The problem with double barrels…
Double barrels have made quite a bit of noise lately. It seems as if every distillery now offers this option and many a whiskey reviewer suspects it is mostly to pass off younger whiskey at a higher price. At least, that is the cynical view. The optimist views this as an opportunity to get sweeter whiskey sooner.
One theory is that sweet notes come from the initial interaction with wood, and that longer aging only produces more tannins, those oaky and woody notes. Would a second barrel encourage more sweet notes? Well, there is a variable in all of this and that is the char levels. That is why no two double barrels are the same.
This means, with more double barrels hitting the market, it can become exhausting for the consumers and reviewers. I can sense the rage. A new distillery and now even more products from a new distillery. How is a reviewer to keep up? How does a newer drinker navigate the right type of brands to support and venture into this exploration with?
I also view new brands with a lot of skepticism. It is very easy for a new company to purchase whiskey that has already been made, set up bottling contracts, and then seed a ton of new bottles with influencers. When I see a ton of bottles pop up on Instagram with varying characters endorsing it, I view it as an instant red flag. So I wait, either for an opportunity to taste these myself, or read articles from writers I trust and respect. One of those writers is newer to Malt, and his name is Frank.
Starlight Distillery had been on my radar for quite some time. However, it seemed that everyone was talking about some version of whiskey they had in the marketplace, and it was fairly overwhelming. Many folks know that I am a fan of double barrel bourbons. When done right they rival well-aged products from big brands; when done incorrectly, however, they seem like a waste of oak. So, when Frank reviewed a finished bourbon, I was curious to see Starlight’s competence for putting their own distillate into another wood container.
As Frank put it his review of Starlight Distillery Cigar Batch:
“Having begun as a family farm in 1843, Starlight Distillery has been producing grain-to-glass distilled spirits since 2004, so we can swiftly check three boxes in vetting their suitability for our experiment: all of their grains come from the same place, they have an extensive history in growing said grains, and all of their spirits are aged on the same farm and produced by the same hands.”
Grain-to-Glass. Family Farm. 18 years of experience. Sounds good. Sounds legit.
These are the things people say they care about. So why don’t we hear more celebratory comments? Why isn’t this distillery getting their flowers? This seems like the type of new distillery doing things the right way that “Whiskey Twitter” should be in love with.
Oh look: everyone is off to buy the next $100+ sourced bottle with a green bear on it this week! Gotta catch ‘em all.
Back to what seems like a good story: did we mention that Starlight is in Indiana? Close enough to Kentucky, right? Don’t worry, I am not a Kentucky bourbon elitist. I love bourbon and this country, so I am more than happy to explore expressions from other states. I just wonder how “distilled in Indiana” plays with the average consumer. My guess is that it does nothing to help or hurt the perception of the product; it only seems to be the nerds like us that cannot wait to point out if something came from MGP.
In my recent travels through Indiana, I’ve made it a habit to stop at a certain grocery chain whenever I needed to fuel up. The open road and the opportunity to stretch my legs when I want is a ritual. I step out of the car. The big stretch. Ah. The air is different. The people? Somewhat the same. Midwestern friendly, as always.
I make a quick stop into their liquor section to “hunt” offerings I don’t see in Chicago. I see Benchmark variants; there are so many. Ah, there is the Starlight! But where do I go? See, I am no different than you dear reader; I pop open my phone and Google Starlight variants I want to try. If I see a review from one of my faves (like Taylor or Frank) I immediately skip it… because that means I cannot review it for Malt!
All jokes aside, I grabbed a blackberry whiskey, as it had been a while since I ventured into this flavored whiskey category. They didn’t have the double barrel expression I was after. Luckily, a friend making a similar trip found one and brought it back. Then, as the fates would have it, our fearless leader Taylor offered a sample of a pick made by Barrel Nation for comparison’s sake. So, how do they compare?
I would say that both the pick and standard offering seemed very similar, with this pick bringing out the best notes you would find in the standard product. Onto my reviews.
Starlight Double Oaked Bourbon – Review
106 proof. 53% ABV. $65.
Color: Dark leather.
On the nose: Warm caramel… or Carmel? Depends on what part of Indiana you are from.
In the mouth: Grain forward. Young corn stands out in the forefront. Kudos to the distiller that has learned to tame a note that can be off putting. Here it’s a welcome shock to the senses. Indeed, oak and spice play on the back end here. Those seeking a soft and sweet double barrel experience will find a rootin’ tootin’ one-two punch of corn and oak. The finish fades away and leaves the mouth dry. With the palate fully cleansed you nip another battle with this fun drink.
Extra tip: Made for a fantastic Irish coffee.
Starlight Double Oaked Bourbon (Barrel Nation Pick) – Review
115.2 proof. 57.6% ABV. $65.
Color: Worn leather.
On the nose: Melted butter over warm pancakes. That delicious carb filled pancake is accompanied by maple syrup. Decadent. Gluttonous. Maybe it’s because I use bourbon maple syrup, but this screams a doubly-sweet early morning meal.
In the mouth: Woody. Spicy. Prickly pepper goes back and forth with sweet wood. A nip stays for a while. A good sign. I would be delighted to nurse this for an evening. A full sip rushes to the back and forces you to think about the wood it aged in. A dryness rushed to the front of the mouth. An initial sweetness transforms into a black pepper crusted strip steak. A finish turns into
Congrats to whoever picked this, and to Starlight themselves. They are a distillery doing things the right way and creating amazing products. Most of them range from $30 to $80 in my area, and I no longer have any trepidation about recommending anything that comes from this talented group.
Having my first taste as I read this. Your review is spot on. I would add this would be a pretty good “warming pour” when one has a chill. I also have both the stout barrel and sherry cask Starlight offerings, both of which I like more than the double oak, with the stout version a slight favorite. Cheers and Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all.
Thanks for the review. I found the young corn note offputting and as much as I liked the rest of the sip, I probably won’t return to the bottle because it is so hard to get past that note. I have enjoyed other Starlight bourbons so I think you might be on to something with barrel finishing allowing distillers to pass off something young.