Single Barrel A111, selected by K&L (2020)
MASH BILL – Unknown
PROOF – 116.66
AGE – 18 years
DISTILLERY – Barrell Craft Spirits (source undisclosed)
PRICE – $132
BUY AGAIN? – No, because $$$ and its mixed-bag personality
Barrell Whiskey has made its reputation on excellent blends of whiskeys from a range of undisclosed sources. They consistently provide the ages and regions involved in their multiple annual blends. But the exact sources are contractually left to our best guesses. Naturally if a whiskey is identified as coming from Indiana one can assume MGP, and anything from Tennessee makes George Dickel a safe bet. But Kentucky? Let the guessing begin.
The label of this particular bottle presents a tight puzzle. It’s a single barrel, so not a blend of multiple regions or distilleries. It’s a “Kentucky straight whiskey,” so it comes from that key bourbon state yet is not a bourbon or a rye. The mash bill must not contain the required 51% dominant grain minimum. And why include “straight” given the 18 stated years well exceed the 2-year minimum needed to dub a whiskey straight? This detail must mean the whiskey spent at least two years in a new barrel before being transferred into a used barrel. The notably pale color of the whiskey itself, despite 18 long years of aging, supports the used-barrel transfer theory. And in fact K&L confirms on its website that the whiskey “arrived at the warehouse in used cooperage.”
When I first uncorked it, I found it an interesting but off-putting experience. Smoked cherry and raspberry fruit rolls came to mind, but synthetic. It was tasty, but like cheap artificial fruit candy, with the finish bringing out a nagging rubber note—a clue that rye (which contains the often rubbery/tar-like creosote compound) likely figures into the mash bill.
After several attempts I’d reached about mid-bottle, and set it aside. Some weeks passed before I tried it again. Something had shifted. The synthetic and rubber notes had gone. The nose had a light vanilla chocolate quality, with caramel and a bit of cherry. The taste was all cherry and peach syrup, backed up by the caramel. The finish was warm at the back of the throat, with cherry cough syrup mixed with milk chocolate. Now it was something. Still something out of a candy store. But something.
Another two weeks have passed since then and I’m at it again. Tasted in a traditional Glencairn, let’s see what another period of airing out in the bottle has done:
COLOR – a clear pale yellow with toasted orange highlights
NOSE – sweet jarred cherries in syrup, quality canned nectarines and pears, lemon zest
TASTE – grabs the tongue up front with a spicy, sparkly, slightly astringent pepperiness, followed by fruit like melon, bright caramel, on swallowing another bloom of the sparkly pepper with some dark cherry pie in a simple floury crust, oddly drying overall despite the fruit flavors
FINISH – the lingering sparkly pepperiness, with wafts of the various fruit aspects gradually fading, and just a faint wisp of tannic oak
OVERALL – It’s a miracle this finally came around, and I’m glad it did given the hefty price, but I don’t see myself going for anything like it again
I’m guessing this indeed spent a majority of its years in used barrels. It smacks of a scotch, from the color to the bright mix of fruity flavors. I’m glad the synthetic notes have mostly gone, leaving only traces in the form of the canned and jarred fruits, distinct from fresh or baked fruits. The mash bill could be heavy on malted barley and/or corn, given the florid sweetness, though that rubbery note also suggests rye. Rubber is a note I’ve found emerges in some ryes aged into their teens.
It is a curiosity for certain. The price is based on 18 years in the barrel. That’s rather reasonable by today’s standards. The Elijah Craig Single Barrel 18 Year goes for $150 on up to $300, and is bottled at 90 proof rather than cask strength. But the Elijah Craig 18 Year is a much more pleasing experience overall, if a bit boring. This Barrell Whiskey Single Barrell 18 Year cannot be called boring. But it’s almost assaultive with its brash mix of astringency and sweetness. It’s a weirdo. Not a friendly weirdo like an Old Potrero Rye. It’s actually more akin to a brusk, bristly Archives bottling of 10 Year Heaven Hill whiskey I recently wrote up.
So I poured some of that Archives to compare. Like the Barrell Whiskey, this bottle is also nearing its mid-way point. Only it’s been open a few weeks longer. Also like the Barrell Whiskey, the Archives has been bottled at cask strength. Only it’s much hotter at 133.2 proof. Both hail from Kentucky and were aged in unusual ways—the Barrell Whiskey we’re not sure, and the Archives for six years in Kentucky followed by another four in Scotland.
Here’s how the Archives tasted tonight:
COLOR – pale yellow with orange highlights
NOSE – vanilla, caramel, fresh peaches, none of it forthcoming despite the proof
TASTE – fruity out of the gate, with peach, sweet cherry, and apricot, then on swallowing a bloom of peppery spice
FINISH – the spicy pepperiness slowly fades, biting the sides of the tongue a bit, along with the fruit flavors, a faint light caramel note, and a bit of astringency and tannic wood
OVERALL – it’s similar enough in so many respects to the Barrell Whiskey that I wonder if both are from Heaven Hill…?
Well now… Cousins? Having tasted the Archives alone, now nosing them side by side if I didn’t know better I’d guess the Archives to be the elder. It has a darker, richer quality to its aroma by comparison. The side by side comparison also helps me to pull out the caramel notes from each of them, notably more so than when I nosed them individually. Maybe it’s the time they’ve each had to air in the glass.
Now tasting them together, both present their caramel, their fruit, and then an astringency that definitely unites them. Very interesting. On the finish the most notable difference is the Archives’ much stronger bite—no surprise given the proof.
Both of these are interesting. Neither is boring. Nor is either fully pleasant. I can’t say they’re worth their price tags. Life is just too short to pay three digits for such quarrelsome whiskeys. They’re like that charming friend who’s also loud and acerbic. I sit back from the glass intrigued but feeling my senses a bit shouted at.
As an experience, okay. As a purchase, ah well, next time…!