Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.
Today, we will be discussing the differences between charring and toasting an oak barrel. One type of limited edition bourbon often seen going quickly off shelves (I’m looking at you Elijah Craig & Michter’s) are toasted barrel expressions. So what in the world is a toasted barrel? Senior Engineer Craig Embry from the Brown-Forman Cooperage (a place that makes oak barrels) recently explained the process: “The toasting process takes sugars from the wood so that the bourbon can have a longer time in the barrel… Toasting is heating the wood up like you toast bread, keeping the flames away from direct contact. Charring means setting the wood on flash fire.”
The benefit of the toasting process, according to Stuart MacPherson, Master of Wood at MacCallan, “… is designed to break down different chemical compounds in the oak to yield spice notes like nutmeg and cloves and the desired subtly smoky aromas that oak is known to yield.” (Thanks to Mike Gerrard’s fantastic book “Cask Strength” for the quotes).
Interestingly, toasting and charring oak barrels can be, and are almost always, done together, first toasting and then charring the barrel. Lux Row, in their release of the Daviess County Medium Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon actually separates the process, aging the bourbon traditionally in charred barrels, and then finishing the whiskey in a toasted American Oak barrel.
A barrel finishing is when you put a matured whiskey into a different type of barrel and age it for a short period of time to “finish” the whiskey with a unique flavor profile, most common in Scotch whisky. Because bourbon must only be put in new charred American Oak barrels, finishing it transforms bourbon into a finished bourbon.
With only 3000 six-pack cases being released across the U.S., Daviess County Medium Toasted Barrel Finished Bourbon is a mix of both rye and wheated bourbon, is aged for at least four years, and is finished in the toasted barrels. The dram is impressively robust on the palate, covering all the areas I can expect from a bourbon: lots of spice, orange and caramel notes, and lots of oak. While richness overpowers the expectant coconut and extra vanilla flavors from the toasted barrel itself, the toasting instead becomes part of the bourbon, rounding out the flavor to enhance the overall experience.
Tasting Notes: Daviess County Medium Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon
Vital Stats: Aged at least four years; Finished in Medium Toasted American Oak Barrels; 96 proof (48% ABV); $49.99/750ml
Appearance: A classic bourbon color, warm orange amber.
Nose: Spice and dried fruits jump off the dram. Blackcurrants, pomanders and vanilla odors appear initially and then withdraw to hazelnuts and cedar.
Palate: A nice bold vanilla burst with thick leather and spicy ginger. Pumpkin pie spices of cinnamon and nutmeg come to the fore, shifting to a palate full of oak… a lot of rich oak. It has an unexpectedly smooth finish of walnuts and caramel.