Belle Meade Honey Cask Finished Bourbon

In the realm of barrel-finished bourbons, one bourbon stands above the rest as offering a sturdy enough base profile to stand up to finishing treatments that may wash away the character ofv lesser whiskies: MGP’s high and low rye bourbons.  No company does barrel finishing as well as Nelson’s Green Brier own Belle Meade label, so leave it to them to find the most potent and unique barrel to finish their MGP-sourced bourbon in and take the gamble that it’s going to work out.

Nashville Honey Farm TruBee

Belle Meade partnered with local Nashville Honey Farm TruBee to try this one-of-a-kind experiment.  Belle Meade would empty 10+ year old MGP bourbon from the barrel, give those barrels to TruBee to age their honey in and then get the barrels back after the honey has been dumped out.   The next step was not adding the bourbon back in because honey is naturally hygroscopic and would dry out the staves of the oak barrels, making it too leaky to put bourbon back into. 

Belle Meade has found a unique solution through their barrel rectifying process.  One quick note: I do not know this is explicitly how this works, but based on what I’ve witnessed at the Belle Meade distillery, it appears as if the barrels are steamed or otherwise wetted on the outside followed by being tightly wrapped in saran wrap for a period of time to encourage the wood to swell back up to the original size.  This process probably takes many weeks, if not months, to complete.

I detailed my “adventure” of waiting in line for this unique bourbon here but I finally have had a couple of chances over the last month to dive into this unique drink.  For this review, I have sampled this neat and in a Glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Aromas of a newly opened package of honey graham crackers and warm baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg hits the nose immediately.  Following closely behind is an interesting botanical wave of flower petals and fresh orange peels.  I really enjoy this aspect because it’s such a rare treat to find this note in any bourbon, let alone MGP bourbon.  More sweetness comes in the form of melted candy corn and gingersnap cookies.  For all of the complex notes buzzing around, there’s a lot of old oak furniture scents floating around.

Palate: This is one of the most intriguing mouthfeels I’ve ever had…a coating of rich honey sticks to everything.  The honey tastes like it’s pulled a ton of barrel char out of the oak and deposited it directly into the bourbon.  This makes for an incredibly deep and rich oak spice flavor that penetrates everything.  The floral and botanical notes on the nose come through on your tongue, but it’s hard to tell if they’re from the honey’s pollen or the rye spice of the MGP bourbon.  There’s also cinnamon dusted honey buns and Bit O’ Honey candies.  It sounds like honey overkill, but it’s so well integrated it’s like the bourbon was distilled this way.

Finish: The oaky body continues to permeate with both dry and musty waves and a tamer, softer oak spice.  The honey effect coats your entire throat, almost like swallowing honey-flavored liquid cough syrup.  I’m surprised to find fruit scents that I did not necessarily detect on the palate in the form of spiced pears and apples as well as a little bit of almond brittle.

Score: 9.5/10

I will attempt to hold back gushing too much about this one because the score really says it all.  Ever since the inaugural release in 2018, these Honey Cask releases have been gaining traction as a sort of mythical, next-level bottle.  And in my experience, every bit of that attention is deserved.  There is simply nothing like it out there.  I’ve given samples to 3 different friends who suspected this may have been a gimmick, but quickly sang praises of how great it was.  

When I was at Belle Meade’s release to get this, I sampled all 4 barrels that they released.  I ended up picking the 111 proof barrel because I felt it was the most balanced of all (they all had different proofs). But after some air time and multiple tasting sessions, I’ve found the amount of oak that the honey has pulled from the barrel was much more than I originally thought was there.  But this is a good thing!  The oak adds that extra layer of depth that makes each sip so rich and rewarding.  It also flavors each sip with a unique take on traditional oak spice that I have not experienced in any other whiskey. 

Final Thoughts

A score this high puts this bottle in the company of some truly world-class whiskies.  What makes it achieve this level has a lot to do with its ability to stand out from the rest of the crowd with a trick that has yet to be replicated by another brand.  And until it does, there won’t be anything else out there with a taste like this.  This is one of those bottles that you must find a way to experience in your lifetime.

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)