Review: Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11

Barrell Bourbon Batch 11

Limited edition releases are all the rage today. What was once designated only to the fall and winter months is now a year-long schedule of various limited release whiskeys.

So, it should not surprise us when a company declares that its entire product line will be solely comprised of limited edition release whiskeys.

Enter the Barrell Bourbon company (despite its name, Barrell Bourbon also releases American whiskey, rye, and rum).

Barrell Bourbon is a young company, just a few years old. As you might suspect based on its youth, it sources its whiskey. Though it does not disclose the exact source, the company does disclose the state of origin (which, in the case of any state other than Kentucky, is usually a dead giveaway).

So – what makes Barrell Bourbon unique in a market suddenly flooded with young companies sourcing their whiskey from major distilleries? For Barrell Bourbon, it is a combination of embracing the “limited release” marketing strategy and focusing on high-quality blending.

The company releases its product in numbered batches. Each batch is unique – containing a particular blend of various barrels of certain mash bills and ages. For its bourbons, every batch is released at cask strength. And fully embracing the limited edition strategy, no batches are duplicated. Only about 900-1,000 cases for each batch are released. And once it’s gone, it’s gone.

While Barrell Bourbon has enjoyed a positive response in its first few years, it may have already gotten its first big break.

At this past year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition, Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11, in major upset fashion, beat out heavyweight Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel for first place bourbon.

Lest you think that this was the result of some sort of conspiracy to promote and up-and-coming brand, Fred Minnick had this to say:

Best Bourbon was a two glass race—38, Small Batch winner, vs. 42, Single Barrel winner. And this really came down to personal preference for the judges. I felt 42 presented the best if you were seeking the most traditional bourbon flavor. Think caramel bomb with a complex and nuanced nutmeg; and if that’s your bag, 42 was your clear-cut winner. But something special was in 38. Its complexity, an ultra marzipan note and the general mouthfeel, tingling every inch and tickling the lips. Knowing how my colleagues vote, I didn’t think 38 would win.

I was wrong.

Glass 38 won Best Bourbon over 42, Blanton’s “Straight from the Barrel.” And when I learned 38’s identity, I can say it’s the greatest Bourbon upset in this competition’s history.

In a blind tasting, being sampled by some of the most well-known bourbon critics around the country, Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11 prevailed.

Scott, Jay, and Chris recently obtained and sampled a bottle of Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11. Their tasting notes are below:

Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11 (6-year blend of bourbon sourced from an undisclosed distillery in Tennessee; mash bill 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley; 114.8 proof) 

Nose:  Right out of the unopened bottle, there is a tone of char/charcoal, which smells like Dickel. This tamed a bit sitting in the glass. Then it transitioned to peanut brittle, almond, kettle corn, earthy notes,  toasted marshmallow, and bananas.

Palate:  Everything marries together amazingly.  It drinks lower than 114 proof.  It’s almost hard to pick out individual flavors because they are so well balanced. It is very creamy, with flavors of caramel, floral, toasted marshmallow, mineral, and white pepper.

Finish:  Incredibly balanced; very floral. There is oak with deep and rich caramel; almond and some peanut brittle; a bit of white pepper spice at the very end; some lingering banana. This lingers for some time and is very pleasing.

Scott, Jay, and Chris’s overall take:  No comment that this is hot.  It’s not. It’s amazing. It’s not a flavor bomb by any means.  It’s a definition of balanced.  It’s really good.  We’re shocked it won over Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel, but its tameness is in stark contrast to other barrel proof bourbons.  The nose is a disappointment, but the palate and finish are not.

So, time to climb aboard the hype train, right? Maybe. Maybe not.

The funny thing about a blind tasting is that it reveals the most critical component of the whole experience: subjectivity.

Scott and I often swap blind samples. It’s a fun way to develop the palate and explore which flavors are preferred.

Unbeknownst to me, I was recently given a blind sample of Barrell Bourbon Batch No. 11. I had read Fred Minnick’s article and the outcome in San Francisco. I had already started alerting store managers in Wichita to request Batch 11 from their distributors. But, I’d never sampled it.

My blind tasting notes are below:

Nose: Strong oak that dominates any other aroma. Some raw grain beneath it. The oak leads me to believe this is at least 4 years old, and possibly significantly older than that. But it is not a particularly pleasant nose, to say the least.

Palate: Much hotter than the nose indicated. Strong oak as was present in the nose; a bit of leather; some earthy notes; light charcoal. Mouthfeel is on the thinner side.

Finish: Medium long. By far the best part of the experience. The heat lingers for a while. It finishes a bit dry.

I left about half of the pour in my glass when I texted these notes to Scott. After he revealed what it was, I let it continue to rest for another 30 minutes. This helped dissipate the heat considerably, and revealed some of the toasted marshmallow/peanut notes. But, I still was at a loss for picking up any of the sweet or floral notes. And I still would not have found its balance particularly praiseworthy.

So, should I feel stupid for not falling in love with this? Should the other guys feel as if their experience was possibly tainted by hype or internal biases?

Even if it means we have to finish the rest of the bottle, I’m willing to find out.

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