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Barrell craft spirits 15-year-old bourbon 2019

Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

So, it is with the world of whiskey, in the whirlwind of new releases, new distilleries, old distilleries reopening, new distilleries releasing old bottles, old distilleries releasing new bottles etc. etc., it can be easy to miss some gems that may cross your path.

I am unashamedly an Irish whiskey OG, my love of Scotch is a little more recent and my current relationship with American whiskey is at a point where, yes, we’ve been on a few dates, but they haven’t been introduced to my parents. The main problem living in Europe can often be access to unique or limited-edition bottles of Bourbon and other American whiskeys. Outside of some great standards like Buffalo Trace or Wild Turkey 101 much of the selection that’s widely available seems to be designed for mixing with coke. That’s not a slight, I’m as fond of hi-balls and mixed drinks as the next man but when it comes to writing about something genuinely interesting, well, we need to look a little further afield.

It is a little bit of a chicken and egg scenario whereby we don’t get really interesting bourbon on this side of the Atlantic because we don’t have enough people drinking the standard stuff and the consumer isn’t as interested in the higher end or more unique offerings because the standard bottlings don’t really grab them. In most cases, we can’t be blamed for grabbing a single cask Redbreast or a Cadenhead’s bottling from a shelf rather than putting in the effort to go hunting for unique bottles of American whiskey, but a trip into the unknown can often yield some superb results. Not always, let me reiterate, seeking out a bottle of 1000 hills single malt from Rwanda left me with more mixed feelings but I suppose an interesting experience none the less.

Thus, when a friend who’d recently returned from the states thrust a glass of Barrell craft spirits 15-year-old bourbon 2019 into my hand with an excited look I was intrigued.

The tendency towards sourced spirit in the whiskey nations that have been in rapid growth, particularly Ireland and the U.S has been markedly different to Scotland. In Ireland a horde of brands have released many liquids, all sourced from a small number of distilleries and subsequently applied a host of different finishes, achieving very different and often striking results. I still maintain that the real interest in Irish whiskey will come in a few years when all 20+ of the new distilleries have mature spirit with their own unique hallmarks. Casks can do an awful lot but until we can talk about how the lyne arm affects the spirit from ‘x’ distillery or how the use of worm tubs gives the spirit a meatiness, then I think we’re still lacking something.

Scotland has always had a history of independent bottling as far back as masters Cadenhead, Gordon & McPhail. Both the aforementioned brands are over 100 years old; Ireland has nothing comparable. There is a good deal of transparency in Scottish independent bottling, the distillery is generally listed on the bottle, and if not, there are usually enough clues to discern it. Right now, Ireland, and the US, have seen many brands go down the NDP or Non-Distilling Producer route. In the US this is quite acceptable since provenance has never really been discussed to the same extent. If you were to show many US consumers all the whiskeys produced at the Heaven Hill or the Buffalo Trace distillery side by side, I’d wager they’d be surprised. The acceptability of this practice in Ireland is, I think, a little more open to debate but that’s a conversation for another day. The crew at Barrell were one of the first to set up as true independent bottlers. They are transparent in that they do now make their own spirit, this in contrast to the usual NDP model was enough to be different.

When the guys at Barrell launched their own sourced and blended spirits label in 2013 it was a novel concept. Based out of Louisville Kentucky, right in the heart of Bourbon country, they have been releasing bottles for several years now to some acclaim, this was, however, my first experience.

So, what have we got? Well, the vital statistics are that we have a 15-year-old bourbon bottled at 105.1 proof, distilled and aged in TN, KY and IN with a mixed mash bill of corn, rye and malted barley.

Barrell craft spirits 15-year-old bourbon 2019 – review

On the nose: Intensely fruity. 15 years is a hell of a long time in the world of Bourbon and I’ve often found bourbons of this age to be overly oaked or too sweet but there’s a lovely fruity nose to this that reminds me of the year’s first batch of Wexford strawberries. There’s a touch of tobacco as the nose develops but there aren’t the intense oak notes which I expected from this old a bourbon. Right at the end, there’s a touch of Seville orange which lingers a little as I sit with it.

In the mouth: A very pleasant initial mouthfeel notes of ginger and black pepper with plenty of fruit flavors developing on the tongue. The caramel comes through on the palate and I can get a sense of the cask influence which wasn’t initially evident on the nose.

On the finish there is slight touch of citrus on the finish with a very curious almost phenolic type note. More fruit lingers on the back end with a nice long warming finish, again different to my expectation and quite unexpected given the nose.

