It’s my continued journey to find single barrel selections that are from smaller distilleries, unique and delicious all at the same time. This journey took me in a direction that I didn’t think it would have. I’m going to dive into a podcast single barrel selection.
I have seen how some different channels get chastised for not making strong selections or making selections for the benefits of the subscribing members. I’m going to investigate how these selections are made, and what processes go into making these selections that are different from brick and mortar retailers.
Following my interest into bourbon as a hobby and passion has led me to the Bourbon Lens podcast. Bourbon Lens is made up of 3 friends: Jake, Michael, and Scott. They show they love bourbon and have passion and interest in all things whiskey. It’s something I’ve gravitated to, as it resembles the best parts of the bourbon world. The podcast featuress in-depth interviews with industry people that are as entertaining as they are informative. From the large format distilleries to emerging brands, they cover the gamut of information, from farm to glass in most cases.
To his credit, Jake is active on social media and responds to most comments and questions he gets asked. I’m fortunate in having been able to connect with him and forging a friendship of good-natured chops busting and bourbon banter. In engaging with Jake and the Bourbon Lens social media page, I have noticed that he does single barrel selections that are sold via website to all. First dibs on the barrel selection go to the channel’s Patreon subscribers; after a few days, bottles are available to the public.
With my competitive nature coming alive, I look forward to putting his selection to the test. Jake has competed in the World Whiskey Tasting competition and advanced to the finals. With those kinds of credentials, I’m looking forward to this being a successful pick for a whiskey nerd.
One of the newest barrel selections that was offered from Bourbon Lens is a Starlight rye whiskey that is finished in a VDN barrel. Frank has done a review on Starlight, so you can check that out for information on the distillery. The rye whiskey is from a mash bill of 90% rye, and 10% malted barley. A VDN barrel means vino de naranja or “orange wine;” this is produced in Huelva and Malaga in Andalucía, Spain, with white wine macerated with orange peel.
I had some questions for Jake about how the Bourbon Lens goes about barrel selections and what processes are involved. I have done research before on how retailers do their selection processes, and am particularly curious how podcasters select. Here is his interview before I get into the whiskey, edited for clarity and content.
Malt: Can you give a quick overview on how you and your crew went from podcasting to making a jump into retail with single barrel picks?
Jake: Of course, becoming a podcast was simple. Michael Burton one day sent a text to me that read something to the effect of “Do you want to start a podcast?” I responded, “Sure what are we going to talk about?” to which he responded “We will figure it out.” That is where Scott comes in; someone who is good at making an idea come together, which he did along with Michael coming up with the name and the direction of the podcast.
What people don’t know: much like Destiny’s Child. we originally had four members of the podcast, but he unfortunately drank Michelob Ultra on one of first few recordings and, as we morphed from sports and bourbon talk to strictly bourbon, he bowed out.
Since launching in 2019 we have gone on quite the journey and grown a large following. We have been mentioned alongside some of the best podcast in whiskey such as Whiskey Cast, Dads Drinking Bourbon, and Bourbon Pursuit, which I never thought would happen. As we know, with some popularity comes opportunities.
Enter Shared Pour, who reached out about creating the best single barrel program for whiskey enthusiasts, and they wanted to partner with us along with several other great whiskey enthusiasts such as Chad and Sarah from It’s Bourbon Night, Jay from Take Reviews, and Greg from Bourbon Finds. It was a no-brainer for us as well as an exclusive opportunity that we all wanted to be a part of.
Malt: Is there a selection process to determine which distillery gets picked?
Jake: There is and there isn’t. Starlight, for instance: we know the Huberts well. They have more of a handshake agreement, which is becoming more formal by the moment, as they have grown in popularity. Allocated picks, such as our 1792 pick: it was luck of the draw on single barrel day in 2021, and we won. We have continued to partner with brands that approach us, that we appreciate, to help them gain awareness and collaborate with Shared Pour to help distribution to many different states they may not be in!
Malt: Who is involved when doing the selections?
Jake: Scott and I have been involved in every pick besides Penelope, which I blended on my own while getting ready for the World’s Top Whiskey Taster finals. We have invited our Patreon members to the picks as well, which creates a great experience for those who engage and support us through our journey.
Malt: What methodology is used when doing picks? Is it a group consensus, or a single person who makes final decisions?
Jake: We keep it pretty simple; we take our nosing notes and share around and rank the samples one through however many we have, and then we do the same thing for the tasting notes. We combine the score to get the most objective pick. Pretty simple, but we want to find expressions that are out-of-this-world amazing, or what we deem the best expression is for that particular pour.
