BARRELL SEAGRASS RYE
Finished in Martinique Rum, Madeira & Apricot Brandy barrels (2021)
MASH BILL – blend of unstated Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee and Canadian rye mash bills
PROOF – 119.3
AGE – NAS
DISTILLERY – Barrell Craft Spirits
PRICE – $80
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
I’m quite late to this party. The 2021 Barrell Seagrass has been thoroughly puzzled over and extolled already. Barrell has since released age-stated variations at premium prices. Seagrass features a notably unusual combination of whiskeys and finishing barrels that may prove to be an ongoing brand line for Barrell Craft Spirits.
Barrell has built an excellent reputation blending whiskeys from a range of undisclosed sources. They consistently provide the ages and regions involved in their multiple annual blends. (Seagrass is an uncommon NAS release.) Their 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 pretty safe bet. But Kentucky? Canada? The rabbit hole is always open.
At uncorking, Seagrass came across very reserved. It was hard to get a good read on it. That same night I used it for a Sazerac cocktail, and it seemed to go to battle with the Absinthe in an interesting but not terribly relaxing way. Though cocktails are literally more complex than a whiskey on its own, I don’t drink them to think about them. Cocktails are about pure pleasure for me. So I’ll likely not apply Seagrass to a Sazerac again. It’s practically a cocktail all its own, given the range of what’s inside!
The next night I gave it another go. It seemed already to be opening up. The many comments I’ve read and heard that its explosive range of flavors conjures an afternoon on a tropical beach made sense. It was indeed a slow motion, colorful mushroom cloud of flavors detonating off the shores of some sandy paradise of tropical fruits and sweetly spiced distillates. But I was drinking that night and not tasting, so I didn’t linger too long on it.
Now here we are, just over a week after uncorking and a handful of pours into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – pale but deep honey-yellow
NOSE – tropical with fresh coconut meat, papaya, and mango; then subtle red tea spices like rooibos, also ground black pepper and salt; finally caramel, vanilla, and marshmallow sauce
TASTE – very like the nose, with a syrupy honey quality that punches up the fruits and carries a bit of heat from the combined rye spice and proof; also a dash of cardamon has arrived
FINISH – warm yet fresh, the flavors and aromas muted within a cooling heat like a mint
OVERALL – very refreshing and cozy at the same time
This is truly a cocktail in a glass. If someone handed this to me in a tumbler with an umbrella in it and told me it was some kind of Tiki drink I’d believe them.
The combination of whiskey sources and cask finishings appears almost overkill in print. And yet in practice a wonderful whole is created. I don’t know that I’ve ever gotten such an overwhelmingly tropical feeling from a rye before. I expect that experience from certain areas of scotch. But this blend really does give me a gust of being on a sunny beach, the water bright aqua-blue, the sand warm and yellow, a cluster of palms leaning gracefully toward the sea.
We’re not in Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee, or Canada. Maybe we’re in Martinique, the Caribbean paradise. Or Madeira, the sunny archipelago. I’ve never been to those places so I can’t say. But I can see myself back on the shores of Hawaii when I was nine. I can imagine my adventurous, unorthodox grandmother who took me there slipping me a glass of something like this and saying, “It’s medicine. Don’t tell your mom.” This rye poured over a big cube of ice would indeed make a perfect summer beach sipper.
The people at Barrell have truly showcased their blending prowess here, daunting us with the ingredients and then serving up a singular, unique rye experience. Tropical is not my main flavor interest in whisk(e)y. But when it’s done with this level of finesse, complexity, and fun, I’ll take it!