In the summer of 2022, I took a vacation with a handful of my old high school friends to Nashville. While we were there, I stopped in at the downtown Corkdorks Wine, Beer and Spirits store based off of a recommendation from a fellow Redditor.
I have never seen the quantity of American Whiskey in one place like I did in that store. Even the Barrell section was chock full of batches that were several years old. I was amazed. Out of all of the bottles I could have bought, I picked this 13-Year-Old Single Barrel. After all, what could have been a more appropriate souvenir than a bottle of whiskey that came from that state?
From about 2018 to 2020, Barrell was pumping out an amazing amount of 14-year-old single barrels from Tennessee. There’s no mistaking it though, these were from Cascade Hollow, makers of George Dickel Tennessee Whisky.
Now as soon as people learn that they’re usually turned off. I get it, most people can’t get behind the “Flintstone’s Multivitamin” note usually found inside. I can though and have found many barrels that either disguise it well or have good balance with the fruit flavors.
To ignore these bottles at the current prices would be to ignore maybe some of the best bang for your buck value in whiskey.
Barrell’s constant rotation of Single Barrels
Barrell started to run out of these barrels around 2021. Now, the new iteration of single barrel bourbon revolves around 6 to 8-year-old barrels sourced from Kentucky (with some likely being from Willett!) or MGP. You’ll be able to tell the difference based off of the first letter in the four-digit sequence.
For instance, Z1xx-Z4xx are sourced from distilleries in Kentucky (and a few from Tennessee) and Z5xx single barrels are sourced from MGP. But for this bottle I’m reviewing today (and all of the 13 year old Tennessee single barrels they sold), it starts with a “D.” Previous 14-year-old single barrel bottles started with a K, S, I, N, G or E.
Barrell has never told us what those letters stand for so I tried to decipher it myself. First, I looked at the proof to see if they correlated to a particular location in the rickhouses. Maybe the higher the letter, the higher floor it was. But Cascade Hollow rickhouses don’t have multiple floors, they are all just one level with barrels ricked 6 tiers tall.
Since there have been 7 distinct letters used by Barrell, we can rule out that it was referring to the tiers. Second, I thought that the letters may correlate to the warehouse it came from.
Cascade Hollow has 14 different warehouses named A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, N, O, P and Q. Barrell’s numbering system uses the letters I and S, so that theory goes out the window because those warehouses don’t exist.
Finally, I thought it may represent the bourbon inside being distilled with different mash bills (I know of at least 6 distinct mash bills they use aside from their standard 84/8/8 and there is likely more). But after some research, I could not conclusively say that Dickel assigns those experimental mash bills with a particular kind of code.
So in the end, I could not find out why Barrell assigns the letter system they do on the barrels, but I guarantee there is a reason.
These 13 year old barrels are interesting because it seemed like they were released only after the 14 year old barrels started to run dry. In any event, I was told that there were only 23 barrels if your bottle starts with D3xx and 14 barrels in the D5xx series of Tennessee sourced single barrels. Today’s barrel is one of those 14 – D512.
Now that the backstory is complete, let’s dive in and see how Corkdorks did with this pick. I sampled it neat in a glencairn.
Nose: The nose is instantly likable. Candied nuts, fudge and fresh-cut orchard fruit dipped in honey all pop up. There are aged traits like seasoned oak and tobacco. I must point out that the oak on a Dickel product is not the same as most Kentucky bourbons and I think that has something to do with the sugar maple charcoal it gets filtered through before it enters the barrel.
Anyway, cinnamon stick and a bit of citrus provide bolder flavors while a curious floral note is more on the softer side. Yes, the multivitamin chewable note is present, but it’s not off-putting to me. Your mileage may vary.
Palate: This is a delightfully easy sippin’ bourbon with lots of bright notes like raspberry, mango, cherry and citrus (orange + lime). They all have that multivitamin note laced throughout, but I don’t find that they take away from the experience. Instead, it comes off as slightly effervescent, like a sparkling juice.
Well-aged oak, a bit of dried tobacco and some caramel round out the standard bourbon notes you expect to find. There’s a small amount of cinnamon and nutmeg spice compliment the dry roasted nut flavor. It’s got the perfect amount of heat to get noticed but not burn your tastedbuds away.
Finish: The finish ends on a slightly dry note with crushed stone, leather and oak. There are still really pleasant dessert-like flavors to find too with candied walnuts, caramel chews and dried cherries all giving your tongue a long goodbye hug.
The more I drink whiskey, the more I appreciate Dickel. I’m sure that’s incomprehensible to 95% of bourbon drinkers out there. My reason is that it’s so different from the bourbons made in Kentucky (and Indiana) that it is a welcome change of pace.
It also consistently has flavors in it that I typically don’t find in any of those other bourbons – like tropical fruits, candied nuts and marzipan. Single Barrel D512 had most of those and was very easy to like. The proof (which, I remind you, is barrel proof) was also at the perfect point to give each sip a robust punch while not having any kind of overbearing heat.
For years now, I passed on almost all 14 year single barrels from Barrell at my local stores simply because I felt like the batched bourbon was the way to go if I was looking to spend $90. Barrell has always done blending at a high level and I never thought that a single barrel could top them.
I’m not here to tell you that I’ve changed my mind, but I am here to let you know that after tasting this bottle, it’s not as easy of a choice anymore. Plus, I want you to consider that it does not appear that Barrell will be releasing any more 13-14 year single barrels from Dickel in the future.
I have also heard of a rumor from a credible source that Cascade Hollow is buying back these mature barrels they once sold to brokers. Why that is, I’m not so sure about but I have some theories – such as will they be used for more 17 Year Old Limited Releases with a $250 price tag?
My point is this: even if you are on the fence about buying one of these the next time you’re out – and if you don’t have a reason to outright hate Dickel products, then buy it.
If your tastes change in the future (and all of ours do at some point), you might just be happy that you didn’t miss out on one of the most unique bourbons available today at this kind of price, especially when you won’t be able to find single barrels like this anymore.
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