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WBSE Barrel Pick Team Travels to Barton 1792 Distillery
The latest iteration of the WBSE Barrel Pick team spent a cold and rainy morning in early March at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. Their objective: to spend some quality time with four barrels, choosing the one that would become the next WBSE Barrel Pick.
Co-founders Bill Varnell and Chad Cadden traveled to the Bourbon Capital of the World from WBSE World Headquarters in Pennsylvania. WBSE members Diane Johnson, Eric Parks, Taylor Veatch, and I traveled from various parts of Kentucky to complete the tasting team.
Sadie Franklin, from the Single Barrel Select program, was our guide for the tasting. The program allows groups working with local liquor stores, bars, and restaurants to choose their own barrel right onsite at both Barton 1792 Distillery and Buffalo Trace Distillery in Frankfort. Both are owned by Sazarac. (I tagged along with another group picking a barrel at Buffalo Trace last fall. You can read about their adventures here in the December issue of Whiskey Network Magazine.)
Let the Tasting Begin
After meeting in the Barton visitors center, we walked across the property to a black sheet-metal rickhouse. Shaking off the raindrops and breathing in the wonderful smell, we walked past hundreds of barrels to the back of the building. Here four barrels, a whiskey thief, and a makeshift tasting table waited. Watching as our breath turned into fog in the cold air, we knew these barrels on the floor would soon warm us up.
Franklin told us we were about to taste from 7-and-a-half-year-old sibling barrels from the sixth floor, about halfway back, in Warehouse U. Proofs directly from the barrels range from 130 to 134.
“You’ve got four glasses,” Franklin said. “We’re going to thief all of them now so you have them in front of you and you can go back and forth. Nose it. I tell people to taste it full proof because it’s fun. You’re not going to get that barrel strength ever again. Then taste it with a little bit of water added.”
In addition to our glasses, we each had clipboards where we could record nosing and tasting notes. There were sections to rank each barrel, considering Nose, Aroma, and Taste (Spice, Sweet, Fruit, Floral, Wood/Nut), and Mouthfeel (Body, Finish, Complexity).
We began the morning with the idea that our chosen barrel would be Bottled-in-Bond. (To be labeled Bottled-in Bond, a bourbon must be made by one distillery in a single distilling season, aged at least four years in a bonded warehouse, and be bottled at 100 proof.) But that’s not how our morning ended.
We filled each of our glasses using a whiskey thief from barrels A, B, C, and D. The next 30 minutes were a blur of overlapping comments and reactions to how each sample smelled, tasted, looked when held up to the light, and then tasted again.
“I’m getting a sweetness with a little spice.”
“I get caramel, cereal, a little apple maybe.”
“I do get that apple now.”
“Oh, that one’s really spicey!”
“So far, each barrel has a different nose.”
“The legs are sexy on this, without a doubt.”
“Nothing beats bourbon for breakfast.”
“I’m getting a hint of honeysuckle.”
“I’m not getting the honeysuckle at all.”
“Leathery, creamy mouthfeel. Super approachable.”
At one point Veatch tempered his comments by saying, “Maybe it’s because I’ve had 4 ounces of bourbon before lunch.”
One taster thought one sample was oaky, nutty, leather, with a light to medium viscosity. A second taster thought another sample had hints of bananas, crème brule, baking spices, and nuttiness.
“It’s amazing the difference you get from barrel to barrel, even though they’re from the same rickhouse and pretty close in proof,” Varnell said.
It’s a beautiful whiskey
Eventually, the top choices were narrowed to Barrels C and D. Glasses were refilled again, a few drops of water added, and a consensus began to form.
“The nose on D is soft,” Cadden said. “But the taste, you get that dusty funk like some of the old dusties from the sixties and seventies. I drink a lot of the older ones and this reminds me of them.”
The more the group gravitated to D, the sentiment moved toward wanting to keep the proof as high as possible, noting how it changes the nose and the flavor profile,
Franklin suggested that Barrel D be bottled as Full Proof, bringing the proof up from 100 at Bottled-in-Bond to 125. That suggestion was unanimously approved by the group. “D for Delicious. It’s a beautiful whiskey,” Varnell said.
“I made more notes on D than anyone of them,” Parks said.
“I only made one note on D. So. Much. Funk.” Cadden added.
“It’s always fun to see how the different groups come to their choices,” Franklin said. “Some groups are just, ‘I like it, I don’t like it.’ And then other people are much more into it, like you guys. So, it’s fun to see people geek out on this.”
The barrel yielded 180 bottles, which are being sold by Freeland Wine and Spirits in Maryland for $51.99 plus tax. The bottles sold out in days. The previous WBSE Barrel Pick, a Sagamore Spirit Rye, sold out in 48 hours.
“We’ve built a reputation, Chad and I, and the WBSE team, for knowing about whiskey. People know we pick good whiskies,” Varnell said.
Arrangements are now being made for the next WBSE barrel pick. Subscribe to the weekly Barrel Report newsletter here for details.
Notes on Barton 1792 Full Proof Bourbon from the Distillery:
Bourbon insiders have long acknowledged that full proof bourbon has a distinguished and rich flavor. This bourbon underwent a distinct filtering process, forgoing the typical chill filtration and passing only through a plate and frame filter. This allowed the bourbon to maintain a robust proof for bottling, as well as a full, rich and bold flavor. Bottled at its original 125 barrel entry proof, just as it was years ago when the barrels were first filled, 1792 Full Proof Bourbon is exceptionally distinct.
Strong and full of flavor, this bold bourbon boasts an incredible deep and smoky taste, superbly balanced with sweet vanilla and notes of caramel.