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Barrell Bourbon Batch 033 Review

Barrell Bourbon Batch 033 Review
If you’re ever in a liquor store looking for Barrell Craft Spirits bottles, just follow the rainbow.  No seriously, look for the area of the shelf with similar shaped bottles wearing all the colors of the rainbow and that’s where you’ll find Barrell products.  All of those label colors represent a different style of whiskey (or rum).  The sheer enormity of choice you have is too much for any one person to ever drink their way through but chances are they’ll have at least one bottle that appeals to you.

The mad scientist behind Barrell Craft Spirits

If making a decision gets to be too much, just reach for a bottle of their batched bourbon. It’s usually a safe bet.

There will probably be a few of those on the shelves wearing different batch numbers.  These batches typically drop every 3 months or so.  Each batch is different from the previous one because Barrell’s founder, Joe Beatrice, wants to explore how blending together different mash bills and ratios will result in a different tasting bourbon.  

Ever since Batch 13, the rear label has generally listed the same three states that the bourbon inside was sourced from: Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky.  But it’s more than just blending with standard Dickel, MGP or Barton distillate and trying to get a different result.  Barrell has begun to source MGP’s new 45% wheated bourbon mash bill and also their 99% corn bourbon mash bill. 
I think they’ve even sourced some extra barrels that would’ve ended up as Barton’s 1792 Sweet Wheat.  I also believe that bourbon from the likes of Heaven Hill, Bardstown Bourbon Company or Kentucky Artisan Distillery have also ended up inside of the batches.  But one thing I never thought they would add into their standard bourbon releases was bourbon produced by craft distilleries.  They have traditionally saved those for their New Year releases.
A year ago, Barrell showed their determination to change things up by putting wheated bourbon sourced from Wyoming Whiskey into Batch 030.  Wyoming Whiskey is a craft distillery in the way that Tesla is an “automotive startup.”  They haven’t been open long, but they brought in outside knowledge, experience and capital to form a brand that hit the ground running.  As much as we’d want to call them a craft distillery, I don’t think they’d fit that bill.  Regardless, the addition of WW into a standard batched bourbon seemed to change the rules for the brand.  No longer would MGP, Dickel and Barton be the sole contributors to each batch.  However, at the time of this review, no other states have shown back up on the rear label.
I found it odd that Barrell seemed to have stopped themselves from using other craft distillery bourbons after Batch 030.  After all, blenders are trying some crazy blends these days as is evidenced by Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Discovery #8 (which uses 8yr old bourbon sourced from Georgia).  But maybe I’m only looking for the obvious clues of Barrell using craft bourbon by associating it with states outside of the standard 3 they source from.  What if they are sourcing bourbon from craft distilleries in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee?  After all, Indiana has a growing craft distillery scene with brands like Spirits of French Lick, Starlight, Hard Truth, Old 55 and Cardinal Spirits.  Kentucky has more than I can shake a stick at.  Even Tennessee has lots of new-ish distilleries such as Nashville Craft Distillery, Nelson’s Green Brier and Chattanooga Whiskey.  They all have the ability to contract distill more barrels than they let on. 

