Things of interest are happening in Texas when it comes to the topic of whiskey. You’ll be forgiven for immediately thinking Balcones, as it is the distillery that has made the biggest impact on an international stage within the shortest period of time. Beyond the headliners, there is a buoyant watering hole of possibilities, with new distilleries producing their wares.
Amongst this number resides the Crowded Barrel distillery in Austin. The name might ring a bell, especially if you frequent YouTube and the cavalcade of whiskey channels. One of the lynchpins, if not the kingpin of this genre, is the Whiskey Vault channel hosted by Rex and Daniel. An extremely popular resource, they explore whiskies from anywhere possible and are bolstered by the support of a feverish fanbase known as the Whiskey Tribe.
Humour and information reverberate across the screen and within the comments. The slickly-run channel fosters a level of engagement and authenticity that is sadly missing from many channels. Their followers and commentators are real, unlike some channels that engage in dark arts that are beyond the mere imagination of Bruichladdich. I’d join their Facebook page with over 23,000 members, but feel I wouldn’t be able to give it the time it truly deserves: my time is MALT time. The Tribe is vast and numerous as is the channel itself, possibly putting some off from reviewing this whiskey openly—but we here take everything in stride.
In 2018, flushed with success and the dream of their own distillery, the Crowded Barrel was opened. Given the proximity, it is early days yet for any Texas whiskey from this site. However, like so many with a commercial sensibility, their first releases have utilised the option of sourced Indiana stock via MGP. Known as Eleanor, this series is an ongoing exploration: being the marketers that they are, a story has been crafted around the journey itself.
You can read about the continuing and evolving Eleanor series elsewhere, but we’ll deviate and focus on the 1866 incarnation. We have information! This is great to see, and we already know this is an MGP product. The entry proof was 120 (or 60% to Scotch drinkers), and it is a single cask from the Kelvin Cooperage. This was aged for 42 months before being bottled at 114.6 proof, or 57.3% strength.
Our thanks to Roy, AKA Aqvavitae, for bringing this bottle along as part of his recent blind tasting. There, it formed part of the line-up afterwards at the “bring your own bar.” Dora and I took home samples to review, which now follow.
Crowded Barrel Eleanor 1866 – Dora’s review
Colour: Irn Bru.
On the nose: this is immediately sweet, with lots of caramels, toffees, icing sugar and vanilla. Black pepper and spicy chillies give the nose a burning feeling. There is lots of waxy nuttiness from almonds, cashews and raw monkey nuts. Hints of marzipan give it some artificial creaminess. The sugariness is like sweet shop candy with aromas of sherbet and kola kubes. Angostura orange bitters are there, reminding me of an Old Fashioned; oddly, I get hints of salted beetroot crisps.
In the mouth: this is very, very sweet, with a burning spiciness from the chillies and black pepper from the nose. Weirdly, I feel like I am drinking carrot juice, and begin to get other raw root vegetables flavours. Vanilla, caramel, toffee and icing sugar translate from the nose to mouth. The mouthfeel is on the thin side, tannic with a hint of bitterness that becomes slightly drying, but not overly so. Drinking rum and coke or a Jack Daniels and coke comes to mind. There is a huge vanilla punch mixing with sugary syrups that reminds me of old school botanical cola; think Fentiman’s Curiosity Cola. The finish is sweet and gone in 60 seconds. The hot spiciness slightly burns the tongue; the bitter and tannic notes mixed in with the vanillin makes the mouth feel dry.
I would do anything for another minute with you because
It’s not getting easier, it’s not getting easier”
If you’re a Biffy Clyro fan, you’ll understand, but if not, the lyrics still applies. I found this whiskey far too sweet for my palette. For me, the alcoholic carrot juice flavour was off-putting, as I was not expecting that. I definitely preferred the nose to the mouth, and if it had matched, then I reckon I would have enjoyed it a lot more. The creamy nuttiness would have complemented the flavours—if only I had managed to find them with my taste buds! However, as I don’t drink much American whiskey, I would definitely give it another try, perhaps alongside other whiskies, to give more of a frame of reference.
Crowded Barrel Eleanor 1866 – Jason’s review
Colour: rubbed brass.
On the nose: the default foundations of vanilla and caramel aside, we have black peppercorns and some aniseed baws. There are red apples, a malted loaf, hickory chips and the legacy of cigar smoke. Cinnamon, dark chocolate, orange peel and vanilla custard. Water, I felt, wasn’t beneficial.
In the mouth: lots of orange peel, dried bark and toffee. An oozing mouthfeel initially leads us towards a drying quality. Cherry menthol, liquorice and a very woody nature. Leathery, brown sugar, more peppercorns and vanilla caramel. A very sweet dram, not hugely detailed or memorable.
This is passable for many of us. A pleasant enough whiskey, but not really saying much whatsoever. It fails to capture your imagination in a way some from the Tribe may have expected. I’m a little disappointed and stuck in neutral. While this isn’t indicative of what the distillery will produce further down the line, the problem with any sourced release is the confusion and expectation it might create.
I still meet people who believe that Teeling has been releasing its whiskey for years on end. There’s a huge amount of trust and devotion in whisky nowadays. People, it seems, enjoy being taken up the garden path, or for a ride. So, not here especially, but rather in general, sometimes it is better to keep quiet and your cards close to your chest, rather than jumping onto any bandwagon.
It seems a logical extension of any YouTube channel nowadays to have merchandise and a bottle to call your own, which fits into this remit. As much as I enjoy the odd episode, sometimes the selling of these items becomes a little intrusive and desperate. It diminishes my enjoyment and feels like I’m watching QVC instead. The Whisky Vault isn’t guilty of this, but it is an easy habit for many to fall into. It should always be about the whiskey, and let’s keep that firmly top of the list, even if it turns out to be a little mundane.