Barrell Bourbon Batch 011 Review

Gaining a larger following with each batch, Barrell Craft Spirits has released their latest bourbon.  Batch 011 is a six-year-old bourbon distilled in Tennessee.  Like previous releases, Batch 011 is bottled at cask strength.  In this case 57.4%, or 114.8 proof.  The mash bill for this one is 70% corn, 25% rye, and 5% malted barley.  The high amount of rye should provide a bit of extra spice.  Let’s see how it fares.

The nose kicks things off with spices (cinnamon, allspice, cloves) thanks to the rye grain, followed by thick caramel.  A little airtime develops a bit of sweet corn, along with a buttery dough that reminds me of unbaked cinnamon rolls.  The entry is a little hot, with initial notes of light caramel and slightly sharp rye spice.  There’s a little development beyond that, with hints of cinnamon candy and some herbs emerging.  The finish is chest-warming, and surprisingly clean, with just a short burst of light brown sugar and cinnamon.

In our current “older is better” age (not true, by the way), a six-year-old bourbon might grab the attention of those looking for older releases.  There’s definitely quality in the crafting of the whiskies that make up this batch.  Batch 011 might not turn heads, but it is a beautiful example of a delicious, classic bourbon and shouldn’t be overlooked.  8/10

Thanks to Barrell Bourbon for the sample!  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

The Search for the Perfect Boilermaker

I have to confess – I’m not much of a beer guy.  I like beer, but I don’t LOVE beer.  More times than not I’d rather reach for a glass of whiskey than a pint of beer.  That said, there are a few local brews I keep around for a pour from time to time.  So when Bulleit asked if I’d like to put together Boilermaker pairings with their whiskey brand and write about it, I thought this could be fun.  Bulleit provided their standard bourbon, rye and 10-year-old bourbon for this little experiment, along with gift cards to purchase some beer to pair with their whiskies.

If you don’t know, a Boilermaker is a glass of whiskey and a shot of beer.  Wait… that’s not right, but it’s definitely not wrong!  A Boilermaker is a pairing of beer and whiskey.  There are three traditional ways of enjoying the pairing.  First, you can down a shot of whiskey and chase with the beer.  Secondly, you can drop the whiskey inside the beer and drink, a la the Car Bomb.  Lastly, and my preferred method, is to alternately sip on both.  I decided to stick with two different beer brands – Louisiana’s Abita and Irish favorite Guinness.  What follows is a rundown of my favorite pairings.

Let’s start with Bulleit Bourbon.  Bulleit stands out of the crowd a bit with its signature spicy flavor profile, due to the large percentage of rye in its mash bill.  Tom Bulleit told me in the past that percentage is about a third, with the other two thirds being corn and a touch of malted barley.  Bulleit is bottled at 90 proof, so it is strong enough to stand out in cocktails but also makes a great daily sipper.

I first paired Bulleit with Abita Amber, the brewery’s best seller and one of my favorite beers.  According to Abita’s website, Amber is a “Munich style lager brewed with pale and caramel malts and German Perle hops.”  It’s medium-bodied, and has some caramel and malt flavors.  Bulleit’s own caramel notes sit nicely with the beer.  The bourbon’s spicy character shines here, cutting right through the beer’s caramel/toffee nature.

Next up was a pairing with Abita’s Sweet Orange Lager.  This beer, brewed with pilsner and wheat malts, with Louisiana sweet oranges added, is on the sweet side.  It is light, slighlty malty, and features a heavy dose of sweet citrus.  Citrus pairs well with bourbon – see just about any old cocktail!  Bulleit’s rye spice interweaves beautifully with the lager’s sweet oranges.  Delicous, but definitely on the sweeter side.

Please ignore the poor pour of Guinness.

Next on the docket was Bulleit Rye.  Distilled at MGP in Indiana using their 95% rye mashbill, Bulleit Rye whiskey is a spicy and a bit dry.  I thought I’d start with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolate malt creates a nice bed for the spicy rye whiskey.  However, there was something about it that didn’t quite click.  It wasn’t my favorite pairing, but it was an interesting one.  

I also tried Guinness Blonde, which worked much better.  The beer was light and crisp, allowing for the rye whiskey to take center stage.

Bulleit Rye was also paired with Abita Amber, but the rye whiskey’s spice threw the whole thing out of balance.

