By Richard Thomas
Barrell Bourbon has become a hit among enthusiasts, and through the eight batches they have released so far, Joe Beatrice’s brand has established itself as a bottler that can be counted on to deliver solid, cask strength bourbon.
Barrell Whiskey, on the other hand, is not so well-established a quality. The latest release on that side of the line is Batch 002. Made in Indiana and almost certainly at MGP, this whiskey comes from from a corn, rye and malted barley mashbill, but technically not a bourbon. Being aged in used barrels alone would be enough to change the designation, since bourbon must be aged in new oak. However, it is also possible that the whiskey came from MGP’s corn whiskey or maybe even its 51% rye whiskey stock (both are corn, rye and malted barley too) rather than one of it’s bourbon stocks.
What is certain about this particular batch is that it is 9 years and 5 months old, most likely building on its predecessor, Batch 001. At least some of that time was spent on finishing in a Sherry cask, a well-established practice in Scotland, but only just now catching on in America. The whiskey was bottled at cask strength, as is customary with Barrell releases, in this case at 123.8 proof (61.9% ABV).
Used oak doesn’t impart as much flavor or color as the new stuff (just look at Scotch and Irish Whiskey), so in the glass Batch 002 has the golden coloring of apple juice. The nose is boozy, but doesn’t burn the nose. The scent is graham cracker and honey sweet, grainy in the way of a very cerealed whole wheat bread, with light notes of leather, vanilla and dates.
As you might guess, it’s a busy nose, but not a subtle one. As befits something so potent, all of that is upfront and direct, but also in no way overpowering.
Once the proof climbs over 120, I usually find water necessary, but that isn’t necessarily the case here. The finish was a bit too warm for my taste, but not actually hot, and the palate not at all. The flavor smacks of a very buttery, very vanilla-seasoned apple cobbler, with a solid vein of oak running right through and a sprinkling of cinnamon spiciness. The liquid itself sits on the tongue with a rich, creamy texture.
That finish I mentioned explodes with warmth, if not actual heat, but this fades rapidly to leave a lingering, dark fruitness.
This whiskey is a cut above, and what places it there is that it manages to be so substantial and potent without becoming hot or overpowering. Frankly, you don’t find cask strength whiskeys with so much flavor and strength, but at the same time without the kick that comes with those qualities that often.
The recommended price for Barrell Whiskey Batch 002 is $60, and at that price it is a bargain buy and well worth having.