Well the heavy hitters have entered the ring! Bourbon barrel finished stouts (and now stout finished bourbons) always have a place in my heart. I've loved the Black Belle ever since my fellow Spirit Animal Society founders @_LostNemo_ and @SaxyBourbon introduced me to it. Their casks both earned solid 5/5 scores from me. I'm now lucky enough to own a bottle thanks to a kind soul named Jamey Harlan who offered it up to me at cost. It came in handy for this comparison and I love sharing it with folks who haven't tried it. When James Saunders first said there was a possibility of a Lord Hobo stout finished bourbon, I was immediately interested. We knew this would be a great local story through and through... Well when @bourbondipity_ and I get together for a @MassBourbonAlliance barrel pick, we historically come out with two when we find the whiskey is as good as NEBCo is putting out.
Pick details: The base bourbon was dumped and in went Lord Hobo’s 2021 Godmother Imperial Stout. The stout was aged in the barrel for 4 months and then bottled. The bourbon was then re-barreled for 3.5 months of finishing in the stout-laden oak. NEBCO only did a handful of these barrels and ours will be the only one in the Northeast.
We had a blast with the NEBCo crew and were also glad to have two of the Lord Hobo guys join us for an awesome afternoon of tasting and laughs.
This NEBCo pick will be available (hopefully) by the end of February at a Liquor Junction near you! For now, enjoy the sneak peak.
Some extra info on the Black Belle as well:
For our 3rd and final selection of the 2020 Craftsman Cask Collection we are proud to announce the return of the Black Belle. This annual collaboration with Blackstone Brewery in Nashville, TN is the one that started it all.
In 2017 we released one barrel of this remarkable beer barrel finished Bourbon and it set the internet on fire. It gave us the idea that trying our hand at other experimental finishes might be fun and thus the Craftsman Cask Collection was born. In 2018, we released three barrels of “Black Belle,” and three more in 2019 and once again, it was a hit.
This year’s Belle Meade "Black Belle" Bourbon is aged for a minimum of 9 years and then finishes its aging for an additional 1 year and 11months inside of Imperial Stout barrels from Blackstone Brewing in Nashville Tennessee.
Once we dump the initial barrels, we send them to Blackstone Brewing where they then fill them with their Black Belle Imperial Stout. This 10.2% ABV stout is infused with cocoa nibs and rests in the used Bourbon barrels for 7 months. After Blackstone Brewing dumps the barrel, they send them back to us and we fill it again with 9-year-old Bourbon and let it rest for an additional 1 year and 11 months. The result is a robust Bourbon with chocolate and stout notes that smooth the palate, lengthen the finish, and bring even more complexity to the already stellar whiskey.
New England Barrel Company Lord Hobo Godmother Imperial Stout Finished Single Barrel Bourbon
Company on Label: New England Barrel Company
Whiskey Type: Finished Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 75% Corn, 21% Rye, and 4% Malted Barley
Age: 3 Years (11 months and 14 days... basically 4 years!)
Further identification: This is barrel 17-41 selected personally from NEBCo in early 2022
Belle Meade Black Belle Imperial Stout Finished Bourbon
Company on Label: Nelson's Green Brier Distillery
Whiskey Type: Finished Bourbon
Mash Bill Percentages: 64% Corn, 30% Rye, and 6% Malted Barley
Age: 9 Years
Further identification: This spent an extra 1 year and 11 months in the Black Belle barrels
NEBCo Stout Finished Single Barrel Bourbon
Nose: Chocolate sweets! Christmas cookies, leather and coffee on my first nosing. Creamy nose feel with a bit of shiny, shimmering effervescence. Quite powerful on the nose after a long introduction rest in my glencairn. Crème brûlée beats against a solid door of oak, begging to bring in some more sweetness. At the start it is quite dark and moody, much like the air a rich stout gives off. Candied molasses and maple sugar dance in the glass. There's a tiny bit of Spring florals that are trying to also poke out from under the heavy blanket of milk chocolate and coffee beans. Oooh, suddenly the nose turns frothy, like the foam atop a cup of espresso. Sweet lemon butter cookies is an exciting extra layer. The oak is level, but ever-surrounding on this one. It reminds me of sitting in an old pub with a lot of wood furnishings. Continuously silky nose-feel on this is really nice. On a resting glass some light cereal and rolled oat aromas can be lifted off the surface, but they are incredibly faint in intensity. I'm really struck by how many wood aromas are floating through this now - it's more than just oak; there's some cedar and birch bark mixed in there too. Digging through this on deeper inhales reveals a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream with a solidified hot fudge dipped crust.
