Probably the best place in these bourbon crazed times to find amazing whiskey at reasonable costs are with store picks. Store picks are the cream off the top of the rick house so to speak – if the person picking knows anything about bourbon. Most good stores with a solid client base of bourbon drinkers eventually find their way to the barrel pick either as a way to garner new customers or simply to enjoy a little extra prestige in their local bourbon community. Expect a store pick to represent the label but offer extra age, deeper flavors or perhaps just a different perspective and a well loved profile.
Most distilleries offer barrel picks of certain labels and usually happens usually one of two ways. The original idea was that the person interested in something special travelled to the distillery to taste samples from select barrels of a certain product line. After they found one that really grabbed their palate they purchased the entire barrel and the distillery would have it bottled for them specifically with a special sticker denoting it as such. The bourbon then travels to the distributor to “middle man” it on the way back to the purchaser thanks to our three tier system. Now many stores simply receive a 2-4 small bottle samples the distillery send them to taste. The details of each barrel are on the sample and after you choose your favorite the distributor handles the details with the distillery and several months later you end up with the same result. More convenient, yes, but seems like less of an experience to me.
Tonight I am going to try a comparison of a great product from Buffalo Trace and a barrel pick of the same label. Eagle Rare 1o Year, a classic and a barrel pick labeled “Wicked Oak” I was sent by a fellow bourbon drinker. This barrel pick was actually a 12 year old barrel but proofed the same as the 10 year batched stock. Usually these prodcucts with an age statements like Eagle Rare 10 year are a batched blend of several barrels and the age statement must correspond to the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Commonly there are barrels older than the age statement in the warehouse and the blender brings these all together to keep a consistent batch experience for the drinker. Let’s see how the blended 10-year compares to a singular 12-year barrel of similar stock! Remember, each store pick is going to vary because that particular barrel is different from any other barrel and although you may find an Eagle Rare 10yr “store pick” it will likely vary from this particular store pick, but often the family resemblance is there.
10yr – sweet vanilla, maple syrup, a hint of alcohol and pepper. Spearmint seems to encompasses it all.
12yr – very similar but with a much more restrained sweetness. The extra two years in the barrel suggest a fresh tobacco note which is nice as well as a hint of mustiness.
10yr – The arrival is a fabulous balance of sweet spearmint, young green corn and butterscotch. The development is very paced as the mint fades and the sugar grows. There is some clove, fig, dried banana, a touch of cinnamon and then a slow, gradual finish that remains balanced and seems to go on and on. What a fabulous whiskey!
12yr – Arrives with a sweetened oak & well balanced sour/bitter edges that give it more complexity. Some dried herbs, figs, banana but it does still carry that signature spearmint and butterscotch – its just now the underlying theme with these new garnishing flavor notes though. The development is a little speedier than the 10yr and the finish is shorter, drier and balanced with more bitter notes.
WATER & 10 MINUTES:
10yr – The nose is slightly more delicate but still with spearmint, corn & butterscotch. The arrival now has a few more burnt sugars, herbs and some oak that preceeds the butterscotch. The development is mainly sweet & thin as well as brief. A little more alcohol heat drives it away sooner and the finish is shorter, drier and with less character.
12yr – The nose here is similar, more restrained than neat with age tempering the spearmint, sugar, tobacco & oak. The arrival after water is less memorable. More tannins and oak than the 10 year, as we saw before, but the development seems a little less balanced. Still fast and what little sugar there is appears late. The finish reveals the alcohol heat and bitter herbs.
CONCLUSION: These are fabulous and you can clearly see how they use the different ages of these barrels to create a wonderful, available and well priced whiskey. It was great to taste this as barrel picks for this label are not going to happen this year. Barrel picks really help you break down a particular label and understand a little of the intentions of the distiller, the blending and how they create a particular taste. I think both of these are best neat as the water seemed to unbalance them, shorten their development and make them a little less interesting overall.