Conclusions

I’m a big fan of this drop, if this is the type of stuff the team at Barrell are producing then I’d be very hopeful for their future. Given at $250 a bottle it’s not cheap but in terms of interest and to see what’s happening in the craft US spirits market it’s an extremely interesting insight into the future. Had I actually paid that $250 rather than being gifted this by a friend I would have been ok with it…. not delighted but ok. For a company that only set out on their journey in 2013, this is very encouraging and I’d very much like to try another bottle in the range to see how it compares!

100% worth a go if you’re lucky enough to see it sitting on a back bar and I certainly wouldn’t think you totally lacking in your faculties if you were to pick up a full bottle.

Score: 7/10

CategoriesAmerican
Nicky Bullman
Nicky Bullman

29 year old whiskey advisor to the almost famous. Born in Ireland, raised by the ocean. His first love is Irish whiskey, his second love is Scotch and his third is his mother. He dreams of a world where the distillery is stated on the back of the bottle, the 'master distiller' actually distils something and flipping whiskey is a sport in the Highland games. Willing to drink anything once. Questionable taste in everything except whiskey.

  1. John
    John says:

    “a trip into the unknown can often yield some superb results”

    Truer words have never been spoken. Curiosity will be rewarded. I blame my mezcal and rum addiction on my curiosity.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Mark, I should start by saying that I’ve never had any of Barrell’s blends, but some people I respect very much have spoken highly of them. $250 seems too high to me; though I am not able to find this exact bottle, comparable releases go for $80 to $100 in my area. In general: $250 is a lot to spend for a bourbon, and I’d need a bit more information than “a blend of Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky” whiskeys to be tempted. Hope this helps?

      1. Avatar
        Mark P says:

        Does help. I was after the perspective of an actual real live ‘American’, spending ‘American dollars’, or Monopoly money as we call it down here

        1. Mrs. Will Ferrell
          Mrs. Will Ferrell says:

          I’ve had quite a few of the Barrel blends and I can’t say any of them were worth $40, let alone $250, although I respect Nicky’s review and haven’t had this particular 15 year old expression.

  2. Avatar
    GWMingus says:

    I do believe this was the bourbon that Fred Minnick selected as his 2018 US Whiskey of the Year in a blind testing of 15 other top whiskeys including such stalwarts as William Larue Weller and George T Stagg. I have a bottle and I can’t say I was particularly impressed with my first drink but am reserving judgement until after my second. I do not think it is worth the $250 price tag.

      1. Taylor
        Taylor says:

        John, I’d argue there’s a reason for that. With the exception of some wheated mash bills, 15 years is too long to spend in new oak. There are a bunch of 15 year old Knob Creek single barrel picks floating around (including one to appear in this space soon) that argue for a shorter maturation in general. A notable source recently pointed out on Twitter that he’d never heard a master distiller say that a sweet spot was longer than 12 years!

        1. John
          John says:

          Yup, I agree with you. I’ve had Elijah Craig 18 and it just tasted like wood! I’m sure you think the same for Straight Ryes as well. But not everyone knows that 15 years is too much time to spend in new oak. Maybe they are the target market here?

          1. Taylor
            Taylor says:

            John, we’re conditioned to think of age as a proxy for quality (thanks, Scotch). Also, the numerical association is one which is appealing to people who are uncomfortable with the vagaries of subjective assessment. For the average Joe or Jane, it’s hard to articulate why a whiskey appeals to them more or less than another. It’s a lot easier to say “This scored a 95, so it must be better than something that scored an 85.” Likewise with age; a less-than-perfectly-informed reader recently noted that since I gave a score of “8” to a 9-year-old whiskey, I’d have to give a “13” to the 15-year-old expression from that same label. Anyway, we just need to continue to educate and inform!

  3. Avatar
    Sam says:

    Judging from the bottle photo and stats listed in the review, this is actually the first release of the BCS 15 year bourbon, which came out in 2018. (The 2019 release is 106.52 proof.) In that case, it is indeed the bourbon that Minnick picked as Best American Whiskey for 2018. One other quick point of clarification based on one of Taylor’s comments above: the Barrell Craft Spirits line is the premium sibling to the regular Barrell line, which puts out releases at a pretty staggering pace. The regular line is typically priced in the $80-100 range; the BCS line is priced substantially higher.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Good info Sam, thanks for clarifying. Regular readers will know that I don’t lavish much time or attention on sourced whiskey. I did notice the “Craft” moniker on this label, which gave me a chuckle. In what way does a blend of whiskeys sourced from MGP, Dickel, and a comparably-sized distillery in Kentucky count as “craft,” in any meaningful sense of the word? Another example of the abuse of terminology in order to jump on a trend and move some bottles!

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