Reviewing single barrels is a little tricky. Single barrel is just about the smallest commercially viable bottling method for a whiskey. There are smaller examples, but they aren't commonplace on liquor store shelves where most people shop. It consists of bottling the contents of an entire typically 53 gallon barrel made out of wooden staves. This is in contrast to things like batches and blends where there may be hundreds, thousands, or more gallons of whiskey mixed up together - typically for consistency for a shelf brand like Buffalo Trace. Many folks in the whiskey world know that despite all things equal, there is pretty drastic variation barrel to barrel. It will depend on things like the cooperage practices, where the barrels were stored, what style of warehouse storage, local weather and any other externalities that don't have to do with any of the precursor distillation that happens before barreling. The reason I call reviewing single barrels tricky, is there's an incredibly finite audience. Typical whiskey barrel yields after aging result in something like 180 (750mL) bottles available under that 'single barrel' designation. I've picked a barrel that had as low as 46 bottles in it.
To me, this is the ultimate 'insiders club' style whiskey. If it's unbelievable, great, but only a small subsection of our broader whiskey community is going to be able to enjoy it. Despite that, single barrel is certainly here to stay, and I do think there is value in discussing what I find out of a whiskey such as this. While it may not be your same experience that you can sip to, hum along with, or gawk at - it does highlight a whiskey distillery data point. Review enough single barrels, cross-reference those findings, and you can paint the picture of the master distiller's work.
In the late 1800's, hardworking families farming the hills of Southern Indiana grew accustomed to a flickering light in the window of a local general store. Named by a local priest who compared it to the brightest star in the sky, the small town came to be known as STARLIGHT.
Starlight Distillery has been producing great spirits since 2000 and nuanced whiskey styles since 2013. Their 80 gallon Christian Carl pot still has been hard at work through the years producing bourbon, rye, vodka, gin and blackberry whiskey. I've had the pleasure of visiting their farm several times and am always thrilled to spend time with the Huber family and their distillery team. I have picked more barrels from this distillery than anywhere else, if that means anything to you. I was not present for this single barrel pick, but this bottle was sent to me by my good friend Matt (@rarewhiskeynomad), who is an absolute champion of generosity, comradery and community. Let's dive into another example of Starlight straight bourbon picked by some of the community's best.
Company on Label: Starlight Distillery
Whiskey Type: Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: Typically a blend of Starlight's 3 & 4 grain mash (51% Corn, 20% Rye, 9% Wheat, 20% Malted Barley) and (60% Corn, 20% rye, 20% Malted Barley)
Age: 4 (and a half) years
Nose: Chocolate tones could be made out from a distance as the glass lay resting on my desk. On first joining my nose to the rim of my glencairn I find sweet cornflakes, Pirouline sticks and brown sugar. There's funky savory tones on the surface that can be wafted away with a little swirl, which releases black pepper and caramel. As I move into a sip I notice cherry skins hitting my nostrils.
Coming back I find more goopy caramel tones, pecan and walnut oil. It continues to be savory and sweet in the glass. Deep inhales show off a sugary vanilla base and cool, fresh raspberries. Late in the glass I find hints of red velvet cake alongside good barrel funk. Dark grenadine, molasses and a hint of smoke give this an older air. The empty glass smells of dark chocolate and cherry skins.
Palate: Ooh, punchy raspberry hits the palate initially before maraschino cherry and chocolate covered raisins swing in after. Another sip layers in zesty orange peel, creamed corn and angostura bitters. The linger carries a medicinal cherry cough syrup that is super interesting. There's a cereal grain medley that dances on the tongue a bit, reminding me of the farm from whence it came. A longer sip and swish adds in cool strawberries and crêpes. My goodness... Late in the glass all of the rouge-hued fruits come out. More strawberry, plum, red raspberry and cherry just dance in the mouth. My last sip is a treat with creamy iced coffee, vanilla bean ice cream and a cherry on top. The finish is on the shorter side, only leaning the observer towards reaching for another glass.
TL;DR: Sweet, punchy bourbon with its own character unlike any other
The strawberry and crêpe tones here fondly remind me of a straight bourbon pick I did early last year. I really dig Starlight straight bourbon. I know they are becoming well known for all of their crazy finishes, but the base whiskey is pretty damn good. There are some 'craft' grain notes to be found on these, but it's not in the least bit off-putting. In general, my only complaint would be that I wish I could taste this at an older age statement in the 6-8 year range.