Bulleit 10-year-old bourbon is the brand’s oldest offering.  The extra years maturing in oak barrels give its caramel and vanilla notes a bit more richness than the standard Bulleit.  It’s still spicy, but that spice is more rounded.  Nice baking spices add  some complexity.  

The first pairing was with Guinness Draught.  The rich, chocolately stout provide a perfect background for Bulleit 10’s deep caramel and integrated spice to shine.  Speaking of chocolately beer, Abita’s brown ale, Turbodog, works well with the decade old bourbon.  The deep caramels of both drinks build upon each other.

I also tried a Boilermaker with Bulleit 10 and Abita Amber.  Like the earlier pairing that included the standard Bulleit Bourbon with this beer, Bulleit 10’s richer caramel nature hit all the right spots with Amber’s caramel and slightly bittersweet flavors.

Some pairings didn’t work for me.  Bulleit Rye and Sweet Orange Lager, for one.  The beer was just too sweet for the rye spice of the whiskey.  It was suggested I pair an IPA with the rye, but I can’t stand IPAs.  Maybe I haven’t found the right one.   Bulleit and Bulleit 10 paired with a blonde beer just didn’t click.  Abita Mardi Gras Bock was okay but wasn’t memorable.

I appreciate the opportunity Bulleit provided me here to explore some great beers while trying to find the “perfect Boilermaker.”  My two favorites of this experiment were Bulleit 10 paired with Guinness Draught, as well as the Bulleit and Abita Sweet Orange Lager combination.  Delicious. I think I’ll have to continue on with my experiments. 

Basil Hayden’s Rye Whiskey Review

Last year saw the one-time Booker’s Rye variant of the Jim Beam’s Small Batch collection hit the market to high praise.  This year have Basil Hayden’s Rye.  Will it hold a candle to Booker’s Rye, or is it fair to compare?

During this year’s New Orleans Bourbon Fest, Beam Master Distiller Fred Noe told me he consulted with Laphroaig Distillery Manager John Campbell for some insight as to how they use quarter casks.  The resulting whiskey is Basil Hayden’s Rye.  According to press materials, this one-time release starts as a four-year-old rye whiskey.  There’s no mention of mashbill, but I’d guess it’s the standard Beam rye mashbill.  This four-year-old rye is re-barreled into newly charred quarter casks and is further aged seven years.  A small amount of the rebarreled rye is blended with the traditional rye to make this release.  

This is the first time I can remember quarter casks being used by one of the major American whiskey producers.  Some craft distilleries use them, and the results can be mixed.  At the same time I’m very familiar with Laphroaig Quarter Cask.  Using this type of casks usually results in a different kind of oak (and everything oak brings with it) flavor to whiskey.  Laphroaig is an example of a producer utilizing these casks for a positive influence.  What about Basil Hayden’s Rye?

The nose on the rye is both slightly youngish and oaky, but not offputting like some craft whiskies I’ve encountered.  There’s some rye spice right off the bat, along with hints of toffee, barrel char, and baking spices, with cardamon being most dominant.  The entry is a bit thin, due to the lower proof, but things pick up.  The rye spice on the nose isn’t as evident here, but it provides a touch of sharpness to the flavor, complimented by green tea.  Spiced caramel adds some sweetness, and vanilla pods add to its complexity.  Then oak tannins take over and begin drying things out for the finish, which is bittersweet and dry.  

If you’ve had the Basil Hayden’s bourbon, the new rye whiskey will be familiar. Both are bottled at 80 proof, and both should be considered “mellow.”  Basil Hayden’s Rye is less sweet, spicier, oakier, and drier than its bourbon sibling.  The quarter cask maturation really magnifies the oak and astringency, as well as a more layered vanilla note.  

I’d love to see this at a higher proof, but then it probably couldn’t be bottled under the Basil Hayden banner.  Maybe next year there’ll be a special Knob Creek Rye we can enjoy at 100 proof.  That’d be fantastic!  That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this whiskey as is.  Like Basil Hayden, it’s approachable and designed for someone new to whiskey or someone not looking for a BIG whiskey (read: cask strength) experience.  And nicely priced to boot!  Bottles are selling for around $45.  8.5/10

Thanks to Beam Suntory for the sample.  As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.