Barrell Craft Spirits recently reached out to me and sent me 6 samples of their newest Private Release lineup. The Private Release line is a new concept whereby they take a blend of Kentucky whiskey and finish them in various casks from around the world.
Because this is a blend of whiskies, there is no age statement on the bottle, but Barrell’s website claims that they are using a majority of the 18 year old Kentucky whiskey in the blend. The first releases (of which there were 24 different barrels) have just came out and were offered up to various stores around the country to sell.
It appears as of July 1st, that Barrell is also readying 48 additional cask finished whiskey releases to be bought by stores as well. You can differentiate the two different releases by the barrel number on the bottle designated with either an AH (first release) or a BH (second release).
For this review, I’m going to review the first 3 whiskies that I sampled. The first whiskey was finished in a Washington State Ice Wine barrel.
Ice wine is a wine made from grapes that have been left on the vine until the winter. When the temperature dips below freezing for the first time, workers will rush to the fields to pick them.
Because the water inside is frozen and the grape has lost a significant amount of moisture from the time spent on the vine, this results in a large concentration of sugars, making this wine sweeter and more fruit forward.
The second whiskey was finished in a Ratafia de Champagne barrel. The third whiskey was finished in a Tokaji wine barrel. At first, I assumed that Tokaji was a Japanese sort of wine, but after a little bit of research I learned it was actually from Hungary.
The wine made in this area comes from some of the oldest-known cultivated vines in the world. Here’s what makes Tokaji Wine special:
The production of Tokaji Aszú and Eszencia is dependent on the development of a necrotrophic fruit fungus called gray mold, or botrytis. The mold develops on the berries in moist conditions (such as in foggy river valleys) and then dries when the sun comes out. This process of rotting and drying causes the grapes to shrivel and become sweet.
I personally love finished bourbons and whiskies, so I was going into these samples with high hopes since I’ve never had a whiskey aged in any of these barrels, let alone the wine that actually came out of them! Here are my notes:
Barrell Private Release finished in a Washington State Ice Wine Barrel
Nose: Cinnamon spice, a moderate amount of caramel sweetness, a fresh cracked bottle of sparkling white wine and rose water.
I swear I get a little bit of smoke on the backside, but this bottle does have a significant amount of barrel char sediment on the bottom, so perhaps that is the culprit behind the smoke and char scents.
Palate: The sensation of a dry white wine feels like it’s removing a lot of moisture from your mouth before moving to notes of green grapes, slices of pear, some apple skins and a little bit of lemon tartness.
There’s a honey sweetness to this that really hits the spot. Some rye spice seems to poke through as well like wintergreen gum, fresh hay and navel oranges. There’s a woodiness that catches on after the fruit flavors settle down, adding nicely to the flavor profile.
Finish: The finish isn’t bold, but it does last for a while. The fruit flavors that were found on the palate are settling in for the long haul.
The fresh white wine and citrus scents really start to pick up the more you drink it and a nice lemon-tart bar with graham cracker crust fills the rest out.
Final Thoughts: This is a great, light tasting whiskey that’s full of dry fruit character. While most bourbons can be described as “deep and rich,” this whiskey doesn’t necessarily have those traits. B
ut that’s fine that it doesn’t because the lighter character combined with all of these lighter fruit notes make this one whiskey very refreshing.
Barrell Private Release finished in a Ratafia de Champagne Barrel
Nose: There’s a nice scent of shortbread cookies right up front followed by holiday fruit cake, plum wine and a touch of jackfruit (similar to a banana). The sweet scent of light brown sugar is also present, but overall, this is a really decedent nose.
Palate: For all the scents the nose showed off, I’m very surprised to be hit by what tastes like a handful of Cinnamon Red Hots in my mouth.
But the heat and spice does die down as the drink goes on with simple syrup sweetness, candy canes, dry white wine and some citrus zest. There’s even a nice taste floral-tasting character that exists under everything else if you search hard enough.
Finish: The finish is short-medium in length, maybe owing to the whiskey being aged in used barrels. But while there is some prickly heat towards the end, there’s also unripe pear, drying oak, grape juice and tobacco leaf. I quite enjoy these flavors but wish they’d just last longer.
Final Thoughts: This is a fun, fruity and exotic whiskey but just like the ice wine barrel, the body is somewhat lacking and it doesn’t bring a richness that one would associate with a whiskey this old.
Barrell Private Release finished in a Tokaji Wine Barrel
Nose: If the Champagne finish was decedent, this nose is even more so. Scents of spiced apple butter, golden raisins soaked in syrup and barrel char are intense and beautifully rich.
Palate: Just when I thought that these whiskies weren’t going to be able to deliver a body that was thick or rich, this one nails both of them. There’s more apple butter, clove and cinnamon and surprisingly, a taste that seems really close to a Kansas City Barbeque Sauce.
There’s orange zest and maraschino cherry fruit flavors swirling around cedar wood and mild oak. It’s a very interesting, yet deeply indulgent palate.
Finish: The finish combines the character of pinot noir wine with orchard fruits. Then the oak tannins and rich tobacco tastes come in to show off the age. There’s even cinnamon to keep the heat up slightly.
Final Thoughts: Easily the best of the 3, this whiskey was bold and delicious and could have easily fooled me for a highly aged Kentucky bourbon.
Having never had Tokaji wine before, this must be one sweet and heavy wine because the notes I got on this one weren’t replicated for the rest of these single barrels. This is the one to get if you have the opportunity. Outstanding.
The barrels that Barrell selected to finish their whiskey in are among the most unique on the market right now. I feel as if the barrels used to finish other bourbons and rye whiskies in are stuck in a loop of Sherry, Port, Cognac, Madeira, Rum and the occasional beer barrel.
But Barrell didn’t just bring a few more to the party. It literally crashed the party with the sheer volume and scope of what they decided to finish this whiskey in.
The whiskey used in these Private Releases was the perfect canvas for the finishing barrels to paint their picture on, but I firmly believe that if Barrell decided to utilize a Kentucky or Indiana bourbon (or rye!) to be finished in any of these, that the results would create an absolute monster of flavor that would have labels like Belle Meade, High West and Bardstown Bourbon Company scrambling back to the drawing boards to respond in kind.
Will Barrell double down even more in the future if these sell well enough? Only time will tell.
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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