The average bourbon blend from Barrell Craft Spirits isn’t what you’d necessarily call “affordable” or “entry level.” In any one of their sequential, numbered batches (the most recent was Batch 027), the master blenders at Barrell are typically drawing from barrels that are 5-15 years old, sourced from Tennessee (Dickel), Indiana (MGP) and Kentucky (who knows?). These unique, disparate barrels have proved to be Barrell’s winning formula, allowing the blenders to highlight different elements of their sources in any given batch, which are always bottled at cask strength. Most carry premium MSRPs as a result, in the $90 range. This is the core of Barrell’s business, selling top-shelf sourced and blended spirits.
The “BCS” line at Barrell, though, is a different level entirely. The self-titled Barrell Craft Spirits Line of liquor releases focuses entirely on extra-matured whiskey, bourbon and rum, being blends with very high minimum age statements and large price tags to boot. They’ve also unsurprisingly been some of the company’s most glowingly reviewed and awarded releases to date. And today, we’re going to sample the latest BCS Bourbon, aged a robust 15 years.
This is BCS Bourbon Release 3, and it’s a doozy. Like other Barrell Bourbon releases, it’s composed of bourbons distilled in Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky, but unlike those releases everything here matured for at least 15 years. One might think of this series, then, as the extra-aged big brother of other Barrell Bourbon releases. Like the others, this is released at cask strength, although it’s a relatively low barrel proof of 52.45% ABV (104.9 proof). This isn’t uncommon, as many older barrels resting lower in rickhouses lose substantial proof after aging for such a long time. This BCS Bourbon Release 3 consists of roughly 12,000 bottles at select retailers within the brand’s 45 U.S. markets, and carries a steep MSRP of $250. That puts it in the same price tier as say, Brown-Forman’s King of Kentucky, which is some very tough competition for sure. At that price point, you have to bring the thunder.
So let’s get to tasting this limited release, and see how they did.
On the nose, this BCS Bourbon release leads with lovely notes of old oak and spice—there’s a slightly resinous, funkier old oak quality, but it segues into very dark caramel, cocoa and then into unexpected tropical fruit—caramelized bananas or plantains, but slight coconut as well. Those tropical elements weren’t something I expected to find in such an old bourbon blend, but they do help it stand out—overall, it strikes a nice balance between oaky, rich and also slightly funky.
On the palate, the initial tastes on this BCS Bourbon release are quite rich, as the first impression is a wave of liquid brown sugar. There’s some chocolate here as well, and no shortage of oak, which gives it a profile that is sweet and spicy and savory all at once. The spice notes favor baking spices, with hints of anise or licorice, while the sweet oakiness never overwhelms, although it does provide some fairly gentle tannic structure. I also am getting hints of very dark fruit, which puts me in the mind of blackberry jam. This bourbon also seems to get sweeter as it goes via exposure to air, transitioning from something that is merely “rich” to something that can fairly be described as decadent after it’s been sitting out for a few minutes. Syrupy and potent in texture, it hits hard for that 104.9 proof—this is some concentrated stuff. It closes with just enough drying oak to keep this bourbon from reading as saccharine.
All in all, pretty high marks here. There’s a lot going on in this BCS Bourbon release, and it feels like one of those whiskeys that will benefit from revisits. It ticks a lot of different flavor boxes at once: Sweet, oaky, fruity, spicy, etc., without totally committing to any of them as dominant. At the end of the day, that’s the sort of complexity you expect in a much more expensive release.
Distillery: Barrell Craft Spirits
City: Louisville, KY
ABV: 52.45% (104.9 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $250 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.