“The fame of heroes owes little to the extent of their conquests and all to the success of the tributes paid to them.” – Jean Genet
For all the lip service sporadically paid to “improving the industry” and making it a more inclusive place for underrepresented communities, the actual praxis behind such theory leaves much to be desired. At times it seems that we as an industry only highlight the incredible stories of unheralded trailblazers during a designated month. Historical figures get Bourbon Heritage Month, LGBTQ individuals get Pride Month, and women get Women’s History Month. The truth is that history is made almost every day in the whiskey world, and underrepresented communities deserve to be celebrated just as often for being at the forefront of innovation, record-setting, and even for just showing up and executing stellar work.
Now, let’s take all of that off the table and distill it down to the bare essential: executing stellar work. With this in mind, I believe you need to be made aware of Nic Christansen, if you aren’t already. Nic is the Manager of Blending Operations for Barrell Bourbon & Stellum Spirits, and I don’t want to mince words here: she represents the future of this industry. If you ask Patrick Monteleone, co-owner of Harry’s Wine and Liquor Market in Fairfield, CT, the impact that Nic has had on Barrell Bourbon was evident from day one. He told me that he noticed the quality and profile of Barrell’s core cask strength products took a turn for the better with Batch 23 and when he inquired about what might have changed, the answer was Nic Christansen.
Nic herself is almost allergic to self aggrandizement, but that’s fine when you put together robust flavorful blends capable of speaking for themselves. I asked her about her start at Barrell and she told me, “Batch 22 is the first batch I was there for but when I started I was running the single barrel program, so I wasn’t technically on the blending team right away. But I did quickly get to work with Joe (Beatrice) and Tripp (Stimson), learn the ropes, and start tasting right away. The three of us work together with Will Shragis, who comes in when he can, and we all work together from the whiteboard, to the lab, to tasting together to figure out where we want products to go.”
Reading between the lines, it’s clear to see how valuable Barrell’s Founder and their Chief Whiskey Scientist believe Nic’s palate to be. It was clear to Patrick Monteleone as well, and so he reached out to the brand because he had a crazy idea – one I touched on in the opening of this piece – what if he could put together a series of releases that wasn’t just special for the liquid itself, but also went a step further in recognizing women in the industry who deserve particular praise? Thus the Women of Whiskey series was born, with the bottle I’ll be reviewing today; “Nic’s Pick” as the inaugural entrant. Patrick told me the story of how he conceptualized the idea of this series but to hear about the process behind the pick, again I reached out to Nic who had this to say:
“The private release program is entirely made up of microblends that I put together, which are sold like single barrels. So I’m making a lot of these blends all the time, but never in this way. When Patrick reached out he wanted me to find a barrel that felt like it spoke to me and seemed like something I would be very proud of and he wanted to commit to the barrel without even trying it, which is something he’s never done. That changed things a little bit, because I really wanted to give him something that he would be proud of and that I would also be proud of. However, the way I worked with it was I didn’t want to force anything; I wanted to let the whiskey speak to me as I was working with it which led to me blending samples, tasting them, and combining things together to see what flavor profiles were coming out.
I really worked on and off for three to four months before figuring out what the blend was going to be. It wasn’t ‘this is what I’m going for’ it was ‘what flavor is speaking to me in this moment?’ I like to have an experience when I’m drinking. The aroma has to be really good and it has to take you on a journey as you’re sipping on it, and I know at Harry’s that’s their philosophy as well. I landed on two blends that I put together with them in mind, and then finally I landed on EO2K which became Nic’s Pick.
The thing I liked about it was that it was very viscous and juicy and rich on the mouth but you’re not necessarily expecting that as you nose it. On the first sip it comes in and takes over your whole palate and you get a lot of citrus oil/zest like tangerine but also cocoa, almonds, apricots, and then the spicy guajillo chili and red hot cinnamon at the end – but it still leaves your mouth juicy and ready for another sip.”
I’d like to thank Patrick at Harry’s for providing me with a sample of this pick. After initially trying it I made sure to grab a bottle, and I was then thrilled to speak with Nic to hear in her words how it all came together. Without further delay let’s lay out the specs of this expression then get into my notes: this Barrell Bourbon Private Release “Nic’s Pick” is a blend of 10% five year old, 30% seven year old, 40% nine year old, and 20% 16 year old bourbon and it is bottled at cask strength which is 117.16 proof (58.58% ABV) and retails for $99.
Barrell Bourbon Blend EO2K “Nic’s Pick” – Review
Color: Amber and auburn.
On the nose: I’m initially picking up the aromas of cinnamon bark, gentle rye spice, apricot, and brown sugar. Some nice citrus leaps out on the back of the apricot carrying more of an oily orange note. There’s also a rather welcome oak and roasted almond backbone that seems indicative of the older bourbon blended into this release, which gives it great nuance and a stable launching pad for the fruit-forward notes and subtle spice to launch from.
In the mouth: Fruit-forward sweetness blossoms on the tongue and comes coupled with a mouthfeel that is beautifully robust, grabbing every corner of your palate through the lingering finish. Each sip has an earthiness that’s buttressed by dark fruit, bright citrus notes, and a lively detonation of spice on the roof of the mouth. After a few sips it almost reminds me of a fried green apple pie with a heavy hand of baking spice over it; think black pepper and oregano. I say “almost,” because the fruit is too crisp to be cooked and the spice is rather vibrant as well. It’s like an explosion in slow motion that commands your attention and renders itself impossible to look away from, even as bits of apple, orange peel, and crème brulée fly by your head.
I was immediately intrigued by the fact the palate packs a ton of spice that wasn’t initially evident on the nose. True to her promise, Nic’s pick takes you on a flavor journey that’s simply uncommon in my experience. From the aromas to the actual flavor contained in each sip, you’re transported from the comfort of bright sweetness and a warm citric hug to a storm of spice that somehow all comes together and makes for one hell of voyage. Most captivating is the fact that none of these flavors fall out of balance, jettisoning your palate from one end of the spectrum to the other in a surprisingly seamless transition that is well worth the trip.
If, as monsieur Genet suggests, the fame of heroes owes all to the success of the tributes paid to them, then Nic Christansen deserves quite a bit of fame. This tribute is entirely a success.