Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4

Alex author
Founder, writer
Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon z5r4 header

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4 Details

Distillery: Barrell (sourced from MGP)

Type & Region: Bourbon, Indiana, USA

Alcohol: 56.3%

Composition: Probably 99% corn, 1% barley

Aged: 8 years 9 months

Color: 1.4/2.0 on the color scale (tawny)

Price: $60-100

From the company website:

Each single barrel is a true single barrel – bottled at cask strength without combining it with any other barrels, unlike Barrell batches, which are bottled from a selection of several barrels blended together to a specific flavor profile.

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon overview

Barrell finally brought back single barrel bourbons! Since around late 2022, I’ve started seeing these 8-9 year old MGP-sourced single barrel bourbons appear online. If you happen to see one on the shelf, you can easily identify it by the “Distilled in Indiana, USA” text on the back label. Immediately, it made me wonder if Barrell was finally back to selling the high rye bourbons of old, the 75% corn / 21% rye or 60% corn / 34% rye mashbill bourbons that have been popular for over a decade, but 8+ year old expressions have been hard to come by.
Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon z5r4 back

I stumbled onto this 8 year and 9 months old single barrel, barrel Z5R4, and in my great optimism decided to get one in hopes of finding a new gem from Barrell. Sure, I have a mixed history with their whiskeys, but I’m always hopeful that I’ll find something great, especially when I pay for it.

Now to back up and start from the beginning. Over the years, Barrell has released various single barrel bourbons. In mostly chronological order, they initially had a handful of ~9 year old MGP bourbons (can’t remember which high rye mashbill, but I bought one), then 13-14 year old Dickel bourbons, then ~13 year old American whiskeys (not quite bourbon), and now these 8-9 year old MGP bourbons. So much has changed since the release of the first single barrels, and a big change is that older MGP bourbons are tough to come by or just really expensive.
As I continued to read about various bourbons, I stumbled onto a thread about Bhakta 9 Year MGP bourbon finished in Armagnac casks for $130ish. I noticed people mentioning that it was made from MGP’s 99% corn / 1% barley mashbill, not one of the high rye ones. The MGP website does mention this mashbill, so it’s real.
It makes me wonder then if this is also what Barrell is selling, because 9 year old bourbon made from the 75% or 60% corn mashbill would likely be $120-150 on its own, not $90-100. It’s probably the case, but this would be my first experience with the 99% corn mashbill, so I don’t have good or bad impressions.
Let’s find out what one of Barrell’s newest single barrel bourbons has to offer in this Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4 review.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon smell

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4 has roasted caramel, vanilla, a lot of charred oak, orange peel, cinnamon, clove, roasted corn, coffee grounds, and hints of licorice and strawberry. This leans harder into the dark roasty, oaky, and spicy notes with some richness, but is really straightforward and not all that expressive. The oak and spice bring a slight edginess and roughness to my first impression.
After swirling, I smell roasted caramel, roasted oak, vanilla, cinnamon, clove, really dry red apple, coffee grounds, licorice, roasted corn, a light squeeze of fresh orange, dried strawberry, mint, and dry nuttiness. It’s even more clear to me now that this is a very oaky, spicy, and kind of dry bourbon.
Yeah, there’s some kind-of developed fruitiness and herbalness, but it’s mostly shoved aside for the oak and spice. At least the heat is well controlled so I don’t have to battle that, but the scents are nothing to write home about.
The oak doesn’t quite dominate the entire experience, but there’s enough of it that it takes enough away from the complexity and range. It overshadows the scents that could otherwise be very good if there were more varied.
Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon z5r4 front

