Few startups in the whiskey industry have had the meteoric rise to success that Barrell Craft Spirits has had. Given how prominent their bottles are across liquor stores around the United States, you’d think that they’ve been in business for more than just 10 years. But here they are, readying themselves for the next chapter in blending together whiskey (and rum) while releasing a special blend to commemorate their hard work so far.
To celebrate their success, they’ve bottled up a special blend they call the 10th Anniversary Bourbon. The concept was to make this something more special than their recent bourbon batches. To make that happen, they dusted off some rather old versions of their best stocks to make something truly unique. BCS claims that they’ve blended in barrels from previous noteworthy batches like Batch 011 and 021 into the final product.
But what does “blending in previous batches” mean? After all, Batch 011 was released in 2017 and Batch 021 was released in 2020. My first thought was that they had extra cases of bottles stashed somewhere that they dumped into the blending tank. But that wouldn’t make sense because Batch 011 contains 6 year old bourbon as its youngest component. Barrell 10th Anniversary’s youngest component is listed at 8 years old. The numbers don’t add up.
I believe the way to explain what they did stems from a conversation I had with Joe and Tripp while at their ribbon cutting ceremony for their new blending facility in September. I had been telling them how much I loved Batch 009 (which used 13 year old barrels) and said how that might be my favorite batch of all time. Tripp let me in on a little secret that they didn’t use all of the barrels that were committed to Batch 009 (but gave no reason why they didn’t). Instead, they let those extra barrels age for another 2 years before blending them in the very first release of Barrell Craft Spirits Gray Label 15 Year Bourbon. So now I get why that one tasted so good!
To bring it all full-circle, I believe they did the same process when they talk about “using Batches 011 and 021.” They had leftover barrels allocated for those batches that they didn’t use and either let them age for a little while longer or put them into a vat (which stops the aging process). This allowed them to use them later on. Of note, I think that Barrell Craft Spirits meant that only the Tennessee portion of barrels from Batch 021 was used. More on that later.
Barrell Craft Spirits 10th Anniversary Bourbon Stats
One of the first things my eyes were drawn to when I saw this release was coming out was the proof. Coming in at 118.22 proof, this falls squarely into the sweet spot for Barrell. I’ve always said that anything lower than 112 and the releases begin to lose a little bit of magic (at least to me). Your mileage may vary when it comes to proof.
Barrell has also provided a Derived Mash Bill for this release which is listed at 83% corn, 10% rye and 7% malt. This was a concept that they’ve only recently started to use. To this day, I’m unsure if they get these averages from the actual volume of the liquid they use or if they just average together all of the recipes used in the blend. The latter is easier to do but the former would be very hard and require lots of record keeping for each batch. I’ll try to get an answer on this and report back.
Barrell goes one step further and tells us the breakdown of bourbon according to distillation location and how old it is. The numbers are:
Tennessee: 8, 13, 17 and 18 year old barrels
Indiana: 8 and 9 year old barrels
Kentucky: 8 year old barrels
We can assume that the usual suspects are used in this blend – Dickel, MGP and Barton. Since Barrell mentioned Batch 011 was used in this blend, I should point out that they used a recipe that looks different from the standard Dickel mash bill of 84/8/8. Instead, it is 70/25/5. Never heard of it before? That’s because this is one of the many experimental recipes that is produced at Cascade Hollow Distillery. Part of the reason for Barrell’s early success stemmed from the fact that they sourced and bottled many different experimental mash bills from Tennessee. Nicole Austin even hinted at some of those experimental batches not going through the Lincoln County Process too. All I can say is that I’m pumped to know that Barrell has put some of these in the batch!
I don’t recall exact bottle numbers for this batch (they wanted to keep it a secret too), but suffice to say it was LOW. In fact, I’m fairly certain that they all sold out in the month of September. This means that if you didn’t get one, the secondary market is your only way to now. So how does this taste? Did Joe and his team just throw some stuff together, or did they make something great? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: Fruit notes start the nose off in a strong direction. Scents of strawberry milkshake, banana, cherry licorice and coconut milk really pile on to the enjoyment I get by sticking my nose in the glen. Spice notes like coffee cake with vanilla icing make me think of brunch while marshmallow notes combine with chocolate make me think of evenings next to a campfire. Speaking of campfire, the oak notes have great age to them and give each sniff a nuanced amount of matured wood. Just what I was hoping for!
Palate: The sweetness on the tongue turns to caramel – Werther’s Originals to be precise. There’s also some brown sugar notes too. You might think that it’s hard to tell the difference between the two, but I can taste it. Spices like cinnamon, fennel, nutmeg and allspice all point to a higher rye influence than the Derived Mash Bill has me believe – not that I’m complaining. There are plenty of fruit flavors on board with notes like blueberry muffins, lemon peel and gumdrops. Vanilla & Cherry Coke brighten up each sip while leather and pipe tobacco add a rich, aged elements to the dram. The amount of layers in each sip is crazy to me.
Finish: After the whiskey goes down the hatch, a cooling, menthol sensation comes across my tongue. Lingering notes of leather and oak point to the barrel influence across time. Sweetness comes from vanilla custard, cherry pie filling and orange preserves. The spice fizzles out to a pleasant amount of cinnamon powder. Nothing that stings the tongue or anything – just a very long and delicious finish to a great bourbon.
This fantastic blend initially came off as fairly jumbled. But after a few pours over several days, I noticed that it settled into a very competent and complex blend full of amazing aromas and flavors. There were notes that I associate with elite bourbons – like blueberry and cola and when I find these the end result is almost always a score of 8 – if not higher.
What the 10th Anniversary bottle manages to do is capture a bit of the magic that the batches from the past seemed to contain. That’s not a dig on their current blends, but there does seem to be marked differences from modern batches and batches from 3+ years ago. So if you loved early batches, then the 10th Anniversary bottle is going to bring back a lot of memories to your senses.
Let me be the first to admit that when I saw the TTB label coming out for this one, I didn’t initially think it would be this good – or this limited. I was wrong about both. I’m going to say this next part with complete sincerity – this is better than almost every release of BCS Gray Label Bourbon with the exception of the first edition that came out in 2018.
That last sentence may have been hard to hear for the good people at Barrell, but I’m going to punctuate it by saying that this is easily their best bourbon release since Batch 021. It will now join the hallowed ranks of Barrell’s elite releases – Batch 005, 006, 009, 011, 018 and 021. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait until their 20th Anniversary to get something this awesome again.
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