Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Barrell Craft Spirits. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Barrell Craft Spirits is not a new name in Bourbonland. In less than 10 years, they’ve jumped from being available in two states to 46. Sales have doubled or nearly every year. Their products have earned dozens of accolades, and this publication has reviewed many.
They don’t make the spirits, and they’ve always been upfront about that. They identify as “an independent blender and bottler of unique, aged, cask strength sourced whiskey and rum, recognized for its blending expertise.”
Blending, of course, is no small skill and no small game. Founder Joe Beatrice and Master Blender Tripp Stimson (who, incidentally, is also Master Distiller for a brand that doesn’t distill) bring in whiskey from 65 different suppliers who span the globe.
They start with a mental concept; a vision of a flavor profile. Next, they sort samples from all those barrels (into the hundreds) and categorize them into different groups. From those distinct sets of whiskey, Beatrice and Stimson figure out how they play together for maximum synergy and how to scale that blend to a production level.
The Barrell Bourbon Batch 28 make-up selects three sets: one spicy, fruity and aromatic; the second rich and mouth-filling; and the last, structured with plenty of barrel character, pepper and forest floor.
The magic happens in Louisville, KY, at a former data-storage facility. The old server room is the bottling lair. Repurposing a building made to fit the cooling and consistency requirements for loads of computers means they can be very precise with temperature and humidity control. It’s also a nice nod to Beatrice’s tech background.
Stimson learned his craft as a Research and Development Scientist at Brown-Forman. He segued into consultancy, helping new distilleries get off the ground while avoiding expensive trial and error. Along the way, he even built the first malting operation in Kentucky before joining Barrell Craft Spirits in 2017.
For his part, Beatrice was enchanted by the independent bottlers of Scotland, and their methods of mingling barrels of whisky to magnify the best traits. Of course, every time you don’t see ‘Single’ on a bottle of scotch they’re essentially following the same format as Barrell.
Tasting Notes: Barrell Bourbon Batch 28
Vital stats: Barrell Bourbon Batch 28 was distilled and aged a minimum of 10 years in Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana. It’s 108.85 proof and its mash bill is undisclosed. Find it in a 750mL bottle for $90.
Appearance: This whiskey is a very clear, medium red-amber that beads and slowly forms thick tears.
Nose: Pronounced cigar box jockeys with black pepper; whispers of stamp adhesive float by. There’s an impression of sea salt and the underlying sweetness of caramelized pineapple and cola. A dry quality hits the back of the throat.
Palate: Super spicy on the attack – all that black pepper shows up with long pepper and grains of paradise. Marzipan melts on the mid-palate before more spice grabs the sides of my tongue. No bitterness and surprisingly smooth for the proof. The long finish is cedar and – you guessed it – even more spice.
This blend is kind of austere yet really enjoyable. I expected a bit more heft for the age, and it’s not a bad thing that I was wrong. Turns out when you’re sourcing top-tier whiskey from everywhere you can end up with a satisfying medley. Not saying it’s easy, mind.
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In 2014 I founded Portland Bitters Project with the vision to create the best bitters on the market. Now our bitters are enjoyed around the country and internationally to make expressive, delicious cocktails. I teach at two Portland colleges and visit private groups, distilleries and maker's spaces to spread the...