A few months back, I purchased a Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon selected by the Bourbon Lens podcast. After reviewing the standard 90-proof Frey Ranch Bourbon, I’d been itching to try a barrel-strength version. Needless to say, I’m expecting a more robust and complex whiskey.
Pour: Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon b. 979
Age: at least 4 years
Color: rich copper
Nose: caramel popcorn, cinnamon grahams, wintergreen
Taste: peppery vanilla, pancakes w/ maple syrup, spiced apple
Finish: long & spicy w/ cinnamon candy, clove, oak, pepper
Overall: As predicted, robust and complex – especially considering its age. And while high in proof, I wouldn’t classify this bourbon as hot; the ABV is actually quite comfortable. A unique and tasty pour with a wintergreen zing.
Hyper-aged bourbon is a polarizing subject. One could say the same of whiskey in general, but when it comes to the $150 Elijah Craig 18, it’s generally love it or hate it. Sadly, once secondary market values are factored in, the divide seems moot. Oh well. Time to weigh in!
Pour: Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel
Age: 18 years
Nose: fragrant oak, cedar, spiced apple
Taste: woody vanilla bean, savory caramel, antique leather
Finish: moderate length w/ charred oak, tobacco, earthy spice
Overall: Granted, it’s a single-barrel expression, so there will be variance, but damn if this Elijah Craig 18 isn’t tasty. It’s an oak bomb, however, and far from subtle. But in this case there’s just enough sweetness to balance out the woodiness.
Rating: Oaky dokie.
In December of last year, I purchased a Woodinville Straight Bourbon Whiskey (90 proof). I wasn’t impressed. While not unpleasant, it came across a bit too “crafty,” for lack of a better word. Since then, I’ve been encouraged to try a Woodinville Single Barrel Select. Here goes!
Pour: Woodinville Single Barrel Select (Bourbon Pursuit)
Age: 5 years
Nose: maple syrup, blueberry pancakes, caramel popcorn
Taste: toasted vanilla, English toffee, boozy butterscotch
Finish: long & notably warm – molasses, cream soda, sweet sassafras
Overall: I’m not sure if it’s the absence of dilution or just an exceptional barrel, but this Woodinville selection is no joke. Hell, it’s excellent. There’s so much flavor, in a blind tasting I’m doubtful I’d pin its age as 5 years. Well done, Woodinville.
Four Roses Single Barrel private selections aren’t easily found in my neck of the woods. When I see one, I buy it, as was the case with this 10-year OESF barrel from “South Carolina Hospitality.” Based on the fact it hit multiple stores, it’s likely a distributor selection.
Pour: Four Roses Single Barrel Select (b. 79-6L)
Age: 10 years, 2 months
Color: dense copper
Nose: heavy caramel, blood orange, toasted coconut
Taste: tart vanilla, oak char, tangy maple syrup
Finish: long, hot, and dry – cinnamon candy, raspberry tea, tobacco
Overall: While the nose sings with an enticing medley of caramel and dark fruit, the taste beats a tart & shaky rhythm. Any hopes for a rousing finale are swiftly shuffled off stage by its heat and drying finish. Not terrible; not great.
Rating: Every rose has its thorn.
Once labeled “small batch,” Baker’s Bourbon was rebranded as a single-barrel expression in 2019. Thankfully, it maintained its 7-year minimum age and signature 107 proof. But what of its flavor profile? Does it occupy similar territory? I suppose that now depends on the barrel.
Pour: Baker’s Single Barrel Bourbon b. CL-D-186433
Age: 8 years, 6 months
Nose: English toffee, nutty caramel, orange peel
Taste: vanilla extract, sweet oak char, maple-citrus
Finish: long w/ molasses, brown sugar, dense baking spice
Overall: An ideal combination of age and proof, not to mention a profile that stands out among its Knob Creek cousins. For $60, Baker’s Single Barrel has far more to offer than its specs suggest – richness, depth, and well-balanced bourbon character.
Rating: Dark horse.
Today, I’m placing two heavyweights of the bourbon arena head to head: the incomparable Fred Minnick vs. Matt “Drama King” Rehwoldt a/k/a Wrestling with Whiskey. Each have 2021 New Riff Single Barrel Bourbon selections. Let’s find out who deserves the champion’s belt (ascot?).
Pour 1: New Riff SiB Bourbon 17-0126 (Minnick)
Age: 4 years
Color: rich amber
Nose: honey-apple, caramelized peaches, boozy bread
Taste: seared caramel, brown sugar, charred maple
Finish: sweet & savory licorice, oak char, applewood
Pour 2: New Riff SiB Bourbon 16-2899 (Rehwoldt)
Age: 4 years
Nose: butter toffee, bright citrus fruit, cake frosting
Taste: cream soda, caramel candy, singed honey
Finish: well-balanced oak, toasted vanilla, pepper
Overall: Such interesting profile differences. Fred’s selection is darker, showcasing orchard fruit, boozy dessert, and a heavier oak presence (slightly reminiscent of mature Barton). Matt’s is primarily toffee, citrus fruit, and candy, with a gentler oak vibe (very much reminiscent of 8-year Wild Turkey). Fred’s barrel is arguably more unique, but Matt’s is … well, I think y’all know how this match ends.
