CALUMET FARM SINGLE RACK BLACK 16 YEAR
MASH BILL – 74% corn, 18% rye, 8% barley
PROOF – 106
AGE – 16 years
DISTILLERY – Calumet Farm (owned by Three Springs Bottling Company and sourcing from Barton)
PRICE – $130
WORTH BUYING? – Yes
Established in 2013 by Three Springs Bottling Company, the Calumet Farm brand earned an unremarkable reputation on its standard small batch, 8 and 12-year releases. They’re all sourced from Barton, as many other non-distiller produced brands are. Barton makes good whiskey. Their own 1792 line can be exceptional. The bourbon in the Calumet standard releases has been fine, but not memorable. Some whiskey fans have even found them angering!
Then in 2020 they released their first in the Single Rack Black series, a blend of 19 barrels aged for 14 years on a single, center cut rack of the warehouse, and bottled at 96.2 proof. I personally found this release as uneventful as their previous standard releases. I also noticed the striking similarities in both specs and packaging to Sam Houston, another Three Springs brand, which blends only 2 to 3 barrels. The labels themselves are similar enough in design, I can’t help wonder if both products are truly driven by a marketing department and not an attention to the bourbon itself. But the price points are actually quite good, all things Bourbon Boom considered, and both brands are relatively easy to find when released.
In any event, my hopes weren’t terribly high for the subsequent 15-year Single Rack Black release. The 15-year was bottled at 105 proof, however, a significant jump. I had an opportunity to taste it, and this release was exceptional. Again, a lot of people are sourcing Barton, even very well-aged barrels. But the Calumet 15 really nailed a trifecta of cherry, chocolate, and highly refined oak notes. After that tasting I bought a bottle.
At just a year older and a single proof point higher, Calumet 16 is a close cousin to its immediate predecessor. I uncorked it late one cloudy, weirdly warm night. It was a perfect match for the dark hour and cozy weather. The nose was cakey, like a boozy cake, with thick vanilla icing and strong oak. The taste then was dry, oaky, cakey, with good day-old vanilla icing. The finish wrapped things up with more day-old vanilla icing on day-old cake, and oak for miles and miles that was somehow still subtle, not overpowering. Out of the gate my main takeaways were cake, vanilla icing, and OAK. Bam.
Also there was a sticky syrupy quality around the oak notes that reminded me very much of the recent BevMo Jefferson’s Reserve SiB I’d tried. I poured a bit of it and sure enough, the tasting notes had many similarities. The Jefferson’s was notably brighter overall, which might be age but could also be its lower proof. Jefferson’s source is not known. I’d never associated the brand’s profile with Barton before, and its widely known 60% corn / 30% rye / 10% barley mash bill all but precludes the possibility. But one never knows what’s truly possible in the veiled world of whiskey non-disclosure agreements…
In any case, here we are, nine days after uncorking and nearly halfway into the bottle. These brief notes were taken using a traditional Glencairn.
COLOR – gorgeously dark, spooky russet oranges, perfect for October!
NOSE – dusty oak, tart cherry, layers of wood and baking spices all blended together with cinnamon sticks and freshly crushed dry clove popping forward, some dried lemon peel on a layer of caramel
TASTE – sticky and syrupy, with dusty oak, sweet and tart cherry, that dark yet lemon-zesty caramel, a nice warm black-peppery bloom toward the end
FINISH – warm, oaky, with the caramel darkening a notch and the black pepper lingering
OVERALL – a wood and baking spice lover’s bourbon, sweetened by the cherry and caramel notes
Though I know it’s Barton, there’s an almost Knob Creeky quality to this in the oak and spice notes. The signature Barton floral rye notes are very nicely dried, and served up on the refined oak. Those cherry and caramel notes add a necessary sweetness, holding this well-aged bourbon back from crossing a line into “over oaked” territory. The balance in that regard is lovely even as it teeters.
I would absolutely understand if this were too oaky for someone. I find it very satisfying. It’s counter-intuitive that “dusty” would ever be a pleasing aroma and tasting note. But this bourbon demonstrates the pleasure of dusty oak. It’s a wonderful smell in a good antique store, why not in a bourbon as well?
I’d be even happier were the sweet notes to lean in more than they do. They’re strongest on the nose, which is like the best dried bouquet of autumn flowers in a candy shop ever. On the taste, the cherries darken and the caramel in particular adds to the thick, syrupy quality, even as its sweetness steps back a bit. The finish is even drier, and yet that syrupy quality remains very present, keeping things nicely balanced.
For the price, given other well-aged bourbon brands out there, Calumet 16 is a no brainer buy. It’s definitely for bourbon fans and not the casual drinker. No reason to pay this much for a casual sip. But for something to savor, in a leather chair by a fire if you have such a setup available, or outside on a warm autumn afternoon, or some dark and spooky evening, this really hits the spot.
And for a few less dollars, the Calumet 15 offers a similar experience. Both are great and worth picking up. I’ve already broken my no-bunkering rule and got backups! It’s nuts that these remain readily available in my area, and still decently priced all things considered.
Perhaps that’s a benefit of the meh reputation established by those earlier standard Calumet releases? Despite many bourbon YouTubers and bloggers extolling the 15 and 16 Year Calumets, there they sit—even on sale at some places!—proving FOMO is a senseless state of being.
2 thoughts on “Calumet Farm 16 Year”
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