Bourbon and Beyond: Barrell Craft Spirits
The world of bourbon (and whiskey, and really spirits in general) leaves little to no room for experimentation. The goal for most distillers is to create a uniform product, a spirit that tastes to us just like it did for our grandparents and as it will for our grandchildren.
But then there's Barrell Craft Spirits, an independent blender and bottler that absolutely smashes the American whiskey mold.
Founded in 2012 by Joe Beatrice, Barrell's methodology is crystal clear: they source the country's best spirits, often with significant age, and meticulously blend them to create special limited edition releases. No two releases are the same.
Here, the blending skews toward a philosophically more akin to wine than most spirits — as in Champagne, or Bordeaux or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the finished product is much more than the sum of its parts.
Their core spirit, a blended bourbon with a constantly morphing formula, is labeled according to batch number — for reference, the most recent release, Batch #28, is a blend of 10 and 11 year old straight bourbons.
Their experimental line is what I imagine would arise if Willy Wonka were a distiller — various parcels of whiskey (bourbon and rye) are aged in barrels that previously held fruit brandies, Caribbean rum, amaro, even fortified wine, to name a few. Everything, from the bourbons mentioned above to the limited releases, is bottled at cask strength.
Why cask strength? Tasting a whiskey unaltered, as it was in the barrel, provides the drinker a clear sense of what the distiller or blender intends for the whiskey.
It also means that the drinker can add water a few drops at a time, a practice that awakens a whiskey’s more subtle aromas and flavors. With whiskey as complex as Barrell’s, you’ll want to enjoy each and every nuance.
Many of us at the shop would point right here when asked the question "What's your favorite whiskey?" Now's your chance to find out exactly why: