barrell bourbon batch 21 review
Barrell Bourbon Batch 21
Distillery: Barrell (sourced from Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee)
Type & Region: Bourbon, USA
Composition: Blend of Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbon
Aged: Blend of 10-14 year old barrels
Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)
Price: $80-100 MSRP
From the Barrell website:
Since the win, the Barrell website now provides more detail into how it was blended, which offers some interesting insights into their process. It’ll be easier for you to read it straight from them instead of a paraphrased version here
barrell bourbon batch 21 overview
It’s my turn to give my take on Barrell Bourbon Batch 21, the blend of 10 to 14-year-old Kentucky, Indiana, and Tennessee bourbons that won “best bourbon” at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition (SFWSC). Honestly, I hadn’t given it much thought until it won, but I was able to find a bottle at MSRP after its win so it seemed prudent to review it myself. Unlike previous winners such as Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel that are released year-round (albeit highly allocated now), only 6,000 or so bottles of Batch 21 were ever made, making this a dwindling commodity that likely won’t be soon replicated. This is an unfortunate truth, but consistent with the smallish Barrell batches that usually blend 9-15 year old bourbons.
Instead of going on a long tangent about my constant skepticism over the SFWSC awards (at least for now), all I’ll say is that I have not found every “best bourbon” winner to be good (e.g., Henry McKenna 10 Single Barrel – but there’s a lot of variation with single barrels). It’s not to say that Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 will be the same, but I am cautiously optimistic. My motto is always, “don’t hate it until you try it”, so let’s find out more in this Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 review.
barrell bourbon batch 21 smell
Knowing that there’s probably a lot of Dickel in the blend, Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 isn’t quite what I expected. The slightly dusty, grassy, and mineral-y sweet rock sugar Dickel notes comes through first, but I also smell roasted caramel, honey, freshly cut dried oak, and cocoa powder afterwards. It’s actually quite musty, probably coming from the 14 year old Dickel. It takes a few more sniffs to find vanilla, floral citrus, apple, and other fruits that are all mixed together as everything starts to breathe. As it open ups, becomes a sugar-forward nose with nutty and toasty, but not dark and overpowering, roasted wood. There’s a little bit of biting heat even after 25 minutes of rest though.
The nose opens up more after swirling. I smell a sweet blend of caramel and maple syrup with vanilla and that slightly grassy, smoky, and musty oak, citrus, and cocoa powder. There’s also a little bit of jammy orange and licorice, a nice touch. The blend of sweet, smoky, and oaky creates this lightly smoky maple barbeque glaze, as well as faint honey roasted peanut butter, but not quite to Heaven Hill or Jim Beam levels. Even with 14 year old bourbon in the blend, Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 doesn’t have the super dark and dense oakiness of say Discovery Series #2 (blended with some 14 year Heaven Hill) or 14 year old Knob Creek. Overall, Batch 21’s nose is very fragrant and pleasant, but honestly not outstanding. Strangest of all, it really doesn’t open-up much even after trying it 3 times for this review. It is what it is.
barrell bourbon batch 21 taste & aftertaste
Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 has a big burst of sweetness that I might even consider a little unique. It’s honey and floral sweetness, tons of citrus, and this fruitiness in the middle of my tongue that comes after the first surge of honey and caramel. I can’t quite make it out yet, but it seems to be like a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream, followed by a growing underlying grass and oak note. It’s not quite the usual Dickel sweetness, but I can certainly tell that it’s there. The lower proof is also controlled.
“Chewing” brings out more of the same flavors as before, and actually throws me a bit of a curveball that the nose doesn’t even remotely hint at having. There’s this unique and viscous sweetness of honey, toasted vanilla, peach, berries, grassy oak, cinnamon, and chocolate. This berry note pops right in the middle of my tongue, a note that I don’t often find in unfinished bourbon. It’s like whipped cream and vanilla icing on berries – a blueberry cream pie of sorts. While the berry cream pie flavors aren’t huge per se, it’s still a great melding of flavors that I enjoy discovering. Those berry cream flavors come forward a little more right as I swallow. The nose hints at this – I also find a light savory and sweet honey smoked ham flavor, and Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 keeps the heat in check.
Oakiness comes out more on the finish with honey, vanilla, bright fruitiness, and mint. The oak tannins continue to linger with licorice, dried orange, a dusting of cocoa powder, and even a little honey baked bread. “Chewing” leaves a lot of grassy oak with honey, cocoa, vanilla, and that berry cream pie sweetness that sticks to the edges of my tongue. Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 leaves more toasted rather than burnt oak tannins. Over time, the finish turns to honey, mint, and licorice with a grassy oakiness that continue to stick to my mouth. Batch 21 is certainly a flavorful and fantastic bourbon, but at no point does “bourbon of the year” cross my mind.
Place on the Whiskey Shelf
I’ll say flat out that while I think Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 is an excellent and satisfying bourbon, I don’t consider it to be “best bourbon” material, though I don’t regret the purchase. For an unfinished bourbon, the not quite subtle but also not quite intense vanilla berry cream pie flavors that come after the caramel and stick to the edges of my tongue are unique, interesting, and delicious. It definitely occupies a unique flavor space (I’m making up this term) that makes this stand out in its own way. My best uninformed guess is that the Dickel is the main driver. The nose itself is fragrant and pleasant, but truly isn’t any more noteworthy than the nose of any other excellent bourbon.
Is it worth the $80-100 asking price? Sure, although honestly any bourbon or rye in that price range has suspect “value” to begin with. If you can still find it and are willing to pay for it, then go for it. Would I pay over MSRP for it? Nope. Is it worth searching high and low for such an acclaimed “award winner”? Honestly not really.
Not for my commentary on these awards. I always wonder how these “experts” (not that I am one) pick the “best bourbon” every year. I still don’t agree with Henry Mckenna 10 Year winning best bourbon in 2019 and now I don’t agree with Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 for 2020. I scrolled through some of their 2020 ratings and wholly disagree with some of the results, especially with Elmer T Lee’s double gold. In my opinion, there are a number of “better” bourbons including Bardstown Bourbon Company Discovery Series #2 (awarded double gold – I agree), Old Fitzgerald 15 Year Botted in Bond (awarded silver – plain wrong), Joseph Magnus Cigar Blend (awarded bronze – this is a joke right?). I’ll step off my soapbox now.