September 27, 2023 1:54 pm

Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett

Photo Courtesy of Josh Barnett

Josh Barnett has a powerful presence. Standing at 6’3” with a strong and battle-hardened frame, it’s easy to understand how he earned the name “The Warmaster.” As a 2nd degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (under Erik Paulson and Rigan Machado), his mixed martial arts record is 35 wins out of 43 total bouts. Also, he is a Full Instructor in Combat Submission Wrestling (under Erik Paulson), and a Certified Pancrase Hybrid Wrestling Instructor. His career also includes a long list of significant victories, with the crowning achievement earning the title of the youngest UFC Heavyweight Champion (UFC 36, TKO vs. Randy Couture).

Diving deeper into his persona, a fascinating person emerges. He is versed in philosophy, film, music, and many other aspects of life. Most importantly, he loves whiskey. Taking it all in, one begins to consider the prototype of the renaissance man. Josh crushes the mold and carves his own path as a renaissance warmaster. There is a quote attributed to Vikings that states, “A man is not wealthy because has riches, but because he has valor.” Make no mistake, Josh lives a purposeful existence steeped in valor. Any endeavor that he chooses to engage in is met with a ferocious fervor, and he strives to experience every moment to the fullest. He leads an unflinching and unfiltered life that is fascinating beyond measure.

Josh is a huge fan of heavy metal music and he’s often seen supporting his favorite metal bands. Fun fact: Being known as “The Warmaster” came from the band Bolt Thrower and was bestowed upon him with their full blessing. This also included using their music for his fight entrances. The lyrics of the song “The War Master” by Bolt Thrower includes the line, “As man fights man / In the epic struggle for survival / The war master shall reign” and it’s wholly appropriate.

Finally, and most importantly, he is a true whiskey enthusiast. His palate is well experienced, and he knows what he likes. This doesn’t deter him from new experiences, but it sets a high bar to find his favor. That’s just the beginning. He is the mastermind behind Warbringer Mesquite Smoked Small Batch Southwest Bourbon (49% ABV), made at Sespe Creek Distillery in Oxnard, CA. For those looking for the next level, there is the Warbringer Warmaster Edition (54.5% ABV) in extremely limited quantities. The mashbill is 75% roasted and mesquite smoked corn, and 25% malted rye. The product is finished in a sherry cask to add sweetness against the smoke. Rest assured, this just isn’t a label that bears his name and signature. He’s involved with the production of this whiskey at every level. When you take a swig of this big, bold whiskey, he’s been a part of the process at some point along the way.

Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett is a unique figure in the landscape. A true warrior who lives life to the fullest, and he is an epic whiskey enthusiast.

Photo Courtesy of Josh Barnett

Read on to see the details of our discussion.

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What are your first memories of whiskey?

It would be my parents having a whiskey and Coke at the end of the day. It was usually the cheapest Canadian whisky available. It was usually MacNaughton, Canadian Club, Black Velvet, or something like that. I remember my mom referencing scotch as something she enjoyed, but they just weren’t going to spend that kind of money on whiskey at the time. My dad did buy Evan Williams and I have a sweet spot for that, as it was among my first tasting experiences.

I remember when they started bringing the white label Bottled in Bond out here to the west coast, and I’d only see it in the south and east. I was really tickled about it because it’s my “well whiskey” here at the house. I use it for drinking, cooking, marinading, or whatever I need it for. It covers all the bases.

Do you have any other favorite bottles?

Another one would be Wild Turkey 101. If I’m at a bar somewhere and there isn’t much of a selection, I’ll order it. Some people say it’s frat boy whiskey, but I’ll let them know that it’s pure, straight-up, classic American Bourbon and that it has all the things you’d expect.

Also, I enjoy 1792 Full Proof. It has some great flavors.

One of my absolute favorite whiskeys is Old Grandad 114. I’m a big fan and it’s as classic as it gets. It’s got the proof, the dark cherry finish, and I just consider it to be a super classic.

On the other hand, I do also like Jack Daniels Select Rye. I’ll drink it on the rocks or straight, but on this one I do not like the cask strength version. The finish is like cherry cough drops and I do not like the artificial taste.

What flavors do you enjoy in whiskey?

What I drink depends on the mood I’m trying to set, what I am eating, and/or what cigar I am smoking at the time. To me, there needs to be a nice journey to the whiskey. It starts in one place, it gets going, and then a nice long finish. I love something like that you can sit back and experience.

If I’m drinking bourbon, I’m going to expect cherry and corn sweetness. Sometimes, you can get a taste of bananas foster, like in 1792 Full Proof as an example. Caramel and crème brulé are also nice things to encounter. Finally, I want to get oak and tannins in the mix.

I’m not the biggest rye drinker. Depending on how much rye is used, I’ll be looking for mint and camphor. However, rye tends to get dry, which I do not enjoy.

If I’m drinking scotch, I enjoy heavily peated and non-peated. With peated whisky, I look for tobacco flavors. For non-peated, I look for the flavors of barley and bread. If they are using ex-bourbon barrels then I’ll also want to taste vibrant vanilla, caramel, butterscotch, and sometimes dark fruit rind flavors.

