This past spring, Barrell Craft Spirits introduced a new product to the market. That product was not just new to Barrell, it was new to the whiskey industry, at least commercially. It is the Barrell Infinite Barrel Project. Barrell took a number of different barrels (more on what these are in a moment) and blended them together. After some time marrying, Barrell then took a percentage of that blend and bottled it. It then replaced what it removed with additional barrels of whiskey. Rinse and repeat. Assuming Barrell does keep adding the same ratio of whiskey components as the first batch, the result is an ever changing whiskey experience.
Before we continue, a little about Barrell Craft Spirits. Barrell was founded by Joe Beatrice in 2013. It was started as a whiskey blender and bottler, not a distiller, although it has since opened its own distillery (all of its product to date is sourced). It has always bottled everything at cask strength.
Its flagship product – Barrell Bourbon – hit shelves in 2014, and has been released more than 15 batches of blended bourbons, and numerous other single barrel bourbons – both through normal distribution and through barrel select releases. It now produces a Rye, a Whiskey and a Rum. Most of their products are different from batch to batch, using different aged components from different distilleries.
Now, I mentioned that Infinite Barrel Project is “new to the whiskey industry, at least commercially.” Many whiskey fans create their own “infinity bottles.” With explanation by way of example, one might take the first ounce of every bottle they open and pour into a decanter. They drink and enjoy, and continue to replenish with the next open bottle. It changes over time. Some people rave over their infinity bottles, some people claim they are garbage. I most often hear of the successes of these bottles where individuals blend only like spirits – for instance a bourbon infinity bottle or a scotch infinity bottle. I’ve not experienced an infinity bottle with whiskeys from different denominations.
Until now. As to this particular batch known only by its bottling date (May 9, 2018), Barrell uses whiskeys from around the world, including Tennessee and Indiana whiskeys, Polish Rye, Tennessee Rye, Irish Whiskey and Scotch Whisky (including single malt and single grain). Some of those whiskeys were aged in either Amaro (an Italian bitter-sweet herbal liqueur) or Curacao (essentially, a bitter orange liqueur) barrels.
This batch (number four if you are counting) is the first to hit our local shelves. I picked up one and gave it a try.
Barrell Infinite Barrel Project – May 9, 2018 release (119.3 proof)
Nose: Ethanol and surprising amount nail polish remover upfront; slightly medicinal, herbal and sweet cola-syrup notes like an Amaro; bitter dried orange peel; vanilla icing (the milk and powdered sugar kind); an interesting mix of grain/bread notes, including rye bread, ginger bread, corn bread, and iced scone; red apple and raspberry and other sherry sweetness; some tannic dryness/oak notes, but not of the caramel/sugar variety; underlying American style single malt mixed with single grain scotch and pot still Irish whiskey; some interesting beach notes, with seawater and sand. This all marries much better than I expected, and other than the nail polish remover, pretty enjoyable. Complex is an understatement. (3.5/5)
Palate: Initially both candied sweet and sour; metallic; ginger and lighter baking spices; vanilla and caramel; under-ripe berry sweetness; bitter-sweet, herbal Amaro notes that develop on the palate; saltiness and medicinal notes that hit half-way through; chocolate; rye bread; scotch-like malt. There is a lot going on here, but from start to finish none of the flavors are particularly enjoyable. The odd sour-sweet notes combined with the metallic feel transition to an even less pleasing bitter Amaro flavors. (2/5)
Finish: Dry; bitter Amaro; bitter orange medicinal flavors that is almost like drinking cocktail bitters; malt; cocoa powder, with some nearly-hidden sweetness; grapefruit. Lingering, in a bad way. At first blush, this is almost offensive. At second blush, still offensive. I honestly looked for something else to chase this with, and regretted any return to the glass. (1/5)
Overall: Look, I like Amaro. I like bitter digestifs. I’ve had some decent Curaçao that I’ve liked. I really enjoy complex, bitter cocktails – the aforementioned liqueurs make some of my favorite cocktails. They have their place. Not in whiskey. Or at least not in this quantity. Take a look at the Infinite Barrel Project site and follow it forward. You will see that with each batch, the number of whiskies used to top off the blend decreased, but that Amaro, Sherry and Curaçao barrels survive. The proportions of those barrels to the other components has increased (and, likely, the amount to time the whiskey was in those barrels increased during the project before they were dumped). It now just way too much. I’m curious how the previous batches compare, but as offensive as this is to me, I doubt I’ll try to find out. Frankly, I think it will take many more batches where something other than Amaro and Curaçao barrels are used where this could be palatable. (1.5/5)
Value: This was $70. With Barrell, it could have been $100. I consider that its saving grace. It’s bad. And expensive. (1.5/5)
Scott is a co-founder of Flight Club and a frequent writer and reviewer on the Club’s blog.