Remember when Weird Al told you in his VH1 special that he got concerned that he was covering Michael Jackson songs too much? Luckily for him, Madonna came along and – luckily for us – so did “Like a Surgeon.”
It happens to us here at Malt. Sometimes I worry about covering one brand too often. The issue came about for me last year when I ran into another intriguing Barrell offering. I had already mentioned them a lot in my reviews. Joe and the team at Barrell continue to put out products that deliver in the taste and imagination categories.
You might have read my ravings about samples of wine finishes that would easily garner 7/10 and 8/10 scores from me on this site. Without the bottle and lacking the ability to visit something two or three times, it’s hard for me to deliver such a score. Sometimes I will use a sample and be able to spread it out to three separate tastings, but with a Barrell product I find it almost impossible. They really do create these immensely drinkable experiments that are unique enough that you want to explore every liquid ounce in one sitting, to understand how it is possible you’ve never tasted anything like it before.
So, I faced a conundrum last summer when I first tasted Seagrass. I posted my first impressions of it on Instagram and pleaded everyone to run out and get it. I got a cavalcade of appreciation messages confirming that it truly was good.
Still, I held off on a review. After all, I like rye whiskey but consider myself an afficionado of bourbon first and finished whiskies second. Rye is a distant third for me. Am I the right type of person to give this a fair review?
Sometimes when I’m perplexed and don’t believe how good a whiskey is I will share samples with friends and co-workers. Several came back exclaiming how much they enjoyed it.
Tommy G (name abbreviated to protect the innocent) is a whiskey fan and co-worker. He is an exquisite cook with a solid palate… at least, I would think so since his food is visually mouth-watering. He came back to me with a message after I shared a sample with him, describing it as “excellent.”
I needed to write this review. What was I waiting for?
Then: BOOM! Fred Minnick sings the praises of Seagrass. Well, no reason for me to do this review now! I love Fred, but his recommendations move mountains. My one extra review of Seagrass was probably worthless at this point. At least I had the video evidence on Instagram to show that I was early on the Seagrass bandwagon.
In fact, I might get flak for even writing this, but: if anything, Malt allows you to read these articles to follow our journeys. How we enjoy whiskey. How we think about whiskey. How we write about whiskey. How we evolve with whiskey.
When one thinks about the Barrell brand story, it is a remarkable one. You can look up their history in my earlier review on the Barrell A41K . Barrell had come on to the scene and really proven their worth with spectacular single barrel whiskies. You truly got a sense that these were no-nonsense whiskey folks dedicated to finding the world’s best whiskies.
Then, they transitioned. More and more finishes came. Now we have finished ryes. This might make a whiskey consumer roll their eyes, but should it be a surprise that the folks who picked award-winning whiskies were able to create amazing finished ones as well?
Save your comments on spirits competitions. I don’t believe in them either, but it is worth noting that when Barrell won the best Bourbon at the San Francisco competition in 2020, a lot of people wanted to see the follow up act. Quite the encore it has been, indeed.
The only surprise should come when one stops to think of the imagination involved. Take Seagrass, for instance.
Sometimes with a secondary barrel finish, it feels as though companies are throwing anything at the wall. Had this come from a newer brand, it would be very easy to dismiss this as an attempt to fix a mistake. The question one would ask is: which screwed up which first? And what was the third magic finish that fixed it?
Rum is something that sends me running. Early in my whiskey collecting I did a lot of home blending. I really wanted to create a blend of rum and bourbon that would be palatable to those friends of mine that find the wood in whiskey to be unpleasant. Heresy! I know. The one thing I found is that a drop of rum needs a gallon of bourbon to cover it up.
So, now that Barrell has decided to go even sweeter by incorporating apricot brandy barrels, I was intrigued. Would the spice provided by a rye provide enough balance? The sugar in rum dominates our corn-forward friend bourbon, but a rye – with its spice and floral properties – might be a delightful dancing partner.
Barrell Seagrass – Review
119.3 Proof (59.65% ABV). $79.99
On the Nose: Apple pie. Rye spice hanging out in the back. Each sniff will reward you with a new fruity front with that constant rye spice backdrop.
In the mouth: Orange marmalade, a swirl of peach cream, and even a hint of carrot cake. While this seems like an overly sweet treat, it isn’t. The flavors come and go. They fade into each other in a wonderful medley. The fruit bouquet continues as the apricot and apple appear at the end in a crescendo showcasing the brandy finish. This might be an overused term in the whiskey-world, but it drinks slick. You don’t notice the viscosity until you’ve taken in a healthy but delicious amount.
Barrell Seagrass 16 Year – Review
Bottle #097. 16 years old. 130.82 proof (65.41% ABV). $249.99
On the nose: The apricot I once knew in the finish has appeared on the nose. I know of no reason why this would be, but I get more wood. Indeed, the old, creaky wood in a historic Chicago three flat might smell like this as you climb up the steps. A waft of allspice preps you for what might be a spicier experience.
In the mouth: Little nips are bursts of wood, maple, and sharp pink peppercorns. The peppercorns continue to pop. A faint maple syrup backdrop serves as the foundation. A little orange marmalade we once knew in the younger version makes an appearance but the spices dance upon palate like fireworks. The mouthfeel is faint. No building richness that I found in the younger counterpart and it is missed.
Indeed, Barrell deserves all the accolades for creating these unique whiskeys, ones that truly stand out with flavor profiles all their own. The 16-year gray label would be right alongside the more cost-efficient sibling in terms of score, but they it is a victim of its sister’s success. While the 16 year is great, I cannot justify the price tag when I know I can get two bottles of the regular Seagrass with change to spare.