In general, I prefer cask strength. It enhances the journey.

Photo Courtesy of Josh Barnett

Switching gears to your own brand of bourbon, how did Warbringer Bourbon come about?

Originally, Alfred English (Sespe Creek Distillery) reached out to me about getting together for a whiskey project. After seeing the success of Conor McGregor and his Proper 12 product, we felt it could be the biggest kick ass thing around with us teaming up. David Brandt (Sespe Creek Distillery) had this idea of making a bourbon that would be the equivalent of an American Islay. He wanted to base it off the terroir of the area, so it had to be Southwestern inspired. Unbeknownst to them, I was already in talks with several distilleries in Kentucky to do a whiskey project at the time.

I was serious about it and wanted to create something that would embody how I feel about whiskey. It needed to be an incredibly delicious and high-quality product. So, I went up there and we hit it off right away. I loved the attitude of everyone there. With that, I said that until I tasted the finished product, we would not know what we could do with this relationship. As it turned out, the whiskey was incredible. So, we went full steam ahead. The first release, being the Warmaster Edition, was just a knockout and it blew off the shelves.

The corn is mesquite smoked and that gives it that really deep, smoky, campfire/charred wood element. Then we decided to use a sherry cask to finish it which rounded out the sweetness. We love intense smoke, but it can bring bitter elements and some may not like that. Mesquite is very potent, and you don’t need as many phenols to get insanely smokey. For example, Octomore from Bruichladdich is ultra-peated and contains an insane amount of peat smoke. If you did that with mesquite it would absolutely knock you out of your chair.

With this whiskey, I’ve had my hands in every aspect of the process at one point or another. There are bottles that people have bought where I milled the grain, made the mash, distilled it, and/or bottled/labeled it. It gave me a much better understanding of the process and influenced how I evolved my own product. Through this process, I’ve had so many other things floating around in my head. It’s so much easier to conceptualize when you’ve had a hand in doing everything.

Some people may not like intense smoke, but it is something that I believe in and stand behind. If some don’t like it, I don’t give a damn. If you do like it, I want to help you enjoy it as much as possible and keep you stocked up with it. It’s uncut, not chill filtered, and brings so much more depth of flavor with a nice long finish.

Right out of the gate we won one gold medal at the San Francisco Spirits Competition.

Photos Courtesy of Josh Barnett

I can confirm it’s a well-made whiskey. My first taste was backstage with you at a Behemoth show. I’ve enjoyed it on many occasions since then. Well done!

Can you share any stories related to whiskey with our audience?

I enjoy spending time hanging with people and sharing whiskey. Every time Inferno from Behemoth is on tour, he has a case of sample bottles. We taste the whiskey, compare notes, and enjoy the moment. I did this bare-knuckle fight in Poland in 2020. All the guys from the band are from Poland, so they were there to cheer me on, which was funny because I was fighting a Polish guy and the whole crowd was cheering for him. I’m winning the fight and there’s a small section with the band cheering for me. Everyone in the audience was confused!

After that fight, I went out and bought a bottle of Black Art 7.1. We cracked it open for a victory celebration. That was fantastic. It’s one of my favorite whiskeys and I love the whole collection. I just wish it was easier to acquire.
On that note, I have spent some time in Japan and enjoyed their whisky very much. At one point, it was easy to buy Yamazaki 18 and that was an experience that helped cement my love of whisky. I love the subtlety and gentle touch. They have since seen a massive rise in popularity and those bottles are impossible to find. I should have saved some!

Thanks for indulging us and talking about whiskey. Let’s touch on your career. What led you to being a professional fighter?

It was a calling, but it was the kind of thing that couldn’t really be a calling until I knew it existed. Once I saw it, I knew with the deepest part of my being that I had to do it. I always had this confidence I was going to be good, and I was bound and determined to be a professional mixed martial arts fighter.

A lot of people talked about their martial arts skills and black belts, but nobody was ever put to the test until the UFC came around. To me, it looked like the most competitive sport around. Football, soccer, and basketball are competitive but team sports. Sports like Track and Field are a continuous test against yourself. Fighting is one on one, and my actions directly impact you. I’m literally putting my hands on you, and we are engaging in striking and submission. It is competing at the highest level of athletic ability.

It like making a killer whiskey. You have an idea, and then distill it. Then, you have to age it. Finally, you get to taste it. Until you go through the process, you don’t know what the end result is going to be.

Photo Courtesy of Josh Barnett

Is there a fight that defines your career?

I’d say that winning the UFC Heavyweight title at 24 definitely defines my career in a lot of ways. At the time, it made me the youngest UFC Champion of all time. Another fight that comes to mind is winning the King of Pancrase title in 2003 because it was such a call back to my original MMA coach Matt Hume. He was in the first King of Pancrase tournament but was eliminated in the first round. I came back 10 years later as his student and won the title. So that had a lot of weight behind it. I’m very proud of those wins, but I have a pretty deep career and every fight has its own importance to me.