Malt: What made you pick Starlight? Was bourbon or rye a deciding factor, and was type of finish?
Jake: Ted, Christian, and Blake are like family to the Bourbon Lens. We connected early on right before the pandemic and just hit it off. I think that one of the best things about whiskey is the relationships you create, and we don’t take that for granted. We went there to pick our first pick in March of 21’ and wanted to do a finished Bourbon which we did which was a Sauternes Finished Bourbon, but while we were there Christian mentioned a little project with rye and VDN that was nestled in the far corner of the rickhouse. I tried it and was wowed. Though we weren’t looking for a second barrel that day, we found one that, 12 months later, would be one of the most unique ryes I have drank.
Malt: What made you land on the VDN barrel finish?
Jake: Wasn’t really a plan; we got to try one of the first barrels they had and said “Can we have half?” Christian said he would ask Ted, he agreed, and we waited a long 11 months to get that bottle to market. I don’t think it disappointed those who have drank it either.
Malt: After selection, what kinds of obstacles need to be overcome to bring it to market? What makes that process different from traditional retailers?
Jake: The biggest obstacle of 2021 was supply chain; glass and label shortages made this particular release get delayed many times throughout this process. We thought this would be in market in September of 2021… well, it came out in March of 2022. Things happen, and you have to roll with the punches.
Malt: Do you involve any subscribers in selection process?
Jake: We do, in the top tier of our Patreon we allow those members to join us for picks in person, or virtually if we are sent samples. One of our contributors has been on two picks with us, both at Starlight.
Malt: Do you feel, as “influencers,” that your selections are scrutinized more than those of other retailers
Jake: Yes and no. I think people comes to respect us because we tell a story along with the liquid you have in front of you. I believe we must be humbled by the opportunity and, just like anything else, it could have positive or negative feedback. We have to roll with it.
Malt: Having Patreon members, what fraction or your selections are allotted for them, and what is left for the public to purchase?
Jake: We always give our Patreon members first crack. They get three-day early access; what they don’t buy goes to our mailing list members, and the following day it goes public. All of ours has gone public, but I don’t think that will always be the case.
Malt: Have you ever had any bottles left after a selection, and what happens if product remains?
Jake: We work closely with Shared Pour to push the product. We expect everything to sell out within a month. If not, we work with our other partners at Shared Pour to push the bottles.
Malt: What would you or your crew like to say about Bourbon Lens, and how you make selections that they might not have known prior?
Jake: I think our goal is to help tell the brand’s story. If we believe so much in them, we want to bring it to market to have as many people as possible try it!
Malt: Is there any thought of possibly creating a sourced blend and bringing it to market?
Jake: Never say never, but right now: heck no. We are a podcast and don’t want to get into much more than telling a story and the occasional barrel pick, even though right now we have two in market. They will slow down in the summer for sure!
Thanks to Jake for sharing his time to give me a look behind the microphone.
This Starlight rye whiskey is five years old and have been finished in a VDN barrel. It is 104.8 proof (52.4% ABV) and was purchased through Sharedpour.com for $69.99.
So, with that being said, let’s get into a glass!
Starlight Rye Whiskey VDN Barrel Finish (Bourbon Lens Selection) – Review
Color: Carmel with amber accent.
On the nose: I am initially welcomed by red licorice and rye bread, red apples that have been stewed in mulling spices, and clove with a rich caramel drizzle. Further sniffing reveals a pleasant sweet black tea that has been mingled with spearmint and orange zest. I’m pleased with the sweetness of this rye on the nose. It invited me to drink, to try to unlock additional notes.
In the mouth: The orange punches first, with the tip of the tongue being hit with its initial sweetness. The black tea is also present in the mouth, with the addition with clove and black peppercorns providing some spice and heat. The spiciness adds a nice tongue-numbing quality that offsets the sweetness and adds complexity. At midpalate, the rye presents itself as a green hay, but quickly runs into the finish as a lingering tannic oak.
I enjoyed this particular barrel from the Bourbon Lens guys. I like how well the rye is balanced with the VDN finish. I feel that the extra time in the barrel gave this particular rye a much-needed oakiness to offset its sweetness. I think that VDN as a finish is a more subtle touch than the curaçao finishing that I have had previously in other picks. I feel this one hits the mark and would be something I would land on if I did the pick. With that being said, I give this an extra mark in the positive column due to the extra age in the barrel, and its ability to tone down the otherwise abrasive orange notes that can present themselves.