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Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon Review

Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon Review

In a review I published a week ago regarding Broken Barrel’s Americana Whiskey, I noted how expertly put together that whiskey tasted. Their website mentioned that the profile they were trying to go for was more of a non-peated Scotch – and they nailed it.

What was interesting was they achieved this profile using only Light Whiskey and Bourbon for the blend! How was that possible? I don’t know, but now my attention shifts to their standard Bourbon offering to see if lightning can strike twice.

Broken Barrel Bourbon, explained

The base bourbon has been sourced from Green River Distilling located in Owensboro Kentucky. The mash bill is their standard 70% corn, 21% rye, 9 malted barley bourbon. As for its age, I’m not exactly sure. Broken Barrel’s website says that it is a minimum of 2 years old. But the label (which is the part that legally matters) says nothing about an age statement except that it’s a “Straight Bourbon Whiskey.” This suggests nothing in the blend is under 4 years old. Strange.

Broken Barrel is located in Los Angeles so if I had to guess, the barrels are dumped into a tanker truck in Kentucky before being transported to California. I’m a logistics guy and that makes more sense than transporting half-full barrels that whole distance.

Once it arrives at their facility, it is put into holding vats. Then, used barrel staves are added into the vat to change and enhance the flavor. These combination of staves are known as the “Oak Bill” (a riff on a whiskey’s “mash bill”) and should change with every batch.

For the record, this method is different from Maker’s Mark who actually puts their staves directly into the barrel before adding the liquid back in for additional aging. I still view these processes as a means to the same end.

Where do the staves come from for the Oak Bill?

For Broken Barrel Bourbon Batch 016 (bottled in 2023), the Oak Bill is listed as 40% ex-Bourbon Barrel Staves, 40% New French Oak Staves and 20% Sherry Cask Oak Staves.

As I mentioned in my previous review, Broken Barrel has lots of social media videos showing workers (and maybe a few customers?) breaking apart the barrels using various sledgehammers and picks in their parking lot.

It’s oddly satisfying to watch. These are the staves that end up plunged inside of the vats of whiskey to impart their flavors.

This bottle of Broken Barrel Bourbon is bottled at 95 proof. There are other Bourbon releases that are bottled at cask strength, but those come with different packaging. You shouldn’t be able to confuse the two because the cask strength bottle is painted entirely black.

Now that we know all the specs on this bottle, it’s time to get into tasting it. As usual, I sampled this neat in a glencairn.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Expecting to find a more bourbon-forward nose, I’m surprised to find it’s almost just as soft as the Americana Whiskey was. There are scents of applesauce, soft red wine, and vanilla. Warm melted butter contrasts sharply with a hint of sooty smoke. Sweet caramel scents mingle with lemon peel for a sensory experience closer to a non-peated Scotch than a bourbon. I was not expecting that!

Palate: It’s the things that I don’t expect to find that stand out the most. This dram tastes somewhat malty on my tongue. Is this a trait that is unique to Broken Barrel? Moving past that, I finally begin to find some more appropriate flavors like cinnamon and nutmeg.

Then I get some light rye-forward notes like pine needles, gingerbread, mint and a bit of heather. There’s even some very light citrus peel too.

After a few sips, I notice that the flavor profile turns a bit more bitter and sour. My guess is that this is stemming from the oak – particularly the French Oak if I had to guess. Halfway through the session I’m sensing a change of the palate into more of an unpeated Scotch than a bourbon.

I can’t explain why this happens, but enthusiasts who only like bourbon may be unhappy if this happens to them. I’m indifferent, but it’s not like it’s off-putting.

Finish: A medley of baking spices offer a pleasant warming sensation on my tongue while some tannins help to offer some depth. Citrus peel lingers along with flat Vanilla Coke. Fruits persist by way of apricots and more soft red wine.

The oak and char notes that remains seems to be inseparable from this menthol flavor. Overall, the finish is enjoyable, but the flavors don’t necessarily resemble many of the classic Kentucky bourbons out there.

Score: 6.2/10

This is a very light tasting bourbon that is full of non-traditional bourbon flavors and scents. It drinks more like a Scotch to me – or at least a whiskey with a high concentration of malted barley. I’m assuming that the finishing staves are the culprit of this, but I don’t know how or why.

It’s also the first whiskey I’ve had that has touched French Oak that didn’t become full of the flavors I normally associate with French Oak (except the vanilla, that was obvious). This appeals to me because it’s unique, not because it’s what I was expecting.

Final Thoughts

While I think this is a fine bourbon overall, it’s probably not what bourbon purists are going to want. If you’re on the more adventurous side with your bourbon, this is a bottle that you should look into. If you like non-peated Scotch, this is a bottle you’d be into.

If big oak is a turn off for you, you won’t have to worry about that here either. This bottle seems to be designed for an easy-drinking experience that won’t punish your palate with too much heat or ethanol.

Many of my friends have made the remark in the past year that bourbon is getting somewhat boring to them. I can totally agree with that sentiment. But it’s products like Broken Barrel that don’t fit into the traditional norms of bourbon that help me feel like there’s still more to explore.

Sometimes it’s good to mix things up – and that’s exactly what this bottle does. So if you’re looking through your whiskey cabinet for something that is a bit out of the ordinary for your next pour, Broken Barrel Bourbon may be just the ticket.

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