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Barrell Craft Spirits Private Release Rye Whiskey (Finished in an Armagnac Cask) – The Podcaster Yak Attack Review

Barrell Craft Spirits Private Release Rye Whiskey (Finished in an Armagnac Cask) – The Podcaster Yak Attack Review

Barrell Craft Spirits is probably best known for their excellence in blending whiskey. But did you know that even as far back as 2014/2015 that they were also releasing single barrels? It’s true. Up until 2018, they concentrated primarily on single barrels of bourbon sourced from Cascade Hollow (George Dickel) and MGP. Then towards the end of 2018 they began selling single barrels of rye whiskey from Canada.

Their single barrel program kind of plateaued over the next two years as they focused primarily on Canadian and MGP rye whiskey along with Dickel single barrels. But Barrell was never content with the status quo. So they began to experiment with concepts that combined their prowess for blending and their desire to expand their single barrel program to more customers. Barrell’s “Private Release” program was born.

Barrell’s Single Barrel program morphs into their Private Release program

Shortly before the Pandemic hit in 2020, Barrell poised itself for the launch of three distinct spirits in their new Private Release program: Bourbon, Rum and American Whiskey. Each spirit differed somewhat in the approach they took with creating it. The Private Release Bourbon utilized the concept of “micro batching;” which saw multiple sources of bourbon added into a single barrel and then allowed to marry for a period of time. The Private Release Rum saw Jamaican and Barbados rums blended together in preset ratios. And the Private Release Whiskey saw a few different recipes of American Whiskey (not bourbon) blended together into large batches before they were added to specific finishing barrels.

Private Release Rum, Bourbon and Whiskey all came out in 2020. It would take 3 more years for the rum to be released.

Barrell’s Private Release Rye Whiskey line wouldn’t come out for another 3 years, but would borrow the same concept as their Private Release Whiskey line. Barrell blended together a large batch of 5 year old MGP rye whiskey (presumably the 95/5 kind) and 14 year old Canadian rye whiskey (presumably sourced from Valleyfield) and filled up finishing casks with the liquid. Then they’d finish them according to taste and send out samples to potential customers.

Barrell hasn’t gone as wild with the amount of finishing casks for their Private Release Ryes as they did their Private Release Whiskies (which seems like they’ve done 100 different kinds of finishes). At the time of writing, they’ve only used 10 different casks to finish their rye in. They are:

• Armagnac Cask

• Bourbon Whiskey Barrel

• XO Cognac Cask

• Oloroso Sherry Barrel

• Madeira Barrel

• Ruby Port Barrel

• Barbados Rum Cask

• Sauternes Barrel

• Tokaji Barrel

• Pedro Ximenez Sherry Barrel

What this means is that you’re going to see some repeats of various single barrel picks of their rye whiskey across various retailers and groups. I know that shortly after I ordered the bottle you see before you, I found a local store in the Indianapolis area (SoBro) selling the same finish – but from a different cask.

But seeing two releases using the same finishing cask shouldn’t be a cause for alarm. Every company that offers multiple releases of finished whiskies will tell you that no two finishing barrels will create the same profile. They’ll be close, but not exactly carbon copies.

The Podcaster Yak Attack: Whiskey Ring Podcast and This Is My Bourbon Podcast

A good friend of mine and fellow whiskey reviewer David Levine over at Whiskey In My Wedding Ring/Whiskey Ring Podcast told me he was splitting a barrel of Private Release Rye Whiskey with Perry Ritter, a friend of his who also hosts a podcast called “This is My Bourbon Podcast.” The finishing barrel that they selected was an Armagnac Cask. Beyond that, I don’t have a whole lot of details on how long the finishing process took.

What I do know is that the final proof ended up being 120.14 proof – which feels like a good proof for a whiskey like this. Earlier Canadian rye whiskey single barrels from Barrell were typically in the 130’s causing many enthusiasts to chicken out with fear of the heat.

Not much is known about the Armagnac cask that was used for this release either. But Armagnac is typically a spicier, earthier version of grape Brandy. I always thought that Armagnac would pair well with rye whiskey, but it’s rare to see it actually happen. Instead, many producers have elected to finish bourbon with it (most famous is Joseph Magnus with their Cigar Batch Bourbon). Anyway, now I’ll finally have a chance to see how these two kinds of beverages interact with each other. So let’s get down to tasting. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Did I stare at the green label for so long that only “green” scents are coming to mind? Haha, but seriously, there are a lot of herbal and floral (hibiscus is a main one that comes to mind) scents that flood my nose. But there are also sweeter scents, too. Molasses, honey and even cotton candy can be found. As far as fruit notes, I smell melted Grape Jolly Ranchers and a decent amount of citrus (primarily orange). It’s a great nose that doesn’t feel like it was dunked in a glass of wine like other finished whiskies I’ve had.

Palate: A mouthful of herbal and floral flavors mimic the nose. I’m finding mint, fenugreek and a hint of oregano. Spices include cinnamon and ginger root. For sweetness, I’m finding some honey, but hardly get any of the wine notes. If the Armagnac shows itself in any particular way, it’s probably through the oak and oak spice notes I am finding. This is a pretty delicious dram overall, so I’m not really concerned that the Armagnac influence is on the lighter side.

Finish: If the palate was lighter on Armagnac flavors, the finish is the opposite. After each sip, the typical herbal and botanical rye whiskey notes still remain, but there is a particular kind of grape cough syrup note that is sweetened with rock candy. It’s an interesting, but complimentary set of flavors. I like it!

Score: 7.9/10

Chalk this bottle up as another successful example of Barrell blending together two very different whiskies into one seamless liquid stream. I think one of the more successful parts about this rye whiskey was just how much it was the main focus. All too often, producers let the finishing barrel be the focal point which usually results in the final product tasting like a barrel proof version of whatever barrel was used. That’s not the case here and it’s refreshing to find.

The Armagnac influence on the rye whiskey allowed some additional spice and fruit notes that an unfinished whiskey would have probably lacked. And after looking at the other 9 finishing barrels that BCS uses, the Armagnac would have probably been my top choice too for best flavor combination. Plus, it’s not a common finishing barrel which makes it even more intriguing.

Final Thoughts

David and Perry did a great job with this barrel pick. It’s balanced, packed with flavor and is a nice addition to my rye whiskey collection – mainly because I have so few finished rye whiskies. If your rye whiskey collection is also lacking in blends or finished versions, one of these Private Releases should be next on your “to-find” list.

Some people might not be a fan of the price (about $100) but at least it’s been consistent ever since the Private Release line came out a few years ago. Plus, the high proof makes for a full-throttle drinking experience. This makes it feel like a decent value in today’s market of 7 and 8 year old rye whiskies that are similarly priced. So if you see one of these for sale and you’re in the mood for something different, then take a flyer on a bottle to change things up. Your taste buds can thank me later.

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