A small group of Binny’s employees tasted across 35 Bourbon barrel samples last night. Sounds like a lot of booze, right? We made it through okay, though I think my cheeks and taste buds are still a little raw. It was worth it. We have some excellent Hand-Picked Bourbon coming your way.
The goal last night was to pick new selections for three regular features in our Binny’s Hand Picked Cask program: Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, and Buffalo Trace. As we taste, we have to keep in mind the style of each Bourbon, not just choosing the best whiskey, but the best whiskey consistent in style.
If you’ve ever wondered about the process, here’s how we do it: distillers send 200mL sample bottles selected for Binny’s. They look like they’re from a laboratory, with plain white labels with basic info: date of distillation, bottling proof, warehouse shelf location. Also, each bottle has the standard government warning sticker.
In order to maintain consistency with each selection, we start by sampling the previous bottling, then taste across the new samples, silently taking notes on each. Independence is key; only after everybody has a chance to taste and reflect do we discuss. Often the whiskey speaks for itself, making the voting easier.
First up: Blanton’s
The previous Binny’s bottling of Blanton’s is wonderful. A nose full of honey, baking spice, and lots of butterscotch leads into a whiskey lively and spirited on the palate but mellow in taste. Good butterscotch, then the grain comes across, with a long finish of cherry and just a hint of smoke.
We tasted five new samples last night, weighing each against the others to find the best, and most appropriate stylistically. We pick a favorite and a runner up, and it’s notable that we hit a consensus easily. The next Binny’s Hand Picked Blanton’s bottling is going to be great.
Next up: Eagle Rare
The previous example of Eagle Rare is superb: the nose features caramel with good, tight grain, plus maple and butterscotch. There is a grassy quality on the palate, under the heat and toffee. It stays bright and fresh throughout with hints of mushroom, grass, and citrus, and remains delicious and bright.
Due to demand, we will need a few barrels from these ten samples, and again consensus is reached quickly about the best choices. If you’re looking for an interesting Eagle Rare tasting experience, the 375mL and 1.75L bottles will be from a different barrel not seen in 750mL bottles. I think it might be fun to taste the two barrels, distilled on the same day, stored side by side, just to see the similarities and differences.
The Main Event: Buffalo Trace
Buffalo Trace is one of the cornerstones of our Hand-Picked Casks program. We sell plenty of the stuff, so instead of a single barrel selection, we offer a multiple barrel vatting. Not only are we able to get large yet consistent batches, but this gives us the chance to use different expressions together for a superior final blend. Talk to a spirits guy at Binny’s and he’ll likely tell you that our Buffalo Trace is the best Buffalo Trace around.
Our previous Buffalo Trace – vatted from thirteen barrels – is absolutely delicious, making a lofty goal for this next batch. It is light, sweet and spicy on the nose, almost salinic on entry and dominated by grainy spice at first, but then the brown sugar sweetness kicks in. Beautiful.
This year, we had twenty barrel samples to choose from, which sounds intimidating. But the process is actually easier than with single barrel selections. Instead of taking detailed notes about each barrel, it is more important to get a snapshot of the flavor profile and how it relates to the ideal blend. Which barrels show more spice? Which show more sweetness? Which are right on?
With these notes in hand, we experiment with the blend, literally blendng the different samples together in a glass, complimenting sweet with spicy, broad with spirited, until we agree that we have found the best expression of Buffalo Trace Bourbon. It’s sweet, light, graceful, and as soon as we get it in, it’s going to knock your socks off.