Barrel #261 selected by PlumpJack Wine & Spirits (2020)
MASH BILL – Buffalo Trace Mash Bill #1
PROOF – 90
AGE – 9 years
DISTILLERY – Buffalo Trace
PRICE – $38
BUY AGAIN? – Can’t. They’re all gone. But another Buffalo Trace store pick? Mmmaybe….
This is the fourth Buffalo Trace store pick I’ve tried in the past handful of years, with a fifth from 2019 still bunkered. Whether a pick or the standard release, Buffalo Trace is always fine. Notably sweet, with apple and caramel notes typically taking the lead, and with its easygoing 90 proof, it’s never been top of my list. But it’s quite dependably what it is.
Then a 2019 pick, barrel #592 from Maison Corbeaux’s Single Barrel Project in San Francisco, blew me away. Easily the most sophisticated Buffalo Trace barrel I’ve tasted to date, it overflowed with salty, buttery caramel and vanilla. This experience renewed my interest in exploring the brand.
So here we are now with this 2020 PlumpJack Wine & Spirits offering, notable for its 9-year age statement. PlumpJack released a 7.5 year barrel at the same time, and no surprise that one didn’t vanish in three minutes like this 9-year did.
Here first are some notes in brief, taken a few days after uncorking and a few pours into the bottle, tasted in a simple brandy glass.
COLOR – pale, clear copper-orange, remarkably clingy to the glass for a 90-proof bourbon
NOSE – baked cinnamon and apples, fresh pie crust drizzled with fresh caramel, fresh-split oak, a zing of lemon, a dash of fine-ground black pepper, uncut asian pear
TASTE – surprisingly syrupy for the proof, with oak, salted caramel, oak, apple, oak, the baked pie crust, and oak
FINISH – not too long or intense, with some buttery caramel glazing the dominant oak, and then that oak lingering subtly but long all on its own
OVERALL – a lumberjack’s Buffalo Trace
Obviously the oak aspect is the main event here. Nine years in the barrel, going in at 125 proof, raising or lowering to whatever it did over nearly a decade, then watered down to 90 proof, what’s left is something I imagine might come directly out of an oak tree were you to have watered it all its life with Buffalo Trace bourbon and then stuck a spigot in its trunk. The sap that would ooze out would be what’s in this PlumpJack store pick.
To be clear, that’s not at all a bad thing. If you like oak. And I do. The wood is so pronounced here, I’d guess this is a bottle for Buffalo Trace fans, not for the average drinker looking for what the standard Buffalo Trace bottling offers: sweet, simple, uncomplicated bourbon. This barrel #261, while not particularly complicated, is nevertheless very particular.
I so wish I still had a sample of that 2019 Maison Corbeaux barrel #592 to compare to this one. That barrel set the bar for me when it comes to Buffalo Trace, a bourbon that—in any incarnation—has never excited me that much. And that’s by design. Buffalo Trace is intended to be a common, all-purpose, easily-liked pour. It does lean toward the sweeter side and I have had friends who have found it too sweet for their tastes.
But if you like sweeter bourbons, whether neat or in cocktails, Buffalo Trace is available everywhere and at a good price—$25 for the standard release, and up to $35 for the average store pick. Paying the higher end of that range for this oaky 9-year edition was well worth it, I’d say, even though it hasn’t made me any more of a BT fan than I already was or wasn’t.