Time for a sip!
Dark chocolate now that the nose has evolved some and the palate has opened up my senses a bit more. There's a nougat undertone that reminds me of a chocolate bar loaded with almonds, hazelnut and a crunch of toffee at the end. Slightly dry cake notes float over the surface of this glass and mystify the experience a bit. Digging further there is a bright paper note that quickly dissolves into the lovely oak base. The empty glass smells of molasses, warm Summer pavement, graham cracker, strawberry shortcake, and just a hint of oak-laden banana foster.
Palate: Oh yeah. I'm immediately reminded of why we selected this barrel. Rich caramel candy mouth feel with a long milk chocolate and toasted vanilla linger. There's a thick, rich mouth feel to this one that carries lemon peel, troves more milk chocolate and raspberry tinged macchiato. There's an incredible amount of parallels between these glasses so far. A sip of water before going back in on this glass made the raspberry flavor really pronounced here. Lots of good cap'n crunch flavors throughout this. My last sip is marked with barbecue brown sugar, tiramisu, pie crust, Crunch bar, and a long linger of bakery sweets.
Belle Meade Black Belle Stout Finished Bourbon
Nose: Woah, a lot of butterscotch and rye spice on this one. It smells almost like the delicious Willett citrus aroma I love so much. If I were blinded to what this was I might make that guess. I love it; it sizzles on the nose like a flame of lemon sweetness. Cinnamon hots, plum and a bit of raspberry jump out of this glass. This is punchy at this proof for sure. I get a lot of the same chocolate and coffee bean notes on this as I did on the NEBCo pick, but this smells significantly hotter! Where the NEBCo pick has a lot of sweet confectionary dessert flavors, this one brings the fruit. This is likely the big difference between the base whiskies themselves and not the stout finishing additions. I'm impressed at how equal the notes that I am thinking are attributed to the finishing are between the two.
Okay, it's drinking time. I've had a long week...
Wow, yeah the fruit just builds and builds on this pour the more you get into it. The nose is ripe with dark berries all the way through. Plum, orange, and a light citrus wooliness that reminds me of cashmere. Delectable! Woah the floral bits build into a bit of a synthetic perfume smell when they coagulate into one clump of aromas. The individual parts are much more fun to experience in little bites. The empty glass smells of the arts and crafts lodge at Summer Camp, silky chocolate, allspice, rye grain and just a hint of that Willett piney, lemon zest citrus note.
Palate: Plum pie with cinnamon spice and caramel lead the charge for this pour. The linger feels a bit longer on this one but the mouth coating isn't as rich and viscous. Definitely more fruit sweetness with peach cobbler, blood orange and blackberry jam. There is also a surprising sandalwood finish to this I was not expecting. Dark cherry syrup coats the palate well now and brings with it inconspicuous sweet floral tones. My last sip is really vanilla forward with funky cherry skins, strawberries & cream, and a final fond farewell to the stout chocolate and creamy espresso.
Final Ranking: Belle Meade Black Belle > NEBCo Stout Finish
But not by much! This is a true 'in-the-margins' comparison. Both whiskeys are fantastic. Tonight I enjoyed some of the sweet fruit that the Black Belle delivered just a hair more than the bakery goodness that NEBCo pick is cranking out. I'm not all that surprised that a much older whiskey with much longer finishing time was able to drum up a little more oomph, but I'm incredibly impressed with how well the NEBCo pick stands up to it. It's also worth mentioning that the Black Belle is absolutely impossible to find (especially here in MA), so for a more readily available and cost effective pour, you won't want to miss this "Dirty Work" pick when it drops! What a fun little experiment this was. For someone who is definitely ready for some higher proof pours on a weekend night, I'd have to lead with the Black Belle. On a calmer night, perhaps a weeknight, I could definitely see myself reaching for the NEBCo barrel first. If you are a fan of Belle Meade, stouts, or are open to trying really unique whiskey experiments these both are the pours for you! I'll try to update this with a link to the pick when it becomes available. In the meanwhile - enjoy the proposed bottle artwork below!