Barrell Craft Spirits Bourbon – Batch 26

Batch 26 (2020)

MASH BILL – unspecified blend of Kentucky, Tennessee and Indiana bourbon mash bills

PROOF – 112.64

AGE – blend of 9, 10, 11, 13 and 15-year whiskeys

DISTILLERY – Barrell Craft Spirits (blending sourced burbons)

PRICE – $89

BUY AGAIN? – No, because $$ not taste, and that Barrell continues to pump out new batches throughout each year

My introduction to Barrell was Batch 19, a pour of which I ordered up while hanging out with friends at Old Devil Moon on Mission Street in San Francisco. Good whiskey selection there! It’s also where I first tried Elijah Craig Barrel Proof—a 2015 bottling that rendered me speechless for a few moments…

I liked the Barrell Batch 19 right away. I remember it having a wonderful mix of stone fruit and breakfast pastry elements. Later I picked up a bottle on sale, which remains unopened in my bunker. This past year Batch 25 was getting a lot of good notices and I picked that up too. It also remains unopened. But soon thereafter, I nabbed Batch 26, also getting good notices. In opening Batch 26 first, I guess I’m working my way backwards.

I’ve clearly been curious about the Barrell line, and yet haven’t been in haste to open what I’ve collected of it. Not sure what that means. But this tasting of Batch 26 echoed this aloof relationship—at least at first…!

Let’s jump in. Here are some brief notes, taken a little over two weeks after uncorking, three pours into the bottle, and tasted in a traditional Glencairn.

COLOR – deep penny-copper and orange

NOSE – cinnamon-laden baking spices, wheat and walnut bread, stewed apricots in syrup, vanilla caramel, oak, orange, mandarine, dashes of finely ground black pepper

TASTE – very like the nose, emphasizing the orange, vanilla caramel, and chewy bread notes, with some nice oak coming in at the end and that black pepper dash

FINISH – chewy cinnamon bread with a bit of rich vanilla icing, apricot or peach jam, a fine peppery warmth, lingering for a good while

OVERALL – like a great freshly made continental breakfast

This is really good. Yet oddly, I don’t feel excited about it. It seems I really should. As I noted, it reminds me of a really good continental breakfast. And I love a good continental breakfast—buttery breads and pastries and fruit jams and fresh orange juice… But in a way, the sensation of this bourbon is that I’m looking at these things all nicely laid out, not yet eating and savoring them. There’s a remove. Like the bourbon is across the table somehow.

Perhaps I’m tasting it at the wrong hour—10:00 p.m. on a Friday. It might be better at 10:00 a.m. on a Saturday. If I didn’t need to go to work tomorrow I’d try that!

That said, I could also see this bourbon making a good pairing with some baked Summer fruit dessert after dinner, like a cobbler or pie. The flavors are all well integrated and rich, light and bright rather than dark and cozy. Interesting to think how the timing of a tasting can impact things.

In any case, it’s very good. I understand why it’s received some attention. And the more I sip at it the more I’m appreciating it. Still, I don’t imagine myself reaching for it first thing, or often. And I find this flummoxing. Because it indeed has so many flavors I typically love…

One of my favorite things about traveling in Europe, for example, is those continental breakfasts. I remember a 2016 trip to a theater festival in Tampere, Finland, where my partner and I began every day at the buffet. We stayed at the Original Sokos Hotel Villa, built in a former granary adjacent to an old brick train depot where the breakfast was served. One of our breakfast favorites were these small, seeded croissants served with real, densely creamy butter, fresh berry jams and orange marmalades. This is what Barrel Bourbon Batch 26 reminds me of.

The sweet bready aspects also remind me of a little cafe in Tampere we made sure to hit every afternoon, for coffee and a fresh cinnamon-cardamom pastry they made there. Everything was served on a simple table out in the open, rather than from behind a counter. Chairs and tables were mismatched and all seemed to come from grandma’s parlor. And two of the walls were floor to ceiling windows looking out on the cobbled street.

So as I’ve sat with Barrell Batch 26 tonight, it’s gradually opened up for me, both as a tasting experience and a sensory prod. Perhaps this is what it will do for me over the course of the bottle—conjure memories and stories from that trip to Finland.

Coincidentally, our Finland visit was made en route to Edinburgh, Scotland, where my whiskey journey commenced in earnest. Ah HA! It all comes together!

I do believe I’ll enjoy this bourbon. The more I sip it, the more vivid the memories. Of course, Barrell Batch 26 has nothing whatever to do with Finland or Finnish food. Yet I’m whisked away to Tampere immediately. Who’d have guessed that?

One more bit of evidence in favor of whiskey’s power to pull our stories from our memories.


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