Many folks covet these labels and go to great lengths to score them at retail for personal consumption. But what goes into selecting a good barrel? Today I'll explore some of my personal experiences with my favorite flavor profiles for each of these, as well as the actual tasting notes for an upcoming set of barrels slated to be released at Liquor Junction. If any of these sound up your alley, make sure you go ahead at support their barrel program, as I'm sure these will get put up on their punch list. I'd like to thank Liquor Junction for letting both Derek and myself participate in this selection process as part of the Mass Bourbon Alliance group, but I reserve the right to have my own honest opinions that I share here with you, my dear reader. Let's get into the process, shall we?
As an introduction to how I go about tasting through these, I always try to drink low proof to high proof, so we will start with the 90° Eagle Rare selection, then move into the 93° Blanton's pick, and finish up with the Weller Full Proof which clocks in at 114°. If you have the time and patience, I'd wholeheartedly suggest only doing one of the barrel picks each day. When you have multiple options on the table it really helps to be slow, methodical and patient. The big reason for drinking low proof to high is so that your palate doesn't go blind. Going from 114 back down to 90 will seem like a pretty big step down in flavor volume, so if you have to do multiple picks at once - remember: low to high.
Now how about the tasting part? Taste thoughtfully. You're not here to get drunk. Dig out the nuances. Challenge yourself to find things you don't like. If there's anything egregious - don't put your name on it. There's also a bit of an X factor that most people forget about... A lot of these releases aren't for the whiskey nerd or tasting connoisseur. You have to pick for them too, but most of the barrel is likely going to go to folks who don't taste regularly and explore nuanced differences barrel to barrel. Their compass only points towards either thumbs up or thumbs down, so make sure you don't lose sight of that. Complex whiskeys might not make sense to someone who is perhaps used to a shelfer version of the same product ... looking at you Blanton's. You really want these to feel familiar, but special enough to justify hunting down that particular single barrel pick. Overall I want something that is going to be approachable and it needs to have its own vibe. I usually get excited about parallels or thought-provocations like "oh my goodness, that tastes just like a Werther's". That's the billboard note that everyone should be able to find. More layers of tiramisu, crème brûlée and cherry skins behind it for those of us who want to sit and explore a pour? Even better. Explore all the samples with enough time for both the nose and the palate to open up and evolve. What didn't seem exciting in the first 30 seconds might have improved. Regardless, have fun with it too. This is a really unique opportunity that most people don't get to have. Now let's get into some tasting notes for those upcoming barrels I teased! At the end of each mini-review here I will put what sort of flavors or experiences I want to find on each of these distinct labels.
Eagle Rare Single Barrel Select
Company on Label: Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1 (Low Rye < 10%)
Age: 10 year age stated, though if I interpret the lot information correctly this barrel was aged 11 years
Further identification: This Eagle Rare barrel is #235 from rick house location I-2-47, lot 12-E-25
Nose: Bright, bubbly and full bodied for 90 proof. I find leather, spiced plum and cherry on first inhale. There's elegant stone fruit all throughout here alongside touches of cinnamon. Lovely layers that come across much bolder than the alcohol content would normally present ebb out of the glass. Late in the glass things settle down into simple waves of confectioners sugar.
Palate: Classic cherry notes present bright and bubbly like a maraschino in a carbonated cocktail. The mouth coating is oily and thorough. Plum and raisin add subtle texture to an easy sipping glass. Blackberry is a fun surprise late. Overall the pour reminds me of cinnamon raisin bread. The finish carries viscous caramel for days.
This is a pick that is almost guaranteed to be a cherry bomb. If it's not... There's something wrong. I'm usually looking for depth here, like with most things. Anything more than a few notes and I'll be satisfied. The backbone needs to be a high quality cherry, like a sweet maraschino which this pick nails. Overall I don't find myself reaching for these picks too often, but they really shine as a hot Summer day sip. Enjoy this one however you like; it's an incredible value for such a high age statement. With Eagle Rare barrels I'm looking for crush-factor. Do I want to keep coming back to this? The viscous mouth coating on this lasts just long enough that I do find myself looking forward to the next sip. Good flavors in the linger mean this provides maximal enjoyment without worrying about getting too saucy.
Blanton's Single Barrel Select
Company on Label: Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Type: Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #2 (Higher Rye 12-15%)
Age: NAS, though if I interpret the lot information correctly this barrel was aged 6.5 years
Further identification: This Blanton's barrel is #190 from rick house location H-3-15, lot 17-A-10
Nose: Ooh baby - this has some depth to it. Funky, dusty oak jumps out of the glass first for me. A warm apple pie aroma grows slowly in intensity. Okay the warm apple pie is legit and it is here to stay; soft layers of cinnamon and nutmeg complete the profile of the apple pie straight out of the oven. Slowly this wonderful profile fades to black pepper, malt and chocolate late in the glass. Funky caramel notes kind of remind me a bit of the typical Weller profile. The empty glass is easy and soft with cut up slices of Granny Smith apple.