Victor: Drama King.
Henry McKenna Single Barrel, also known as McKenna Bottled in Bond, McKenna 10, and Ascot Gold. Once an inexpensive and attainable bottle ($25 in 2015) … Good times, Minnick, good times. I’ve had great barrels and so-so barrels, but never one worth chasing. Let’s revisit.
Pour: Henry McKenna Single Barrel (b. 9105, 3-19-08)
Age: 10 years
Color: rich honey
Nose: German chocolate cake, brown sugar, faint citrus
Taste: toasted caramel, English toffee, baked nutmeg
Finish: moderately long – dense oak, maple syrup, sweet tobacco
Overall: Well now, this is one beast of a pour. Henry McKenna Single Barrel is hitting all the right notes for me today. And German chocolate cake? Are you kidding me?! I don’t think I’ve ever sensed that note on a whiskey. Have to say, worth the $60 paid.
Rating: Fred’s Savage.
I first tasted Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon in 2019 on a trip to Kentucky. I had just wrapped up a barrel selection at Wild Turkey, so one could argue my palate wasn’t entirely fit for service. Now, it’s time to give this bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon a fair shot.
Pour: Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon (b. 16H29-8)
Age: at least 4 years
Color: dense copper
Nose: cocoa-hazelnut, caramel popcorn, dark baking spice
Taste: boozy toffee, charred oak, toasted brown sugar
Finish: moderately long – vanilla extract, black licorice, leather
Overall: While there are some profile notes hovering youthful, there are just as many (or more) well-developed notes offsetting them. Wilderness Trail Single Barrel Bourbon is impressive for its age; it’s just not ready for primetime. Not yet, but soon.
Rating: Almost there.
Ever see what people are paying for Rock Hill Farms on secondary markets? Pathetic, right? I’m guessing they’ve never tasted the $50 John J. Bowman, a lesser-known, 100-proof, single-barrel bourbon from another Sazerac brand. Oh, well. As you’ll soon find out … their loss.
Pour: John J. Bowman Single Barrel Bourbon
Age: not stated (reportedly 9-10 years)
Nose: cherry-vanilla frosting, caramel, cream soda
Taste: dried fruit, butter toffee, nutmeg, sugar glaze
Finish: moderately long – sweet oak char, Luden’s cherry, faint pepper
Overall: They say John J. Bowman starts out as Buffalo Trace distillate. It’s redistilled twice over by A. Smith Bowman, then aged and bottled in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Whatever the process, it not only tastes like 100-proof Buffalo Trace, it tastes better.
Rating: Horsey killer.
I’ve been a fan of New Riff’s bourbon for some time now. What they can do in a handful of years is remarkable. Until today, I’ve yet to experience their straight rye whiskey, and I’m doing so with their single-barrel expression, bottled NCF at full barrel proof. Cue the riff!
Pour: New Riff Single Barrel KY Straight Rye Whiskey 16-2074
Age: 4 years
Nose: apple, honey-butter, lemon zest, floral spice
Taste: cake frosting, lemon-lime soda, hints of ginger
Finish: moderately long – toffee drizzle, peppery oak, faint leather
Overall: A zesty, enjoyable Kentucky rye. While there’s a trace of youth here, it’s not at all distracting. In fact, I’d argue the vibrancy enhances its character. New Riff Single Barrel Rye is flavorful, sips its proof, and as such, gets my recommendation.
Several days ago, I reviewed Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof, an excellent TN Whiskey (BOURBON). Today, I’m giving Jack Daniel’s “Special Release” Barrel Proof Rye a go. I’ve heard nothing but good things – different levels of good, but good nonetheless. Let’s pour!
Pour: Jack Daniel’s SiB Barrel Proof Rye 20-06941
Age: not stated
Color: deep rosy copper
Nose: hummingbird cake, vanilla pudding, blood orange
Taste: rye pancakes, thick molasses, boozy citrus
Finish: long & intense – dark-fruity caramel, lemon-pepper, holiday spice
Overall: Folks, this is a grand slam. The viscosity, the depth, the complexity, the balance … it carries it effortlessly at a remarkably palatable 131.9 proof. It’s a single-barrel release, so there’s always that; but, if you see this rye don’t sleep on it.
However familiar your palate may be with Jack Daniel’s, it’s wildly incomplete until you’ve tasted Jack at barrel strength. I probably shouldn’t spoil this review so early, but preconceived notions be damned. This Tennessee whiskey will knock your bourbon snob socks off.
Pour: Jack Daniel’s SiB Barrel Proof 18-8417
Age: not stated
Color: dense copper
Nose: toasted vanilla bean, English toffee, buttery oak char
Taste: caramel chews, creme brulee, thick sweet molasses
Finish: long & sticky – brown sugar, rich honey-maple, baked cinnamon
Overall: This ain’t your daddy’s Jack. Ain’t Sinatra’s either. This is intense, in-your-face, full-flavored BOURBON from the last place you might expect it. Debate classifications all you’d like, but this whiskey sports a gold label for a reason.
Rating: Michael Anthony’s bass.