Thank you for sharing that with us. What projects are you currently active with?

There is a new project I’m proud to present. You can’t get any better than MMA and metal, so I am doing a collaboration with Amon Amarth, Victorious Merch, and Adam Foster to release a line of premium MMA fight wear. It’s called War Materials and is battle tested for a full-on assault. The Warmaster Series: Berserker features amazing artwork and is approved by me and the band. I’m very good friends with the lead singer, Johann, (along with the rest of the band) and he loves training MMA. He has worked out with me in Sweden and Los Angeles plenty of times.

The gear is suitable for beginners and the most elite warriors. You can find out more on my website, including how to purchase. Well, we are always doing stuff with Sespe Creek and Warbringer Warmaster Edition. So be on the lookout for it, and the other great spirits from the distillery. Silver Grin Vodka and Parlor Cay Rum are both excellent products, as well.

The advantage of being a whiskey distiller is that I’ve been able to use the barrels for a couple of projects. The first one is a Scotch Ale I did with Burns Pub in Colorado. In addition, I worked with my buddy Eddie from the Rock and Roll Beer Guy podcast, and we created a barley wine aged in ex-bourbon barrels. It’s called Black Blood of the Earth as an homage to John Carpenters Big Trouble in Little China. It comes in at 11.5% ABV and it is fantastic. Unfortunately, the brewery that made it just went under, so get it if you can!

Finally, I’ve got a pro wrestling match in Japan on September 3rd where I will be taking on Masakatsu Funaki in a GHC Martial Arts Rules match at the NOAH event in Osaka, Japan. You can find out how to watch it on my social media profiles or my web site.

Photo Courtesy of Josh Barnett

Clearly, you are a huge fan of metal music. I’ve seen you at a few shows. You support the community, and have many friends in great bands. How did you get turned on to metal music?

I grew up with it and have always been a huge fan. When I first saw Iron Maiden album covers and t-shirts, I thought it looked amazing. Then, I was blown away by the music. Then it was Metallica, Judas Priest, AC/DC, and bands like that.
At that point, thrash and death metal emerged. Bands like Cannibal Corpse and Death came around. Slayer scared me as a kid… I was frightened to listen to Die By the Sword. I thought it was so Satanic, that something was going to happen. Finally, I found the band Bolt Thrower and I thought it was the heaviest and gnarliest thing I’d ever heard.

I was a full-on dyed-in-the-wool metal head and it stuck. It’s just a passion. I can say very confidently that as genres have changed, music has gotten worse. It’s more produced, less authentic, and less sincere. If you want to see good live music, you still go to a metal show for that. There are bands who have spent many years honing their craft and seeing them firing on all fours is a rare thing. There is camaraderie in the community. Necessary and proper gatekeeping keeps the environment incredibly welcoming, yet at the same time there is no time for posers and bullshit, which is great.

We could talk for a few more hours about music and whiskey! I wanted to thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions so far. There is one last segment.

It is our tradition at the Whiskey Network to ask our guests the same final 5 questions, also known as the Mashbill: Whiskey Network Wants to Know Your Recipe

Question 1: What was the last whiskey, bourbon, or scotch in your glass?

I’ve got a match coming up, so I haven’t been drinking as much. It was a glass of Four Roses when I went to the Regent Theater in Los Angeles to see Panzerfaust.

Question 2: Do you prefer to drink your whiskey from a specific type of glass?

I prefer to drink it out of a Canadian or standard Glencairn. However, if I am doing a rocks glass I like ones from the 60’s or 70’s that have a bit more weight to them. I have this beautiful crystal set of glasses and decanter that my amazing fiancé gave to me as a Christmas gift. I absolutely love it and keep it filled with Old Grandad 114 or Highland Park Cask Strength.

Question 3: Do you have a Unicorn bottle?

I would like a bottle Karuizawa Japanese Whisky. Also, I would love to get another Hibiki 30. Of course, I’m always on the lookout for any Black Arts expression that I can find.

Question 4: I’m looking for a gift for a friend. My budget is around $50 to $75. What would you recommend I buy?

I’d say Old Grandad 114 would fit very well into that. Maybe it’s a little under, so how about a Signatory Vintage Ben Nevis? There are some heavily sherried independent bottlings that are within that price range. They may have a bit more funk than most people can take, but you never know.

Question 5: What is your favorite toast?

I like “cheers.” Keep it simple.

On behalf of Whiskey Network Magazine, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We look forward to hearing more about your music and ongoing whiskey journey soon!

Thank you.

We are proud to welcome Josh “The Warmaster” Barnett to the Whiskey Network Family. He is a fascinating and multi-faceted person who is well into an amazing journey in his life. He is a smart and informed whiskey authority, both in drinking and making it. His palate is dialed in and it’s clear that he’s tasted many of the finer things that whiskey has to offer. Yet, he appreciates the simplicity and consistency of well-made and readily available products.

Cheers to you, Josh!

"Whisky is liquid sunshine."

George Bernard Shaw

“The light music of whiskey falling into a glass – an agreeable interlude.”

James Joyce

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