Barrell Bourbon was a fledgling company in 2014. Before they had a large business partner, they were financed entirely by Joe Beatrice and his wife. Fortune shined on them early and they were able to find a few distillers who sold barrels to them so they could start putting together their first batches. Batch 001 was their first attempt and Joe took various 5 year old barrels from an unnamed Tennessee distiller (almost certainly Dickel) and blended them together at cask strength. Coming out at 121.6 proof, the bottles went out to distributors and the tiny company of Barrell Bourbon held his breath.
For this inaugural batch, Joe didn’t yet have the process of blending every batch to highlight different, specific qualities yet, but if he did, I’d say that this batch was blended to be as bold as possible. If he was David and the big Kentucky distillers were Goliath, then David was going to need the biggest rock he could find. Was the world ready for a premium, Tennessee sourced bourbon that was aged only 5 years? Let’s take a look at the batch that started it all by sampling it neat and from a Glencairn.
Nose: A nice sharp nose of toasted almonds and thick caramel. There’s even more sweetness with the scent of honey butter cornbread. The spices punch big and bold with sharp scents of cinnamon and some star anise. The tannins in this one come through not as old and oaky, but almost like a pair of new leather boots. And finally, for something so big and bold, there are some floral notes lurking around with fresh picked dandelions and vanilla tree blossoms.
Palate: I have to keep telling myself this is only 5 years old, but the liquid is so thick and viscous. There’s stone ground grits with a peppery bite and a thick layer of caramel sweetness. There’s also a decent amount of oak spice as well. If I look hard enough, there’s some cherry cough syrup with a little bit of citrus zest to add further dimension. It has far more tannic qualities than any other 5 year old bourbon I’ve ever had.
Finish: A nice finish to an overall brute of a dram. There’s cinnamon oil, black pepper flakes and ginger root to keep that Kentucky Hug (Tennessee Hug?) going all the way down. There’s also a decent amount of seasoned oak and barrel char for a bourbon that’s surely gone through the Lincoln County Process, but I’m not complaining. Finally, some of the more nuanced flavors settle in your jowls to linger around a bit with notes of burnt sugars and Ricolla Cough Drops.
This is one impressive dram. For being the inaugural batch, I was surprised at the powerful punch of flavors that it expertly delivered. I also noted that it didn’t seem to have that trademark Dickel vitamin note nor was it excessively sweet. In a lot of ways, this was right on par with some of the bourbons that were coming out of Kentucky at that age. It almost makes me wonder if some people wouldn’t be tripped up that this *wasn’t* a Kentucky bourbon in a blind taste test. But here we are.
With Batch 001 making a big impression, the limited amount of people that got to try this started to spread the word to the masses about this young upstart that was committed to doing things right. And thus, Barrell Bourbon’s reputation has continued to grow and attract adventurous palates across the whiskey realm.
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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