By Richard Thomas
Perhaps it is because nearly all of the world’s bourbon (especially if you include Tennessee Whiskey as a sub-category of bourbon) is made in one region, the Mid-South, but regrettably most American whiskey enthusiasts pay no attention at all to issues of climate and how that plays out in maturation. As someone who keeps on eye on whiskey around the world, however, climate and the role it plays in maturation an issue I devote a considerable amount of time to.
As a result, I find things like Texas bourbon and Indian single malt, and ideas how to use those climates to extract the best from the spirit and the wood, fascinating. Or simply nevermind how to extract the best from the climate. Just what the climate does is enough to make me curious.
Enter Barrell Bourbon Batch 010. Followers of this popular independent bottler have become familiar with a pattern: the bourbon usually comes from MGP in Indiana or was (probably) made as general Diageo stock by George Dickel in Tullahoma, Tennessee, and aged in either Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana or some mix of the three. What makes Batch 010 an oddball is that it reportedly spent a year in Indiana, three years in Kentucky and four years in Michigan.
This stuff started out as MGP’s 75% corn, 21% rye, 4% malt stock bourbon, but just think about what spending half it’s cask time in Michigan might have done. The average summer temperature there is five degrees lower than in Kentucky, and the average winter temperature is ten degrees lower. I expect less wood influence to come out of those four years, but how did it turn out in practice?
In the glass, this bourbon has a light and shiny coppered appearance, and it’s coat streams with legs. The nose, however, leans in the opposite direction. It’s heavy with caramel, the kind of crafty caramel candy that is a little bit earthy and a little bit salty. The scent also oozes with cake spice. It’s quite inviting, all the more so that it was bottled at cask strength (as is the norm with Barrell Bourbon offerings) at 122 proof (61% ABV), and yet gave my nostrils no burn whatsoever.
The flavor combines a strong, minty herbalism and meadow flowers, with a dollop of vanilla and honey for good measure, and backed by a current of rye spice. A trace of cedar is present throughout, but omnipresent as it is, it is still only a trace.
Once again, the whiskey doesn’t run even slightly hot despite its potent 122 proof. In fact, I can’t recommend adding water to this whiskey at all, not for any reason. I tried a few drops and found it didn’t change a thing, so why bother?
What I found here was an interesting example of what happens when a mature, moderately high rye bourbon minimizes it’s wood influence with four mild summers and absolutely frigid winters. It was so interesting and so easy drinking I was on the cusp of giving it an A-, but I am a conservative grader, and whenever in doubt I always nudge downward.
The official price for Barrell Bourbon Batch 010 (and all offerings from Barrell Bourbon at this time) is $89.99.