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Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select

What sound does a Buffalo make?

Technically, we’re referring to a bison. Fun fact about bison: they’re delicious. Not quite as gamey as elk, but still: good eatin’. A little lean, so I recommend mixing bison meat half-and-half with 85% ground beef if you’re thinking about making burgers. Can you tell I’m struggling for an introduction to this review?

Paradoxically, I drank a lot of Buffalo Trace in the past year, but I have also drunk no Buffalo Trace at all. Both formally (for review here) and informally (with pals), I have enjoyed many iterations of this distillery’s produce. Pappy, Weller, Blanton’s, Sazerac rye, yadda yadda yadda. It’s impossible to throw a stone without hitting one of the more-than-a-dozen labels under which Buffalo Trace sells its 10 million liters of annual output.

Yet, despite its prevalence on store shelves, I have not recently tried the signature Buffalo Trace bourbon. We’ve talked before about how a whiskey’s ubiquity can translate to its invisibility. This has certainly been true, for me, in the case of Buffalo Trace. However there’s also a subtler, more nagging concern: In considering this distillery from every possible angle over the course of multiple interactions, I fear that I have already said everything that can be said about Buffalo Trace, as well as the hype hurricane that churns around its more coveted expressions.

Fortunately, I’m about to be saved by the format, which will give us some philosophical and practical digressions to pursue. In this instance, I have happened upon a store pick of Buffalo Trace bourbon. We’ve covered enough store picks here that I feel an introduction to the rudiments of that process is no longer necessary. Rather, we’ll be grappling with the quandary identified by Adam in his prior consideration of a Russell’s Reserve store pick: given the price premium, are they really an improvement over the reference bottling?

David Jennings, aka Rare Bird 101, previously expressed his skepticism about the ability of Buffalo Trace to be distinguished by extreme deviation from the mean with regards to barrel picks. Though I’m not accusing Buffalo Trace of the practice, I’ve been made aware that certain distilleries don’t permit “off-profile” barrel picks. The selections are sometimes tightly managed, with only conforming barrels (pre-screened by a tasting panel) offered up for individual bottling.

Overall, I’d describe myself as sensitive to this criticism, but also open-minded. There are numerous pitfalls of the barrel pick format, shared in common with the independently bottled single barrels of Scotland. As with all manifestations of this phenomenon, it depends (partly) on who is doing the picking.

Today, we have a store pick from Warehouse Liquors. You’ll recall that the store’s owner, Gene, previously sat down with us to discuss his selection criteria and philosophy. Gene eschews the nerdy focus on the vital statistics of this or that cask and instead allows himself to be guided by hedonistic enjoyment and his own gut instincts about flavors and proportions.

Gene happened to be stocking shelves when I dropped by Warehouse to pick up this bottle. I peppered him with questions about the barrel and the whiskey, to which I received a series of laconic answers delivered in ascending order of terseness. Finally, Gene sighed shallowly and said, “I never let facts get in the way of flavor.”

While this is antithetical to my natural approach of obsessively compiling, collating, and analyzing data, I’m willing to set aside my proclivities in this case and indulge Gene’s method instead. What details I am able to provide come only from public sources; I have no additional information about the particulars of this barrel, other than what is printed on the bottle’s label.

Though the distillery refuses to disclose its mash bills, Buffalo Trace is said to be from Mash Bill #1, which is low (<10%) rye. Expressions that share this mash bill include E.H. Taylor bourbon, George T. Stagg and Stagg Jr., and Eagle Rare.

This is a single barrel selection (barrel #299 from Warehouse Q), bottled at 45%. I paid $31 for 750 ml, which is a modest premium compared with the $25 retail price for a standard bottle of Buffalo Trace (typically 86 proof/43% ABV).

Buffalo Trace Warehouse Liquors Single Barrel Select – Review

Color: Radiant burnt orange

On the nose: Medicinal cherry flavors dominate initially; this smells like Smith Bros’ Cherry Cough Drops, specifically. This has a subtle yeasty and malty accent, like the ambient aroma of a small brewery. I get a bit of celery stalk and some kola nut scents in there. There’s a very faint aroma sitting somewhere between mocha and damp brass. Goetze’s Caramel Creams make a fleeting appearance.

In the mouth: Starting very quietly, this builds up steam as it progresses through the mouth. The palate is most lively as it moves from the front to the middle of the tongue, where it expresses a sweet-and-spicy nip of cinnamon sugar. As this reaches its peak, there are some earthier notes reminiscent of Eagle Rare’s damp clods of soil. The finish has a low wavelength underpinning of the initial medicinal cherry note of the nose, bringing this to completion in a full circle. Texturally, there’s an evenness to this from front to back that is not describable as “smooth” or “flat,” but rather “even-keeled” or something similarly nonpejorative.

Conclusions

This is pretty good, considering the price. It’s got a bit more breadth and depth – both on the nose and in the mouth – than my recollections of the standard Buffalo Trace bottling. For the diehard Buffalo Trace fans in the audience it’s likely a no-brainer, and those of you in Chicago have doubtless snatched up your bottle already. As for me: confronted with both sitting side-by-side, I’d probably spend the five extra bucks and get this single barrel. At a similar cost and ABV as Eagle Rare, though, I think I’d be more inclined toward the latter. I’m scoring it one notch below that expression.

