Shavua Tov, Shanah Tovah, and G’mar Chatimah Tovah!

Last week was an incredibly busy week at the Whiskey Club. After a month and a half, or actually two months, of break, we finally reunited at both clubs—Bergen in North Jersey and Hoboken in Central Jersey. We had two guests, each representing a different type of whiskey that might not seem thrilling at first glance—a blend and a single malt from Oregon, with not too many expressions. Yet, I was delighted to see both clubs completely captivated by them. Sometimes, if you pause, take a sniff, and set aside preconceived notions, you discover delightful surprises.

Barrell came to visit us. There’s a lot to say about them. They’ve been active for almost 10 years, but like George Clooney, who took time to rise to fame, they needed the right moment to shine. And they did, especially with their unique-looking sales representative!

Barrell doesn’t distill; instead, they blend. They work with 80 (!) distilleries and manage three rickhouses in three different states. Their philosophy is that each distillate has its own unique flavor. Some distillates might not stand alone, and others might be tasty but weak in ABV. Barrell’s skill is in creating the perfect mash bill every time, resulting in something spectacular. Like a chef who takes unappetizing ingredients and creates a masterpiece—ever tried paprika on its own? Yuck! But in a blend, it’s magic.

Creating a good blend takes time, and their team comprises people from diverse backgrounds with different palates to ensure complexity in flavor. Another fascinating aspect is their finishing process. One bottle, at 66% ABV, finished in rum, cabernet, and port casks—the Dovetail. I’ve mentioned it before, and yes, it’s a blend and wine-finished. Despite mixed opinions on this approach, in a room of 30 people, with 10% seasoned whiskey drinkers and 10% newbies, everyone loved it!

We tasted:

Dovetail This one hooked me! The first Barrell I ever tried at 61.72%—a blend of rum, cabernet, and port casks. I’ve posted about it before. What can I say? A 60% blend that I finished a bottle of. This is their classic bottle.

Seagrass A rye finished in Martinique rum, madeira, and apricot brandy (??) casks at 60.19% ABV. This whiskey received enthusiastic reactions, with cinnamon spice from the rye complemented by the sweetness of the rum, wine, and brandy. On the nose, the spiciness from the rye was evident, coming from Indiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Canada. There was much talk about the presence of apricot—though I personally didn’t detect it.

Vantage A blend of bourbons that earned Barrell a top 5 spot in the world’s best whiskies of 2022. The blend is aged in mizunara, French oak, and American oak casks, at 57.94% ABV. It reminded me of Dovetail in its sweetness but was much lighter. Apparently, 3% really makes a difference, as Yuri Costa once told me. These are very old bourbons, 16 years and older, from Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky. Vanilla and toffee notes were light and clear. But there’s no doubt the finish stood out. I wondered if bourbon aged over 16 years isn’t inherently bitter because, from my bourbon studies, after 10 years, it’s challenging to get sweet bourbon—though not impossible—because the bitterness of the oak starts to come through. This led to the next tasting.

Barrell Bourbon Batch 034 Barrell began with bourbons, and I still get confused and call them “Barrell Bourbon” instead of their new name, “Barrell Craft Spirits.” This blend combines eight different bourbons. One of the bourbons is 13 years old from Tennessee 🙂. I have a few guesses, but I’m sure the bourbon expert in the audience from an East Coast state 🙂 could give a hint?! I found it bitter and spicy at the end (“Excuse me, it burns my throat!!”), so I liked it less. I also had the chance to compare it to Batch 033, which was fundamentally different—more nutty, sweet, and round. Both were bitter at the end, so I asked the bourbon experts in the audience, those living in states starting with “S” and ending with “O”, if this is indeed the case that bourbon over 10 years starts to develop this bitterness.

Gray Label Bourbon 2022 This was the treat of the tastings—a quarter-thousand-dollar bottle 🙂. No doubt, everyone loved it. Barrels from Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky again, aged 15-17 years, with a bit of 11-year-old bourbon to enhance the flavor, proving my assumption that bourbon over 10 years tends to be more bitter, while closer to 10 is tastier. Trivia: part of the blend was aged an additional 36 months in ex-bourbon casks. It’s rich, sweet, velvety, with honey and sugar notes. Bourbon at its finest.

From blends and bourbon to single malt, but beer-based!

Thursday: Westward

Westward Distillery visited the Hoboken club. They are a brewery from Portland, Oregon, who decided to start a distillery based on beer processes and flavors! Personally, I’m not a beer fan; it’s the last drink I’d choose from a menu. So, I was fascinated that whiskey inspired by beer could be so tasty to me. I tasted them nine months ago and loved their cask strength, which was entirely chocolaty.

Westward offers a single malt in four versions: The regular version – A bold single malt at 45%, sweet and rich, with vanilla and spices. I might have tasted coconut? The yeast used in fermentation is something like “Chico,” commonly used in breweries, meaning whiskey made from beer yeast. Stay focused! Moving on…

Pinot Noir finish – 45%, with more fruitiness from local barrels from Bergström in Oregon, wet barrels…

Stout finish – 45%, friends, this is wild! A single malt finished in stout barrels, tasting like stout! Wait, but it’s whiskey, but it tastes like stout! Confused? So were we! I was very excited, mainly because my brain couldn’t grasp if I was drinking strong beer or light whiskey?!

Cask strength – 62.5%, hold your horses! This is THE thing. This is why I brought them—it’s a strong, rich, sweet single malt with strong chocolate flavors. Wow, it’s delicious.

What fascinates me about American single malt is that it’s often as sweet as its bourbon counterparts, flavors I assumed came from American oak, although I previously attributed them to sweet corn.

In summary—don’t judge a book by its cover, but drink what’s inside!


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