By Richard Thomas
One of the newest rituals among diehard bourbon enthusiasts is waiting for the next batch from independent bottler Barrell Bourbon. First comes word of what the batch will be—mashbill, proof, aging, etc.—followed by the actual product appearing on store and bar shelves, there to be tried out.
Barrell Bourbon has become so popular in a short space of time for a mix of reasons. Joe Beatrice and his crew have a knack for finding good stock and then dumping it at the right time, and bottling it at cask strength is guaranteed to draw attention from the hardcore bourbon lover. They also scored points for transparency, an especially important issue among those still sore from the now fading era of deceptive whiskey bottling.
I was lucky enough shake hands with Joe Beatrice, owner of Barrell Bourbon, as his latest offerings were in the works: Batch 007B and Batch 008. The former was a follow-on to Batch 007, which was swept clean out of Beatrice’s hands in record time.
Batch 008 is an all-new release, one of their “Tennessee Bourbons,” as in distilled and aged in Tennessee, but not with the Lincoln County Process. The mashbill is 70% corn, 25% rye, 5% malted barley, and it was aged for 9 1/2 years in new white oak done to Char #4. The whiskey was then bottled at 132.84 proof (66.42%).
In the glass, Batch 008 has a marvelous coloring that leans into the deep red part of the amber spectrum. A swish and coat positively sheds long, heavy, thin legs.
I guessed that Batch 008, sitting north of 130 proof, would require water, and the nose gave me a strong “affirmative” that it would. The first sniff was just too hot to go on without a few drops, and since I was sampling the bourbon on a 97 F (36 C) day, I made that a single ice cube instead.
After allowing that cube to melt a bit, the burn fell back and the nose revealed itself to be delightfully sweet, thick with maple syrup, brown sugar and vanilla. The woody side, something to be expected after almost a decade spent in the barrel in Middle Tennessee’s climate, was there, but expressed itself in the vein of green oak, fresh-cut, wet timber rather than dry, seasoned wood.
The flavor kept on with the thick and sweet theme, but gave it a twist. The oily liquid smacked of orange marmalade spiced with mint and cinnamon. It was also a little woody, but jinked back from green into seasoned oak, and with a little earthy barrel char to boot.
The finish was sweet, spicy, and just a bit tangy. After writing up my notes, I looked at what Warren Bobrow had to say, and I can see where he gets the Szechuan flavors. Perhaps it was that I put an ice cube in, but I found it surprisingly moderate on the warmth for such a high octane bourbon.
It’s summer, and for my summer drinking I like big bodied, ballsy whiskeys that shrug off ice with ease. Barrell Bourbon Batch 008 so amply fits that bill that I would go out and get a bottle of the stuff for the dog days of August, if only I weren’t on the other side of the Atlantic!
The recommended retail price point on this bourbon is $84.99.