Score: 6/10

So, I’ve once again rolled the dice with a store pick. While I didn’t clean out the casino, I managed to escape without losing my shirt and, in fact, did slightly better than breakeven. But, that’s not typically the reason I value the single barrel format. I want the weirdo barrels, the ones with off-the-wall flavors, the ones that immediately command attention and never relent. It’s a calculated risk with an asymmetric payoff, but it’s one that I’m happy to take from time to time.

Thankfully, the increasing prevalence of these picks from both larger chains as well as smaller boutique bottle shop means that I’m more likely to run out of funding before I run out of choices. On that note, I’ll raise a glass of this very solid Buffalo Trace to the thrill of future discoveries.

CategoriesAmerican
Taylor
Taylor

Taylor's a native of Chicago. After heading to university in Scotland, he graduated from drinking Whyte & Mackay and Coke to neat single malts. He's also a keen fan of Japanese whisky, having visited the country regularly over the last several years, where he was able to assemble a decent collection before prices went batty.

    1. Avatar
      Sparks says:

      Just opened my first bottle of Buffalo Trace last evening and could not have been more disappointed. Will not waste money again on this product. I’ll go back to enjoying the Wild Turkey 101.

      1. Taylor
        Taylor says:

        Sparks, I’d agree that the standard Buffalo Trace bourbon falls well short of Wild Turkey 101 for both quality and value. However, there are other excellent products coming out of this distillery. You might want to try the Taylor Small Batch Bottled-in-Bond bourbon, or even Stagg Jr. if you’re looking for something higher proof. Cheers.

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    PBMichiganWolverine says:

    The single barrel store picks are always interesting…sometimes a hit, others, not so much. But interesting nonetheless. I just picked up a 15yr store pick single cask Knob Creek for $50—-that really blows the regular Knob Creek out of the water

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      PB, that’s the whole point, in my mind. If you’re going to offer up something that tastes just like the standard offering, then why bother? I’ve had some deliciously off-profile Knob Creek picks, as well as others that were not as successful (both reviewed here on Malt, if you’re interested) but at least there was variety! As always, appreciate the engagement and GO BLUE!

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    Greg B. says:

    I have always found the regular Buffalo Trace as perfectly fine if unremarkable. I also like Eagle Rare considerably more than BT. It sounds like this fits in between the two and at a price point that is also midway between them, so it makes for a reasonable compromise if one is looking to save a few dollars.

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      Greg, this is more in-line, price-wise, with Eagle Rare in my area, hence my noted preference for the latter. As an educational experience about the Buffalo Trace source material, though, I can recommend trying a single barrel at least once. Cheers!

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      Charles says:

      Hang on sloopy, you’re math doesn’t add up, if you give the barrel pick a 60%, and claim a slight increase in value over traditional BY, that leaves BT with a failing score, and that’s just not accurate. Having been part of a few BT store picks (both BT and Weller) they are always very good at sending samples with three flavor profiles: oaky, sweet, and complex. I’ve never seen them give barrel age info during the sample, since so much is more about where in the rickhouse and which rick they’re in.

      Go Buckeyes.

      1. Taylor
        Taylor says:

        Charles, 6/10 on the Malt scale is not the equivalent of 60 on the 100-point scale or a D grade in class. There’s no linear extrapolation based on ABV or what have you, and you cannot even compare scores between one another, necessarily, because you’re dealing with a subjective assessment of quality for price. In total honesty, the score is the part I think least about, and I’d prefer if our readers would focus more on the commentary. Geaux Tigers!

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        Randolph says:

        First, I’ve come across your articles and I’m a new fan. Cheers.
        Unfortunately, everything from BTD is now rare in Northern Virginia requiring you to stand in line at 8am every ______day (not saying which day!) for a single bottle. And Pappy or OFC, forget it. Lottery for 12 bottles in 38,000 entries.

    1. Avatar
      Charles says:

      Hang on sloopy, you’re math doesn’t add up, if you give the barrel pick a 60%, and claim a slight increase in value over traditional BY, that leaves BT with a failing score, and that’s just not accurate. Having been part of a few BT store picks (both BT and Weller) they are always very good at sending samples with three flavor profiles: oaky, sweet, and complex. I’ve never seen them give barrel age info during the sample, since so much is more about where in the rickhouse and which rick they’re in.

      Go Buckeyes.

  3. Avatar
    Welsh Toro says:

    Fine review, as always, but, oh God, my miserable cynicism is rising to the surface. Have to get this off my chest right away and that is Buffalo Trace’s decision to piss on the U.K consumer by reducing the regular bottle from 46% to a lousy 40% abv. Next grumble -Bourbon Talk. I like bourbon and I’ve drunk it back in the days when it was unfashionable, even in the U.S.A. However, I am getting so bored of listening to modern bourbon talk of Mash Bill this and that, from Warehouse X, Yeast Strain B or C and Store Pick/Barrel Pick (Unique/Limited Bottling – Gotta get it before it runs out). I accept that it’s the bourbon landscape now but it’s just a lot of marketing garbage and more often than not a justification for a hefty price tag. Cheers Taylor

    1. Taylor
      Taylor says:

      WT, bourbon has, indeed, gotten annoying. With a more limited number of distilleries to fixate on (relative to Scotch), the obsession with the intricacies has grown more acute. That’s not to say the attention is unwarranted; there’s loads of delicious bourbon out there. Just a warning that a dogmatic approach to this or that rickhouse might risk missing the forest for the trees. Cheers!

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