By Richard Thomas
When Barrell Bourbon (or Barrell Craft Spirits, by the company’s lesser known, formal name) introduced a brand extension, it was not drawn from America’s second whiskey, rye. Instead, it was from the broad category of “American Whiskey,” which can mean a number of things. Not going with the popular, fast growing and still relatively open whiskey category of rye may have seemed odd from a straight consumer point of view, but for bottlers decisions like that are dictated by what the company has and what it can get.
Rye had to wait a couple of years for Barrell Craft Spirits, but the time has finally come, after 13 batches of bourbon and 4 of American whiskey. This stuff is a blend of rye from Indiana and Tennessee. This is where the standard guessing game with Barrell releases takes a new and interesting twist, because heretofore their Tennessee-sourced whiskey has always been assumed to come from the Diageo-owned George Dickel. Yet Dickel doesn’t make its own rye, having told me as much when I was there and sourcing their own brand of rye through MGP in Indiana.
Speaking of MGP in Indiana, their contribution comes from their new 51% rye, 49% malted barley recipe that was introduced in 2013. As usual, it was bottled at cask strength (58.5% ABV), after 4 1/2 years of aging.
The look of this first Barrell Rye is full copper, neither overtly clear or dull. The liquid leaves streaks of heavy tears in the glass.
I had been wondering what the proportion of ultra-malty, barely rye MGP rye whiskey to Tennessee mystery rye was, and the nose suggests it leans heavily on MGP. The core of the scent is resting on custard and toffee, with only a pinch of rye spice and a little toastiness to make things even more interesting. The profile on this rye’s nose is certainly unexpected, especially in view of how it’s not even remotely hot at 117 proof.
Butterscotch and toffee from the high malt content are underscored by rye spice and sugarcane juice on the palate. The high alcohol content rears its head by kicking in some extra, potency-driven spiciness, and while not truly hot, this experience is strong enough that I recommend adding a little water to the whiskey. The finish winds down on a honeyed, malty note, and the warmth fades away surprisingly quickly for a high octane whiskey.
This is my first experience with MGP’s 51% rye, 49% malted barley whiskey, and in my mind it has given Barrell Rye Batch 001 an oddball quality. The whiskey sits in this place not quite where rye meets Irish whiskey, but more like a full step closer to Ireland. Whiskey enthusiasts who enjoy the unusual-and-tasty should give it a try, but those in search of a big, bold traditional rye should look elsewhere.
Barrell Rye Batch 001 has a recommended price of $85.