“You always won every time you placed a bet. You’re still damn good, no one’s gotten to you yet.” – Bob Seger
There are a few things I can still count on in this whiskey world. Whiskey folks love to share their whiskey. One of Malt’s occasional contributors is Ryan, a certified bourbon steward and enthusiast who loves to share his samples with the writers here at Malt. Ryan and I have both bonded over the hits that have come from Barrell and most notably our love of Seagrass, which I reviewed here.
Here is another thing that I’ve come to learn: never scoff at three whiskeys finished in three casks if it comes from Barrell. From any other brand we would right to write off such a monstrosity as a blend that needed to be saved, a ghastly finish that needed to be mixed with something else. Not so with Barrell.
Here is how Barrell describes Vantage and how it is created:
“Vantage is a blend of straight bourbons finished in three distinct expressions of virgin oak: Mizunara, French, and toasted American oak casks. The result is a warm, elegant bourbon that highlights the many dimensions of oak.”
I will admit that last year the Mizunara craze gave me that fear of missing out. I was intrigued by Taconic and Angels Envy who released Mizunara finishes. Still, I never got the chance to try either one. So, here I was presented with an opportunity to get some of that Mizunara mania in a blend from a bottler I could trust… and at a decent price. Thus, I went on the hunt.
Both Ryan and I were itching to see who could get their hands on Vantage first. Ryan won the duel this time and he shared a sample with me. I thought it was only fitting we should do a co-review together. Truly in this experience we could learn that one man’s fruitcake is another man’s plum… or something like that. Onto the review!
Barrell Vantage – Matt’s Review
Color: Hazel leaves in autumn.
On the nose: Fruitcake! It’s still Halloween. I am totally engrossed in PSL (Pumpkin Spice Latte) season but this is taking me straight to Christmas. I also mean this in the most positive way possible. Plum and apricot are caked in something here. Side note: I once had fruit cake for the first time as an adult in my 20s and it wasn’t awful. It was actually quite enjoyable, as this nose is.
In the mouth: The sweetness is a touch short. It is here where your barrels really fight for attention. French oak and Mizurana take center stage. Woodiness abound in a unique way where it announces itself as wood… then pauses for a second to decide what it wants to be. Now, please do not mistake this as being tannic. It is a pure wood sensation. Almost like a fresh cedar toothpick before it gives way to a light cinnamon and nutmeg finish. Not quite gingerbread, but perhaps I’m still stuck on that fruitcake nose. My experience with French oak in my beloved Makers Mark series is that it can have a drying effect and it certainly does here, unless that is the influence of the Mizunara cask as well.
Barrell has become that gold medal gymnast or figure skater that tells you what they are about to do in their program and they not only accomplish it, but nail it. It’s like playing a basketball game of H-O-R-S-E with someone who not only calls the ridiculous shot; but makes it time and time again. Mizunara was a hot commodity last year. We saw a few distilleries come out with whiskey that was just dedicated to that being the primary finish. Barrell does things differently and for that I applaud them.
My score started at a 6 and the mystery of which finish influenced which note brought me back sip after sip. Each time I went back trying to dissect both the flavors and which wood was responsible for it. For veteran whiskey drinkers it will be a fun “whodunnit” and, for those that are new to game, you are assured you are drinking something put together with thought and mastery.
Now to Ryan A, who shared his thoughts as generously as he shares his samples:
Barrell Vantage – Ryan’s Review
On the nose: Plum and fig with honey, present a welcoming first dive into this glass. Orange peel and cobbler crust intermingle with a warm toasted oak to provide balance to the fruit components. Coconut sprinkled with nutmeg come out after further nosing.
In the mouth: At the tip of the tongue toasted turbinado sugars and vanilla crème rush to great me as if I was starting to eat a crème brûlée. The toasted oak presents mid palate and takes charge of flavors as well as some rye spiciness and cinnamon. The citrus begins finish as the toasted oak rides takes this finish a long way to the goal line. The viscous mouthfeel on this whiskey help to hide the 114.44 proof, as this does not drink ethanol forward.
This is a solid new release for the Barrell lineup. I paid $79.99 on the Barrell retail website when this was first released, and feel that my score reflects the value and quality that is present in the glass. With three different wood finishes and the added aspect of blending them to make a cohesive whiskey, this hits a good mark for something special in one’s bar. I feel that the argument of there being better whiskey at that price is somewhat valid, but when speaking to a barrel strength, multiple finished product, this feels on target.
I am more than happy to team up with my man Matt on this joint tasting. I hope that it shows how differently people taste bourbons, and how we can have great discussions about what each other finds. The best part of the fellowship of bourbon is, that there is no right or wrong answer on different points of view. I feel the only way to become a better taster in general is being opened to learning what others experience and apply that to your own to compare.
Thanks again Matt for the opportunity and cheers!
Images courtesy of Barrell.