Barrell Bourbon Cask Finish: Mizunara Review

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Barrell Bourbon Cask Finish: Mizunara Review

In an overcrowded market for American whiskey, fads in “finished” bourbon come and go with regularity. A new style of wood finish, spirit finish or wine finish will come into vogue, sending all the companies in the sector scrambling to recreate their own version. You could say this was the case with Japanese Mizunara oak, except it’s not really possible for everyone to get in on the fun with this particular style of wood–the stuff is just too hard to come by. When a Mizunara oak tree takes 200 to 500 years to mature before being harvested … yeah, you can’t exactly plant more of those in response to the whiskey boom of the last two decades. Regardless of fads, Mizunara is always going to be hard to come by, which has helped to preserve the mystique of its use. And the new Barrell Mizunara Cask Finish is a good example of what people find so intriguing about this unusual wood in the first place.

This is the third entry in the Cask Finish Series from Barrell Craft Spirits, which began in the fall of 2023 with Amburana and A Tale of Two Islands releases. Barrell Bourbon Cask Finish: Mizunara, on the other hand, is a complex blend of distillates from Indiana, Tennessee and Kentucky–the usual Barrell suppliers–where each individual spirit of differing ages spent time in a secondary maturation within toasted Mizunara barrels for a year and a half. All of those disparate bourbons were then blended together by the Barrell team in search of a harmonious profile.

As is typical of these ambitious Barrell blends, there are quite a few different liquids involved here: 6, 7 and 9-year-old Indiana bourbon; 8 and 14-year-old Tennessee bourbon; 8-year-old Kentucky bourbon. This blend ends with a “derived mash bill” of 76% corn, 20% rye and 4% malted barley, at a cask strength of 58.21% ABV (116.42 proof). Perhaps surprisingly, it carries the same MSRP ($85) as typical entries in the core, numbered Barrell Bourbon series.

That last bit bears repeating: Mizunara oak is extremely expensive in comparison with an American-sourced white oak, and distilleries have to pay a vast premium to lay their hands on it. Barrell could very easily have taken that fact as an opportunity to jack up the price on Barrell Mizunara, and doing so would have been perfectly defensible. Leaving this MSRP at $85 arguably makes this perhaps the best value in bourbons on the American market to specifically feature Japanese oak, so if that’s something you’re particularly interested in exploring you should be taking special note of this release.

So with that said, let’s get to tasting this new release.

On the nose, I’m getting a lot of dark and dried fruit notes first, with dark cherry and raisin leading the way. There’s a nuttiness here, evocative of cacao nibs and freshly baked cornbread. The woody character has sawdust and lumber mill, more “freshly cut” wood in nature, but also a simultaneous, more delicately toasted woodiness underneath. Sweeter impression of honey biscuits and subtle toasted coconut rounded things out. There’s a lot going on here, though it’s simultaneously not exactly explosive in its assertiveness. The overall effect is subtly complex.

On the palate, a woody spice permeates this dram, but it thankfully doesn’t contribute an unpleasant or overly dry character. Star anise and sandalwood are prominent, with old leather and toasted oak. Sweeter impressions of caramel are found on the mid-palate and finish, but it’s infused with a heavy charge of baking spice. Significant pepperiness and orange citrus duel it out with that delicate, exotic woody spice. Residual sweetness throughout is pretty mild, with each sip coming to a dryer finish that nevertheless doesn’t actually “dry out” the palate–it sort of balances in a narrow channel between mildly sweet and predominantly dry.

The wood character of Barrell Mizunara manages to be simultaneously the star of the show, but also not beat the drinker over the head with the theme. I can only conclude that this has been blended in expert fashion, by someone seeking to highlight the star attraction without overexposing it. There will probably be some drinkers out there who are hoping for a more immediately identifiable, exotic oak character here, the kind of thing one tends to find in amburana releases, but I appreciate the more subtle touch displayed here.

Distillery: Barrell Craft Spirits
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Blend of straight bourbon whiskeys
ABV: 58.21% (116.42 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $85 MSRP

Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident craft beer and spirits geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.

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