When I first started drinking whiskey about 5 years ago, it was mainly centered around the different colors of Johnnie Walker with my pinnacle being Blue Label. “No whiskey is better than JW Blue Label!” was my naïve opinion. Then last year, a friend opened up my world by showing me the world of Scotch beyond Johnnie Walker as I got into some bottles of Lagavulin, Oban, Macallan and Talisker to name a few. Then when I happened into the bourbon and rye scene, I quit Scotch. 100% malted barley and me just weren’t getting along anymore.
Months later, it surprised me find out that we have our own version of “Scotch” right here in the US, but ours is different because our various distilleries that produce a 100% malted barley distillate that is usually put it into new charred oak barrels. This allows for a shorter aging time and a similar-but-different profile from Scotch.
American Malt Whiskey
But American Malt Whiskey has been fighting an uphill battle for the last couple of years because Scotch and Irish Whiskey drinkers are dedicated to their favorite labels. American drinkers haven’t been ponying up the money for a local, US made alternative to their single malts, even as the prices for what we’re all willing to pay for bourbon and rye climb ever higher.
Therefore, the small number of distilleries that produce only a malted whiskey remains very small. I personally have not been blown away by any of the US-produced malted whiskey I’ve tried yet, but then Barrell Craft Spirits entered the scene with a new label in their Barrell Whiskey line, the American Vatted Malt. Barrell Craft Spirits has released some interesting blends and finishes amongst the spirits scene recently with their whacky Infinite Barrel bottling as well as a rum finished in Scotch barrels, so needless to say, I was intrigued.
So I suppose it only seemed like a matter of time before they explored the avenue of malted whiskey by finding a source to bottle. In the end, they didn’t just find one company to source from, they found eight and had their pick of barrels ranging from 1.5 years old to 8 years old.
Of those eight, they have been allowed to disclose 6 of those companies on their website and there are some ones that you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re from that region. Then they vatted (blended) them together in undisclosed amounts and produced what you see in front of you. So what does this bottle taste like? I sampled this neat from a glencairn.
Nose: There is a huge burst of cereal and bready grains. Crusty French bread, Grape Nuts cereal, vanilla cake and oddly, Nesquick Cocoa Powder. But the cereal traits keep opening to some very interesting floral notes like geraniums, wood varnish and even dry white wine.
Palate: A thick and viscous mouthfeel coats the tongue. There are no escaping the flavors now. There is a big hit of Malt-o-Meal hot cereal, Earl Gray tea, tellicherry peppercorns, pancake syrup and the chewy center of ciabatta bread. There’s even some tropical-ish flavors like orange marmalade and unsweetened coconut milk.
Finish: The finish arrives with a mouthful of uncoated malt ball centers. It dives into a fantastic array of sour cherries, cacao nibs, bananas, plums, and ends with a unique toasted and smoky oak flavor.
There’s no denying this was a malted whiskey through and through. The cereal and grain profile was present from sniff to finish, like sticking your head into one of those bulk grain bins at Whole Foods. Initially, this was not drawing me in, but then after my first sip, it began to morph into a wholly different liquid. The fruits came out, the chocolate began to get stronger and the dram that I feared would be a bust suddenly became an enjoyable, thick and rich spectrum of flavors that I typically don’t find in bourbons or ryes.
And here’s a weird comparison I began to think about as I drank this: this bottle kept reminding me of a Four Roses OESQ bottle I have because of how it gets more complex as the session goes on with more floral and sweet baked goods popping up. It’s a very strange association, but if somebody else finds this to be true, please tell me in the comments so I know I’m not going crazy.
Malt Whiskey that hails from the US isn’t going to be everybody’s cup of tea, but this Barrell release is certainly one to check out. It has a ton going on for it and has been qsurprisingly delicious so far. If you’re an adventurous drinker and ready to try something new, then Barrell’s latest dive off the deep end could be for you.
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 (13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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