Single Barrel Whiskey

Over the past couple of decades there has been a lot of innovation in the whiskey industry.  One particular type of “innovation” took whiskey back to its roots and allowed for a pure form of whiskey to come back into the market.  The “single barrel” whiskey is how whiskey used to be.  They’d distill it, they’d barrel it, and they’d drink it.  Simple, unassuming, basic.  But what happens when you put together today’s technology of distilling practices to get a very uniform distillate, along with what we know about barrel aging practices?  Quite frankly we have been treated to works of art.

Master Distillers have made some of the most wonderful whiskey expressions one barrel at a time, and like the single barreled shotgun shown above have taken something basic and simple and made it into something unique and artisan…

I believe I have discovered a trend in Single Barrel bourbons.  I went back and looked at several reviews I have done of Single barrel bourbons, three in all, and thought about several other single barrel expressions I have had, and came to a very important conclusion:  The higher the proof, the better the flavor.

This stands to reason based on just my reviews as limited as they are.  The first single barrel whiskey I reviewed was Four Roses.  I loved the stuff, and I am actually very excited, because it is now carried in the Idaho Liquor Stores.  This is 100 proof and very full bodied, aromatic, and has a big, long, satisfying finish.  The next one was Wathen’s Single Barrel.  This is a 94 proof bourbon that was satisfying, but I began to notice a bit of (for lack of a better term) body fade.  It just didn’t seem to be as complex or have the same structure that other bourbons had.  It seemed incomplete.  The last Single Barrel Bourbon I reviewed was Evan Williams Single Barrel.  This is an 86.6 proof bourbon that I thought had serious flaws.  It was missing large spectrums in the flavor wheel, and had a serious lack of finish.

I had just about given up on the whole concept of Single Barrel bourbon as an inferior product, when Wild Turkey sent me a bottle of their 101 proof Kentucky Spirit for a bloggers event they held.  The event was good, but the whiskey was much better.  See I had forgotten that I absolutely loved Four Roses, and that the Wathens was good, and all I remembered was that the Evan Williams wasn’t up to par.  But Kentucky Spirit fixed that, and I was again reminded that single barrel bourbon can be a wonderful treat.

So why go on like this? Because, I am about to do my first Whiskey Throwdown on the blog.  I have done several beer throwdowns, but none for whiskey.  This throwdown will feature Single Barreled Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit against Four Roses Single Barrel.  Stay Tuned.


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7 Comments on “Single Barrel Whiskey”

  1. 1Time4got
    February 8, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

    Great to see that Wild Turkey continues delivering great bourbon. I catch hell for professing my affection for it from my friends who are whiskey snobs, but the gobbler is the most consistent smooth bourbon I’ve found without busting my wallet. I drink it straight to savor all of its flavor and depth instead of shamefully burying it in a Coke like I did Jim Beam during my college days.

    Give me a bottle of Wild Turkey and crank up Willie Nelson’s “Whiskey River” and I’m right where I want to be after a stressful week at work.

    • Don
      February 8, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

      I think the 101 is perhaps the best “Major” brand out there. It certainly blows away Beam White Label and just about anything from Buffalo Trace or Heaven Hill, with the possible exception of Fighting Cock, which is a 103 proof that I can get for about $15. It is way different flavor profile tho, way more heat forward, and less old leather on the palate. Good stuff tho. I keep them both in my bunker at all times.

  2. February 9, 2011 at 7:54 am #

    Ok Don…I have to call you out, but I’ll be gentle. Let me caveat my following statement by saying “taste is subjective”. It’s true to some degree that higher proof equals more flavor but in many cases the proof acts as a masking agent; playing a too dominant roll in the overall experience which is why you have to add water or a cube of ice in order to “tame the beast”. There are so many variables that go into the final product of a single barrel that proof is just one of those components. I have some lower proof single barrel offerings that have loads of flavor and a real pleasure to drink; others are higher proof and offer the same experience. On the flip side, there are lower proof that have to be hit with a little branch and then those higher ones where the proof is just too over the top. The nice thing is about single barrel barrel strength bourbon is it gives the consumer control over final drinking proof. Additionally, the higher proof bourbons will have a numbing effect on the palate which diminishes your ability to taste the finer nuances of the bourbon. Adding water many times levels things out.

    • Don
      February 9, 2011 at 9:52 am #

      Greg, thanks for being gentle. We are a civilized lot around here, well except for Jim, but I’m sure you already figured that out. And oddly enough I totally get what you are saying, and agree in large part. The “benefit” of the higher proof is that you do have the choice to set the proof at wherever you are comfortable. But lower proof single barrels you just get what you get, and if it isn’t that good, you have little recourse. Also there is what I am terming the “salt effect.” What I’m referring to here is the fact that when you add salt to a dish you are cooking, magically it instantly enhances the flavor, but too much is no good either. So I see alcohol much the same, whether it is in beer or spirits. Alcohol brings out flavors that are otherwise masked. I think that is why Jim and I prefer imperial style beers for their boldness and complexity, and why I say you should look for whiskey that is over 80 proof. The higher proof bourbons seem to have a greater flavor experience. That said, a cube or a couple of drops of water can be a wonderful thing. Now this rule is primarily for the bourbons I’ve had. Scotch Whisky is an entirely different animal. They don’t seem to have any trouble at all getting great flavors out of 80 proof scotch.

      So I’m rambling a bit here but I think that what you say is largely the truth, and perhaps i haven’t had enough lower proof single barrels that have impressed me to this point. But that is a me thing, and I depend on people like you to set me straight in these matters. Hopefully some day I’ll have some single barrel lower proof stuff that just knocks me out of my shoes, but until then I’ll depend on the kindness of people like you to get my mind right. 😉

      • February 9, 2011 at 10:07 am #

        Don – kindness will be coming your way by weeks end.

  3. February 9, 2011 at 10:42 am #

    As the 10,000th poster I would just like to mention that to throwdown whiskey is a bad idea. You must sip to enjoy. And even worse now you have me thinking about the different proofs and taste. I am a big fan of Blantons an its usually around 94 and Eagle Rare at 90. The Eagle is not as deep as some but the Blantons never dissappoints. Thank you and remember I am the 10,000th poster and will shamelessly post this whenever possible. Of course I am nipping at the Stagg and then all else tastes like water.

    • Don
      February 9, 2011 at 11:18 am #

      Well, John as the 10,000th your comments carry a lot of weight around here! Believe it or don’t I haven’t had the Blantons yet, but you point out a serious lacking in my whiskey education. Thanks for that! I will get on correcting it soon. I’ve heard the Eagle Rare is very hit or miss, however people love the Eagle Rare 17. I haven’t had either of those as well. Hmmm…Perhaps my blog is outpacing me. I better get on the whiskey side of things. Now that Christmas is over and all the bills are paid there is no excuse to not continue on my whiskey journey. Wow, the 10,0000th commenter comes through again!

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