We are not a frugal bunch when it comes to whiskey (just ask our wives). “Conservative” isn’t even a fair description. Collectively, we rarely will say no to a new release of any kind, especially something that contains the magic words, “limited edition.” Toss in a Fred Minnick “Best American Whiskey” designation and we would typically jump all over it.
But for once we didn’t, despite several opportunities to do so at suggested retail price. Why? Well, frankly, it was that suggested retail price.
In late 2018, Barrell Bourbon (who now, apparently, are calling themselves officially the Barrell Craft Spirts Company) released a new line of products – the Barrell Craft Spirits line. The 2018 edition of this line featured a 25 Year Whiskey, a 13 Year Rum, and a 15 Year Bourbon. Like all of the Barrell products, each is released at cask strength.
The 15 Year Bourbon (the product we are reviewing here) was released as a blend of Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky bourbons. At cask strength, this weighed in at 105.1 proof. It also weighed in at a price tag of around $225.
While we were interested in giving this one a try, we weren’t convinced it would justify a $225 price tag. True, a “15 year” cask strength bourbon is not common. Buffalo Trace offers one – George T. Stagg – which is perennially one of our favorite, but its suggested retail price is nearly $100 less. Wild Turkey offered one a few years back with the Wild Turkey Master’s Keep 17 Year, but it was only $150 (or less). But Barrell itself has offered several 14+ year products in its Single Barrel line, and has offered “store pick” 14+ year bourbons as well, all in the sub $100 price range. Could this new fancy silver label and a 15 Year age statement justify this new price?
For once, good conscience won over. Instead of just rushing out to buy, we decided we would try to obtain a sample, and give it a thorough review before dropping good hard cash. Thanks to Jamie Baalmann for making the happen.
Before we get to our review, here is what (we think) we know about this one. Barrell tells us this is a blend of Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana bourbons, from the following grains: corn, barley and rye. We presume that the Tennessee Bourbon is sourced from George Dickel and the Indiana Bourbon is sourced from MGP. Those are the safe assumptions that are well shared in the bourbon community. Some suggest the Kentucky bourbon may come from Barton (but don’t quote us – just sharing speculation). We know each of those components are at least 15 years old. But we don’t know the relative quantities used in the final blend.
Let’s see if our “try before you buy” approach would pay off.
Nose: Baking spice; the George Dickel toasted marshmallow that is common in older Dickel products, but here wrapped in some strawberry fruit; a dusting of chocolate; fresh sawn oak; dark fruit and cherry; caramel green apple; some minerality; herbal rye spice. Very good, but not quite exceptional. (3.5/5)
Palate: Creamy. The George Dickel influence weaves in and out with what we perceive to be MGP notes. This starts with MGP-like bourbon notes, along with some dusty leather; sour apple; cinnamon and nutmeg; then transitions to marshmallow; then back to earthy notes and almost rotting apple (a bit of funk and rancid). (4/5)
Finish: Medium in length. Fresh sawn oak; baking spice and nutmeg continue but slowly fade, leaving the toasted marshmallow with a covering of milk chocolate. Well aged, but not over aged. (3.5/5)
Overall: This has a very prominent George Dickel profile – marshmallow and minerality. And it is a solid showing at that. But beyond the Dickel, nothing really stands out. Nothing exceptionally funky/earthy and no tannic notes here showing the age. This is a good product, don’t get us wrong, but it is a good product that feels like a refined “George Dickel.” If that sounds unappealing to you, this might not be for you. (4/5)
Value: Again, this bottle comes with a suggested retail price of $225. At price ranges at 1/3 to 1/2 of this, you have a lot of options that impress us just as much, especially with single barrel offerings. We had some mixed emotion on this, with some of us wanting to go slightly higher. But with products like George T. Stagg at less than half the price, products from Magnus, and even some of Barrell’s only products, this just doesn’t satisfy us. (2/5)
“This is a good product, don’t get us wrong, but it is a good product that feels like a refined ‘George Dickel.'”
Bonus: Check our our full video review, with a head to head comparison to 2017 George T. Stagg!
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.