One of the more respected American blenders is Barrell Craft Spirits. Based in Louisville, Barrell has been at it for a decade and has won its fair share of awards (including some from me). Every release is at cask strength; Barrell wants to leave the proofing adventure to each individual’s preference.
“It’s incredible to think we’ve launched [so many] unique bourbon batches over the past 10 years, which truly speaks to our passion for pushing the creative envelope every day. […] As longtime champions of transparency, this further underscores our commitment to informing consumers about what’s in their glass of whiskey.” - Joe Beatrice, Founder of Barrell Craft Spirits
Barrell has just introduced its Cask Finish Series, highlighting its blending expertise with unique barrel finishes. It will be a recurring annual release that includes two blends each year. Barrell has been kind enough to send me each sample in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest reviews.
Each Bourbon was sipped neat from a Glencairn glass. Now, without further ado, let’s #DrinkCurious.
The first of the two is the Amburana Cask Finish.
Amburana is one of the newest, popular exotic wood types to hit the American whiskey scene and is starting to garner attention overseas. It comes from a hardwood tree that grows in Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Bolivia. Traditionally, it has been used to age cachaça, one of Brazil's most popular distilled spirits. Those casks typically offer strong cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and vanilla spice.
Barrell’s Amburana begins with a blend of Kentucky and Indiana Bourbons. The Kentucky component is 5-years, while Indiana’s is 5-, 6-, 7-, and 10-years. The mashbill is 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. This 52.81% (116.42°) Bourbon comes with a suggested retail price of $89.99 for a 750ml package.
Appearance: This Bourbon presented as a dark mahogany. Try as I might, I couldn’t get a stable rim to form; instead, it was jagged and broken. Thick, slow tears fell back to the pool.
Nose: Cinnamon apple strudel? This smelled like dessert! I also found bananas, almonds, and rice pudding. I handed my glass to Mrs. Whiskeyfellow and invited her to sniff, who proclaimed, “Oh, yummy!” When I inhaled the vapor, it became like a cinnamon-dusted coffee cake.
Palate: There is no way on the planet this is 116°. I had to grab the bottle and double-check. The dessert theme continued. I could have been eating pumpkin pie! The front tasted of pumpkin, nutmeg, and pastry crust. Midway through, I encountered ginger, cinnamon, and almonds. The back featured dry oak, corn, and black pepper.
And I got so lost in the pumpkin pie that I forgot to mention the mouthfeel, which was silky.
Finish: The most dominating flavor remaining was ginger; it even overtook the black pepper. The pumpkin pie came close to sticking it out but fell away shortly before the ginger. The finish was long and spicy.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Do you remember when I doubted the proof? I was so enchanted with the taste and trying to pull out all the flavors that the proof snuck up on me. I could feel it in my head. So, the first thing I will tell you is if you need to go anywhere, make sure you have a designated driver.
Secondly, this was just stupidly delicious. I loved it. I want to find other whiskeys finished in Amburana casks. It would be challenging if you asked me to choose between Amburana and Tokaji casks. Both give dessert sensations, but they’re so different.
Barrell Amburana is one of those I-don’t-care-what-this-costs whiskeys. Just buy yourself a Bottle. Meanwhile, I’m still stunned. While I’ve not yet tasted the second Bourbon, Amburana is the best Bourbon I’ve tasted in 2023 so far.
The second is the Tale of Two Islands.
In 2018, Barrell released its Tale of Two Islands Rum, which took Jamaican rum and aged it in peated Islay Scotch whisky casks (for the record, that made my mouth water). Those casks were then used to finish a blend of 5-, 6-, and 9-year Indiana and 5- and 6-year Maryland Bourbons.
The final mashbill was 73% corn, 23% rye, and 4% malted barley. Tale of Two Islands is packaged at 59.11% ABV (118.22°) and has a suggested price of $89.99 for a 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This Bourbon possessed a rusty coloring. A medium-weighted rim created thick, slow tears.
Nose: I could smell this whiskey from across the room while I allowed it to breathe. The aroma comprised molasses, brine, cherries, bananas, lemon curd, and orange peel. When I pulled the air through my lips, I found toasted coconut.
Palate: This Bourbon’s texture initially seemed slick but began to congeal before arriving at the back of my throat. While that distracted me, I noticed that flavors from all over the map were competing with one another. I could identify something mineral (but not Dickel's minerality), coconut, and stewed peaches on the front. The middle offered tastes of cherries, apricots, and molasses, while the back tasted of oak, clove, and baking chocolate.
Finish: What was left behind were apricots, molasses, cherry cola, lemon zest, cocoa, oak tannins, and black pepper. It had a medium-to-long duration.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I had expected some peat with the Islay component; what came instead was the brininess and baking chocolate. That’s not bad; it teaches us not to make assumptions. A Tale of Two Islands is a seriously complex Bourbon. I was confused, which meant it held my attention, forcing me to concentrate harder. I like that.
Like the Amburana, Tale of Two Islands drank far below the stated proof. The only thing that reminded me it was cask strength was the numbing of my hard palate. I enjoyed what was in my glass. As I type this, I still want peat; regardless, it was unusual in a good way, which means it takes my Bottle rating.
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you to do so responsibly.