During Barrell Craft Spirts early days, they extended their bourbon lineup to have a complimentary line of whiskey batches. It didn’t last too long and Barrell ended up terminating it after Barrell Whiskey Batch 005 was released. During that short period of time, we saw Barrell start to master the art of finishing whiskey in various wine and spirits casks. They even learned how to combine multiple finished whiskey types into one large batch. Barrell didn’t swear off finished whiskies for too long though. In late 2018 they released Dovetail which gave us a peak into the future of finished whiskey. Barrell would go on to release a new batched finished whiskey product about once every 18 months (Armida, Seagrass and Vantage). They also started a sister program to these batched releases with individual barrels being finished in a variety of barrels. Barrell Special Release Single Barrel Whiskey was born in late 2020.
Barrell Special Release Whiskey, explained
Barrell’s Special Release Whiskey line initially was born from a base stock that was a blend of roughly 11 to 18 year old Kentucky Straight Whiskey. The source of these whiskies (which are not bourbon because they were aged in used barrels) remains murky but they served as a terrific “blank canvas” that were ready to take on the character of any finishing barrel they were dumped into. Barrell created large batches of this whiskey and always made it a point to say that the 18 year old whiskey made up at least 51% of the entire blend. Then they’d use this whiskey to fill up the various finishing barrels they had. After a short amount of time, they’d bottle them up and sell them to retailers as store picks.
As the success of the program grew, Barrell appeared to run low on their 18 year old Kentucky Whiskey. This resulted in the more recent batches stating that they are a blend of whiskey from Kentucky and Indiana. Barrell’s website states that the Indiana Whiskey (which I am assuming is MGP’s Light Whiskey) is at least 14 years old and comprises at least 51% of the total blend for certain single barrels. If you see these bottles around or are just interested in which finishes that Barrell has created, go to their website where you’ll find a catalog of barrel numbers. They include a short description of which whiskey was used and who the barrel was sold to.
At the end of 2021, Rural Inn decided to buy a barrel of Special Release Whiskey that was finished in a Rhum Agricole Cask. I asked Ray why he picked this one and he said it was the best tasting one of the bunch because the rum influence was extremely light. He gave me a sample and it immediately tasted like a brown sugar bomb, so I bought it. This bottle comes in at a sweltering 128.2 proof and cost $100, which is the price that all of these are usually priced at. But does that make it a good value? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: This nose is so sweet right off the bat. Notes of funnel cake, brown sugar and shortbread cookies all highlight this fact. I pick up on some really fun fruit scents too like dried mango slices and raisins. There is the aroma of warm pancake syrup too followed by a nice hint of vanilla bean. The nose is somewhat simple but extremely welcoming.
Palate: The mouthfeel is moderately thick which is a good thing because I’ve had some of these Private Release Whiskies that are still very thin. The spicy heat is immediate on your tongue and almost overwhelming. The 128 proof definitely reveals itself here. There are plenty of flavors to find if you can look past the heat such as brown sugar and molasses. What’s interesting is that I can taste some more “bourbon-y” notes like tobacco and barrel char. But the rum’s influence is out in full force with fruit flavors like dried pineapple, dried banana chips and syrupy raisins. Agricole rum is not like a funky Jamaican Pot Still rum, so don’t expect to find any funky notes here. It’s just a sweet, fruity treat that packs a wallop of heat.
Finish: Dried mango and pineapple carries over from the nose and palate all the way to finish. Lingering notes of liquid brown sugar, brown butter and spices like cardamom and cinnamon are pleasant to find and really round out every sip. I even find some aged notes of dried oak and leather which I can only assume are from the Indiana Light Whiskey influence. The whole finish has a moderate length that is just right.
This was a fun take on a finished whiskey that amplified the sweet notes and brought some extra fruit along for the ride. The best and worst part about this whiskey is that you didn’t have to go searching too much for the flavors. It didn’t seem to hide too much under the surface which made it seem somewhat one-dimensional. On the other hand you didn’t have to try too hard to find all of the notes that it contained either. Everything just rushes your tastebuds all at once.
This whiskey required a few sessions with it in order for my tongue to adjust to the heat. These Single Barrel Special Release Whiskies all seem to carry a relatively high proof point which is no doubt impacted by the use of a Light Whiskey. I had some previous releases that used only Kentucky Whiskey that always came in around 115-118 proof. But now that Barrell is using Light Whiskey, which I’m assuming is around 135 and 140 proof at cask strength, expect these new releases to come in even higher. Besides, whiskies that were aged in a used barrel tend to come off stronger anyway. The interaction with new charred wood seems to tame a straight bourbon but it’s gone if the barrel is used again. This is all to say that if you end up buying a bottle of Special Release from Barrell that you may have to give yourself a few nights with it before you can really appreciate it.
Ray isn’t always a fan of finished whiskies but when he puts one on his shelves there’s a good chance it’s been heavily vetted. Barrell also seems to be doing a nice job with keeping the Special Release line humming along with the large variety of casks that they’re finishing whiskey in. So if you see a bottle with a cask finish that interests you, it’s worth your time to take a closer look (and maybe get a sample taste). It might be just the whiskey you’re looking for.
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