Palate: This one is sneaky... Where is the proof?! All flavor with no bite, just how we like our Blanton's, right? Holy smokes, but actually... This comes off with so many apple layers to it. There's subtle traces of booziness, but it's always behind something. I get an appletini kind of profile with hefty oak. The glass slowly evolves towards a pear liqueur as I sip further. I find sweet notes alongside it like those sugar coated watermelon candies. I dig the simplicity here actually because it does a few notes really really well. Appley through and through, I find myself sipping quick due to the shorter finish.
This is your ultimate sipping whiskey. It's my favorite sharing whiskey. Whenever I have friends or family over that don't normally drink whiskey - this is what I pour for us. Given that is the expectation - I am going for approachability more often than not on these. Most of the barrel is going to go to folks who enjoy sipping a few of these down without having to think about it too much. So first and foremost, this needs to be an easy sipper. If by chance the barrel also has some deep layers with flavors and aromas that jive with my palate, I'll definitely gravitate towards it. But always remember this one is for approachability. That doesn't have to mean muted - you can be both flavorful and ... dare I say it... smooth. This barrel is definitely one I can see myself sharing with my dad. It's an easy choice to pick up given that Liquor Junction always charges at, near or even sometimes below MSRP when it's available. It may 'cost' punches, but those are quite easy to come by when the picks in general are this good.
Weller Full Proof Single Barrel Select
Company on Label: Buffalo Trace
Whiskey Type: Wheated Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: Buffalo Trace Wheated Mash Bill
Age: NAS, though if I interpret the lot information correctly this should be aged just shy of 7 years
Further identification: This Weller Full Proof barrel is #288 from rick house location M-4-58, lot 16-H-15
Nose: Gobs of cherry proliferate on the early nose immediately after pouring. Creamy aromas part quickly revealing a deep leather note and a vibrant, textured nose-feel. Woof - this thing is bold! Barrel funk jumps up bright, right out of the glass and into the back of my sinuses. Vanilla bean ice cream can just barely be made out behind a wall of leather, black pepper and dusty oak. This has one of the deepest and most memorable nosing experiences that I can remember on a Weller release. A swirl of the glass levels things out; caramel and sugar cookie notes swing in like a classic nod from an old friend. Later in the glass the stone fruit begin to bubble up from below the waves of oak. It begins dark and brooding like blackstrap molasses before opening to plum pudding, luxardo cherry and fig. Creamy vanilla tones ooze out of the cool corners of the glass once some of the heavier notes volatize off. Then suddenly the cycle starts over again as I am back in the land of leather and oak. What a wonderful transformation this glass goes through. Let's have a sip.
Coming back from a sip shows off fruit gummy notes that I love. Late in the glass things turn very bright; vanilla, black pepper and heavy oak produce a medley that makes me think this one could be quite highly aged. This one is sneeze-worthy on long inhales. Woah. Maple. Maple syrup and maple wood showed up late in the glass in troves. Maple syrup, bacon and pancakes immediately shoot across my mind. Yum. The empty glass smells of lovely cherry pie and light, fruity tobacco. An unbelievable experience through and through.
Palate: From the start my tongue is immediately coated in bright red berry syrup. Maraschino cherry, spiced plum, and cranberry juice are subtle nuances to the sweet profile that is presented. Another sip builds in subtleties of confectioners sugar, Belgian waffle and raspberry tart. A long sip and swish builds in a touch of heat beneath the cherry notes that ultimately boil over into softer levels below. Chocolate and raspberry mix well together before evolving into black forest cake elegance. The linger is solid here, but offers little in the way of a persistent mouth coating. Late in the glass I find vanilla yogurt and a slightly tannic syrah profile. A slow sipper will be rewarded with tumultuous waves of barrel funk. This is a great sipper at MSRP.
These picks can be so incredibly hit or miss. I have had a few that have clearly rocked my world and been head and shoulders above some much more expensive releases, and probably dozens that were just 'fine sippers'. They often lack complexity, so that is exactly what I am looking for when I go after a barrel to put my own name (or the Mass Bourbon Alliance logo) on. Notes that I am a fan of on these are things like butterscotch, deep cherry, plum, and leather. Textures I chase are creamy, viscous, oily caramel mouth coatings. On the finish I expect long undulations given the proof without being overbearingly hot. This pick checked most of those boxes with a truly incredible nose that outshines 2021 William Larue Weller by many paces, which I put into the mix to have a frame of reference. The classic cherry note of Weller is here in spades, but nuanced between the nose and palate. The nose screams rich luxardo, but the palate soothes in sweet maraschino. It's a nice dichotomy here that some may not celebrate, but I certainly will. The complexity of the nose is unsurpassed, but the palate does admittedly lack the depth I really crave. I don't think that is going to be a deal breaker for anyone purchasing this - I'm just wicked picky when it comes to Weller. The nose alone is worth the price of admission for me.
That's it 'til next time! Thanks for hanging around. Let me know down in the comments if you've ever had the pleasure of picking barrels from Buffalo Trace Distillery. Cheers!