The entire ethos of Barrell Craft Spirits is really based around blending. Their eponymous Barrell Bourbon batches typically combine bourbon from a few different states—often Tennessee, Kentucky and Indiana, the three U.S. bourbon powerhouses—in a quixotic quest to find the common ground of the American bourbon experience, or explore its far-flung corners. For special release bourbon batches, though, Barrell casts a significantly wider net, pulling together blends so large and complex that it’s hard to imagine how the blenders even approach such a task. Case in point: The brand’s 2023 New Year bourbon, the latest in a tradition of Limited Edition releases celebrating the dawn of a new calendar year.
Three states? That’s kid stuff. Barrell’s New Year 2023 Limited Edition Bourbon contains whiskey from no less than eight different U.S. states—Tennessee, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Wyoming, New York, Texas and Maryland. Likewise, it contains a huge range of age statements, with 5, 6, 7, 8 and 10-year-old straight bourbon whiskeys making up the blend. Who knows what kinds of percentages are involved there with so many different components, but when all is said and done, they come together at a cask strength of 113.54 proof (56.8% ABV). It pretty much goes without saying that we’re expecting a combination of many different regional influences in the resulting blend, which carries an MSRP of $85.
So with all that said, let’s dive straight into tasting.
On the nose, this one is leading off with classic bourbon impressions of toasted oak and peanut brittle/some praline, along with caramel and cinnamon. There’s a red fruitiness there as well, kind of a stewed fruit reduction that is a little jammy in nature. The nose grows richer and more redolent of caramelized sugars as it sits in the glass—over time, it seems considerably sweeter than it was when this dram was first poured. Ethanol presence is right about where it should be for the 113 proof.
On the palate, I’m getting cherry and brown sugar leading off, along with revisiting notes of brown sugar, toasted oak and cinnamon. There’s a hazelnut note that is nice, and some cornbread, along with more of that jammy red fruit. Over time, though, the standout increasingly becomes the warm oaky spices, suggesting nutmeg and cardamom. Decently sweet up front, this takes on a moderately tannic dimension in short order and finishes fairly dry, making for a pretty elegant and balanced sipper. Ethanol is again right about where it should be for the proof point.
All in all, this bourbon feels equal parts familiar and slightly exotic, and the balance between sweetness and tannic dryness is a highlight. On both the nose and palate, it notably grows with a little time in the glass, so it’s not a bad idea to give this one 15 minutes or so after pouring to open up.
Distillery: Barrell Craft Spirits
City: Louisville, KY
Style: Blend of straight bourbon whiskeys
ABV: 56.8% (113.54 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $85 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.