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It seems like the whiskey landscape is never at a loss for developing new and innovative experiments. For bourbon in particular, there is only so much that can be done within its set of rules. Some companies have accepted this and decided to embrace the label of just “whiskey” (or American Whiskey). These reasons vary but mostly revolve around wanting to break away from the taste profile of bourbon. Even I agree that after tasting hundreds of different bourbons that they can become monotonous after a while. This is the situation that the people behind Broken Barrel Whiskey were feeling when they decided to create their Americana label.
How Broken Barrel Whiskey got its name
At first, I thought the whole “Broken Barrel” name and concept was just a figure of speech. I figured there was some sort of industrial machine that broke or cut apart barrels and harvested the staves used to finish their whiskey. Nope. Their Instagram feed is full of videos of guys who take various sledgehammers and splitting mauls directly to an intact barrel. They work on destroying the head first, then turn the barrel on its side and pound directly on the staves. The end result is a pile of loose staves and 6 metal hoops remaining on the ground. Ummm, are these staves washed off after resting in the parking lot?
The staves are sorted out and added into new barrels of whiskey. I was not able to get a sense of how they were added, but Broken Barrel claims that they were left intact and not cut up. I’m assuming they use the same technique that Maker’s Mark does where they remove the top metal hoops of a barrel, dislodge the head and then add the staves in before closing it all back up and dumping the whiskey back in.
Broken Barrel does two additional steps to Americana Whiskey. The first is that they blend a Light Whiskey with a bourbon to create a whiskey that tastes lighter and not as oak-forward. They want to allow the finishing staves to speak for themselves. When that’s the case, sometimes a heavier bourbon isn’t always the right choice. According to the mash bill, we can assume the Light Whiskey came from MGP in Indiana and the bourbon was likely made at Green River Distilling in Owensboro Kentucky.
The second step is that they mix in the staves from different barrels into one single barrel. They call this the “Oak Bill.” The Oak Bill for Americana (Batch 0002) says it’s 40% Charred American Oak staves, 40% Toasted American Oak staves and 20% American Apple Brandy Cask staves.
An unexpected flavor profile
Broken Barrel’s website mentions that they wanted Americana to taste like a Highland Scotch or Irish Whiskey. That’s a strange whiskey profile to attempt to make by blending Light Whiskey and Bourbon – mainly because of the low amount of malted barley in it overall.
So that’s what I’m going to focus on today. Did they nail the profile they intended? And if so, how refined is the overall whiskey? Seeing as how this is my first Broken Barrel product, I’m very intrigued. Let’s dive in. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: I know that this is finished with Apple Brandy staves, but damn, why do I feel like I’m smelling a bit of Sherry? Could it be the slight acidity that comes with Apple Brandy? I don’t have an answer for this. Otherwise, there are very soft and pleasant notes of sweet caramel, light oak, honey and a bit of corn meal. Light amounts of orchard fruits and cherry crème followed by a dusting of cinnamon.
Palate: I’m finding a much thicker mouthfeel than I expected. The wine notes from the nose follow with a lot of fruit and vanilla. In fact, the whole flavor profile is light, like a cake. This is maybe the closest to a Scotch I’ve tasted in a non-Scotch product. I liken it to Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake.
Other flavors include light syrup, honeycomb cereal, and some dry cinnamon. There’s even a bit of tannins floating around like light oak and a touch of leather. Overall, it’s a satisfyingly sweet and well balanced flavor profile. I was not expecting this.
Finish: The thick mouth coating remains until the very end. Notes of grits, orchard fruits, cherries and banana linger for a moderately long time. There’s also lots of vanilla left over as well as the taste of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. The finish also contains a little more rye spice content than I found on the palate. The oak is still very light which still conjures up thoughts of a Scotch more than an American made product. Fascinating how accurate the description was.
There are a few American Single Malt Whiskies that I find to be similar to Scotch. But a Light Whiskey and Bourbon blend that tastes like one? It doesn’t exist – until now. I was genuinely impressed with what they’ve pulled off here. The effortlessly light flavors and body work extremely well together to give you a whiskey that sips easily and delivers pleasing flavors. Even the nose is convincing; never giving off any overly young scents.
I was initially going to complain about the proof being a bit low but then I realized that the delicate flavors might get washed away. So I’m content with it being bottled at 100. There’s not really anything to dislike here for me. Enthusiasts that demand that oak must be front and center may be disappointed, but they should’ve read the label first.
I have to admit that a score like this is earned mainly because I can’t find any faults with this whiskey at all. I have been a recent Scotch convert (something I don’t mention enough in my reviews) and am totally down with that profile of whiskey. Drinking this bottle of Americana makes me think I’m drinking a Scotch which brings a smile to my face.
Not a fan of light flavors or Scotch? That’s okay. They have plenty of bourbon and rye whiskey varieties to tease you with. But the one thing I know is that if they’re anywhere as good as Americana, then you’re in for a treat. Broken Barrel really is onto something here and I think that this company is set to go places in the near future. If you haven’t looked into their products yet, this is me telling you that they’re absolutely worth a visit. Just make sure to read the mash bill and oak bill and find one that interests you.
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