbone Barrel Company Single Barrel

Part of the reason why their single barrel store picks were so good centered around their “double barrel” techniques.  While they didn’t outright say this on any label or website, what they were doing was buying standard 53 gallon barrels filled with ~5 year old bourbon and re-barreling them into a new charred oak barrel.  Then they would age them for an additional amount of time in one of three leased warehouse spaces (some were in Kentucky).  In those early days, they were using whatever secondary barrels they could get their hands on, including a decent amount of 25 or 30 gallon versions.  This would be advertised on the side sticker for that particular store.  


“Double Soggy” explained

What was so special about this double barrel technique?  It amped up the base MGP bourbon with lots of added brown sugar, oak and vanilla.  A lot of my friends agreed, these were extremely impressive for their age and price.  It should be known that not every bottle of Single Barrel Backbone Bourbon had this double barrel treatment.  In fact, it seems as if it’s becoming more rare as they move in the direction of using wine/spirits barrels for finishing treatments instead.
For all the more Backbone Bourbon Company was gaining their notoriety, they were also gaining a reputation for terrible labeling practices.  On more than one occasion I’ve seen store picks arrive where the bottle numbers are inaccurate.  A good example of this was from a single barrel that Rural Inn ordered.  It was a 25 gallon single barrel with bottles that started with “bottle 1 out of 70” and so on.  But when they got to the last two cases, the bottle numbers on the label showed “Bottle 71 of 80” and so on up to 80.  They checked with Backbone to make sure they didn’t get a portion of somebody else’s barrel but Backbone told them it was just a labeling error.  There really was 80 bottles that came out of that barrel.  I’ve seen and heard of this happening later on and more than once.
Inaccurate bottle counts aren’t the biggest issue with their labeling crew though.  One of the bigger transgressions may just be the label on this particular single barrel picked by Brinkman’s Wine & Spirits in 2020.  Coming in at 5 years old (with an additional 2.5 years aged in the secondary barrel), the proof for this bottle clocked in at a rather unbelievable 146.5.  With a proof like that, it got the attention of the secondary market in a hurry.  Prices spiked to over $250 back in 2020 which may seem somewhat crazy now, but was considered very crazy back then.  For reference, GTS was still $400.
I was one of the people who was foolish enough to bid on the bottle seen here.  I split the cost (and contents) with a friend because we bought into the hype.  When we both sat down to taste it, our reactions were the same; “this doesn’t taste like it’s HAZMAT!”
Little did I realize that a local Indianapolis enthusiast named Scott W. came to this same conclusion too.  You could say he geeks out a bit when something concerns whiskey and science, so he got out his trusty hydrometer to see if his suspicions were correct.  He’s well aware that an alcometer is probably the better tool for the job (when properly calibrated) but he was familiar with the ins and outs of how to use the hydrometer so he set up his test.  When the results came back that the alcohol content was around 127 proof, he tested his hydrometer on a bottle of 2016 GTS (144.1 proof).  This particular version of GTS was chosen because its proof is extremely close to what Double Soggy claims to be.  The results showed that his calculations were correct as the hydrometer correctly measured the proof of the bottle of the GTS.  That meant that the Backbone label was wrong.
Scott called up the owner of Brinkman’s in Tennessee to tell him what he had found out.  The owner was a stand-up guy and offered him a full refund.  Scott declined but the owner decided to call Backbone and find out what happened.  The answer he received was that the labeling person had misread the handwritten numbers for the barrel proof and interpreted a sloppy number “2” as the number “4.”  This meant that the real proof of Double Soggy was actually supposed to be 126.5 proof.
I’d love to say the story ends with Backbone learning to be more careful about their labeling practices, but Scott (and myself) have identified other Backbone-released bottles that were incorrect throughout the years.  In the past 2 years, they are getting better about their labels but I tell this story as a warning to consumers, you can’t always trust what’s on a handwritten label.
So now that I’ve went through all of that, how does it taste?  Let’s find out.  I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: A nice, toasted oak scent is followed by some very high-rye notes.  I wonder if this particular barrel used MGP’s high rye bourbon?  Caramel and honey combine with some spearmint gum.  Melted Tootsie Rolls, Leather furniture and cigar wrapper give it some big tannic notes combine with sweetness.  The double-barrel also shines through by introducing a bit more vanilla in the mix. 
Palate:  The liquid is hot, but not too hot to handle.  Loads of cinnamon spice, nutmeg and Werther’s Original candies.  Rye spice imparts some extra mint, citrus peel and a handful of herbs. Both bitter oak and weathered oak are present.  FYI, the bitter oak doesn’t ruin the taste or turn it into an undrinkable mess, it’s just something I pick up on.  I get a bit of baker’s chocolate too, which makes me wonder if the bitter oak taste wasn’t from my tongue mistaking it for the baker’s chocolate.  There is enough buttercream frosting to keep things on the sweet side though.  It ends up being a very impressive sip.
Finish:  Lingering notes of cinnamon, sweet oak and tobacco leaf give this pour the the aged notes you love to find in MGP distillate.  There is more citrus zest that hangs around along with a bit of mint.  The finish even keeps sweet with notes of thick, spiced honey covering everything.

Score: 7.8/10

This is the perfect example of how well MGP bourbon takes to a second new charred oak finish.  Unfortunately for me, I let the hype suck me in and paid way too much for what turned out to be a bad handwriting SNAFU.  Oh well, that’s the way it goes sometimes.  It’s also a good lesson that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is.  My warning signs should have been that you rarely, if ever, see MGP bourbon bottled above 130 proof (MGP goes in the barrel at 120 for reference).  I can count on one hand the number of MGP-sourced bottles I’ve seen that had a final proof over that amount.  But I took the chance that it was what it said it was and now I must own it.

Final Thoughts

If you know me, you know I kind of put Smoke Wagon on a pedestal as a sort of MGP bottling legend.  But in reality, they are struggling with filling their bottles with MGP that’s better than their competitors.  They are also guilty of charging much higher prices.  Backbone has been keeping it real for years now and have always been fair and consistent with their prices.  They are also extremely transparent.  But don’t think of them as a “Value-Brand Smoke Wagon.”  The people behind the brand are solely focused on pushing out great whiskey at great prices.  “Double Soggy” was evidence of that and was still a delicious bourbon whose only fault was a labeling error.  Next time you’re in a store and they have a store pick like this in stock, it’s probably a safe bet that it’s good.  Just don’t get hung up on the numbers on the front of the label always being correct.  

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Saturday 17th of December 2022

Just bought a 8 year 4 month 122 proof single barrel pick for $89. Lets hope they labeled it right! Cheers.