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon taste and aftertaste

On my first sip I taste roasted caramel, vanilla, roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, dried red apple, cedar, roasted corn, bubblegum, and some dry nuttiness in the back. Just like the scents, the flavors are really oak-heavy.
With “chewing” I get roasted caramel, vanilla, red apple, roasted oak, cinnamon, licorice, starfruit, strawberry, smoke, dried cranberry, roasted corn, and even more roastiness. Yes, “chewing” makes it taste a lot better, bringing out more caramel sweetness and a little more fruitiness to balance-out the oak and spice, but it’s still quite oak and spice-forward. It still feels a little rough around the edges and young, even though it’s 8 years and 9 months old.
The finish is again very oaky and dry with roasted oak, dry nuttiness, caramel, cinnamon, and dried orange peel. After “chewing”, it leaves a lightly sweet and more oaky and roasty finish with long lasting oak and cinnamon. The finish is definitely for the oak heads out there.
Come to think of it, this bourbon helps explain why Barrell Bourbon Batch 33 had such an oaky and spicy bite. This is probably the Indiana component in that blend that cuts through the flavors with “chewing”. The scents are different from Batch 33, aided by the older Dickel components, and that’s where Batch 33 wins-out.
This is my personal preference, but I always want more fruitiness in my whiskey. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy very oaky bourbons such as Russell’s Reserve 13 Year and Jacob’s Well Hardin’s Creek 15 Year, but those also have a lot of dark berry and chocolate to make it memorable. The oak in Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon is delivered in a completely different way that goes heavy on the roastiness and spiciness at the expense of nuance and complexity, which doesn’t feel refined or mature to me.
I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too.
Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Rating

Mid shelf+
Dammit Alex, not again. I always want to thoroughly enjoy what Barrell has crafted, but I’m just not that impressed yet again. I even bought this bottle because I thought it was interesting and hoped that Barrell was going to nail it. I’m not even writing this to try to be “nice” and appease anyone who sent me a media sample. I’m being honest about my experience because I too am a consumer and demand that I get my money’s worth, although price itself doesn’t factor into the rating.
To be clear, I’m not writing that this particular Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4 is bad or unpleasant. It’s still far from it, as noted with the “Mid Shelf+” rating, but I’ve had enough bourbon to know where it generally stands in comparison, which isn’t that high. I’ll take solace in knowing that Barrell will continue not to send me whiskey to review, and I’m ok with that. Or maybe they’ll start sending me stuff again to try to change my mind, but I’m enough of a nobody that they likely won’t.
Anyway, the good is that this Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon has age and weight to it, full of oak, roastiness, and spice, and some fruitiness to a degree. There’s some richness and body to everything. I’d go as far to say that I enjoy drinking it. I wouldn’t reach for it first, second, third, fourth, or fifth, but I’m not saying no to it. If you like very oaky and spicy bourbon, this just might be for you.
That brings up the things I don’t enjoy so much about it – the oak and spice is overdone for me, dry and kind of harsh. Oak and spice inherently aren’t an issue because it can be presented in various magical ways. There’s the refined and mature chocolate and tobacco from something like Russell’s Reserve 13 Year, or even the more roasted oak and cinnamon forward nature of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. The oak in this Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon doesn’t touch on either of those. It’s not a particularly great type of oakiness.
On the thought about which MGP mashbill this uses – this feels like the 99% corn bourbon mashbill. I only base this on the opinion that this doesn’t taste anything like the 60% corn / 25% rye or 75% corn / 21% rye MGPs bourbons, which are more herbal and fruity on top of also being spicy and oaky. There’s so much less nuance and development in this bourbon, and is a far cry from the 9 year old MGP single barrel from years past. This is not a return to form for these MGP-sourced single barrels, although I think it’s not just isolated to Barrell’s releases. It could be this mashbill in general.
This is a generalization because every barrel is different, but if you trust me and my senses, I recommend that you pass on this. It’s expensive at $90-100 and the drinking experience doesn’t reach the level it needs to. If you have that money to spend, get Knob Creek Single Barrel Bourbon (about $50 these days), Knob Creek 12 Year, Russell’s Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, or any number of other bourbons.
Sure, there may be some really good barrels out there, but the one I got wasn’t one of those. Barrell Single Barrel Bourbon Z5R4, and I think these single barrels in general, are going to get lost in the sea of many far better premium bourbons. Barrell, if you somehow got to the end of my review, please know that I am rooting for you to do great things. You were doing amazing things years back and I can truly say that I was a fan, but releases like this make me think that you’ve lost your touch.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)

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