The Craft Conundrum

The question I’m getting at is this: what if Barrell started to use craft bourbon in their main bourbon batches, would they tell us?  After all, they only list the state of distillation, not an identifiable mash bill.  Let’s think about this some more.  For starters, they’d have to be at least 5 years old (which most of the ones I listed have been distilling for at least that long).  Taking a look at the info Barrell has shared about Batch 033, it says that they used both high-rye barrels and high-corn barrels for this blend.  Barrell has never specified what they think constitutes as “high rye” but I think that Barton (18%) and MGP (21% or 36%) definitely constitute it.  They also don’t say what they think a “high-corn” mash bill is, but have alluded to Dickel’s standard 84/8/8 mash bill as being “high corn” in the past. MGP’s new 99% corn, 1% malted barley mash bill also fits the bill and is over 7 years old now.  This bourbon was first used in Batch 031 (which is a personal favorite of mine).   
With loose enough definitions, a lot of the craft distillers I listed in the paragraph above still make recipes that fit the bill.  You may see where this is going.  Do I think that Batch 033 contains some craft bourbon in it?  Read on to find out.  I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: The first few times I inhale after bringing the glass up to my nose, I can’t help but notice how many bright, youthful bourbon scents there are.  Not a single aspect of the nose could be thought of as rich or dense.  That’s not always a bad thing, but it surprised me as I thought that even Batch 022, which only uses 5 year old barrels in the blend, smelled more mature than this does. 
Narrowing it down some more, I find notes of cinnamon, cedar wood and unsweetened cornbread (that’s gotta be the MGP 99/1 talking).  There are strange notes of “chalky” smelling chocolate.  Sometimes that means it hasn’t been fully developed yet (I get this in young wheaters or Four Grain bourbons).  There are also notes of coffee grounds which is a telltale sign of a craft whiskey to me.  I also find scents of fresh orchard fruits that were picked before being fully ripe as well as orange peel and peppermint candies.  
Palate: Raspberry and apricot jam flavors come first but don’t contain a whole lot of sweetness.  In fact, the sweetness seems to be fighting against other flavors I can find, much like they do in a cough syrup where the medicine is trying to be covered up.  There is a youthful funk that reminds me of a Spirits of French Lick bottle I had recently.  There are grainy notes everywhere along with young, herbal flavors and chocolate powder.  The craft whiskey alarms are ringing again as I pick up on this coffee taste that is more like a cup of flavored coffee that has been setting on the counter all day, so it’s cold when you drink it.  Prickly, coarse green and black peppercorns mix with fresh bread and a little bit of cardboard.  It’s very strange.  It’s only when I pick up on my familiar “sweet peanuts” note that I get with Dickel products do I finally find some recognizable tastes in this sea of bourbon flavors.
Finish: The finish can be summed up somewhat succinctly, it’s kind of bitter.  There is lots of barrel char, baker’s chocolate, cigar wrapper and young oak.  The finish is saved by some lingering flavors of toasted almond cookies, crushed stone, lemon pudding and roasted hazelnuts.  I am surprised to find a lot of flavors on the finish. 

Score: 6/10

There is no way to sugarcoat this, but I did not enjoy Batch 033.  It’s got the usual mishmash of flavors that Barrell is known to create through thoughtful blending, but nothing is clicking.  On top of that, the young tastes and scents permeate every aspect of the sip.  One of Barrell’s hallmarks is being able to use those young barrels that may have off-putting traits and blend it away with older stocks.  They may have attempted to do that with the 9-year-old barrels that they say this batch has in it, but it doesn’t work.  By the way, those 9-year-old barrels come via a giant batch of Dickel barrels that were dumped into a holding vat a couple years ago because they weren’t improving anymore.  Barrel uses the contents of this vat to either stretch a batch or to add certain missing notes.
Going back to my theory on craft bourbon being used in this batch, the bottom line is we’ll never know for sure.  But what I experienced in this batch lines up directly with the flavors and scents I frequently find in any craft whiskey product.  And if I’m wrong on this and Barrell does eventually reveal the full makeup of Batch 033, then I’ll chug a bottle of Malort.  But one thing is for sure, whether there was craft bourbon added to this batch or not, this batch does not represent the quality that I’ve come to expect from Barrell’s blends.  It’s just not up to the standards I hold them at and it’s especially not $80+ good.

Final Thoughts

I’d like to make one final point.  I don’t have anything against craft bourbon and despite what I wrote above, I don’t feel like it must be shunned.  In fact, I’ve had some very good craft bourbon over the years.  I even thought that Barrell’s use of Wyoming Whiskey’s bourbon in Batch 030 was quite good.  But craft bourbon can have a wild side that contains off-flavors, green notes and bitterness.  I found a lot of that here.  This should have been able to be blended away using the right combination of aged barrels.  Sadly, I did not see that happen with this batch.  It is simply too young tasting for what the pricetag is.  
I take pride in my long history of reviewing every batched product that Barrell rolls out with.  I love their history, their commitment and their creativity.  It’s a rare experience for a batch to let me down.  Unfortunately Batch 033 is one that I would not recommend you buy.  But if you do enjoy Barrell like I do, then pick up another bottle of Batch 031.  It’s a bottle that Barrell got right and is my favorite of the releases so far in 2022. And contrary to everything I just said, I’m still looking forward to the release of Batch 034 where I hope Barrell redeems themselves.

Ratings Breakdown

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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