Single barrel whiskeys are interesting because there can be so much variation in scents and flavors between barrels, impacted by the barrel wood, barrel location, and more. It’s as if each barrel has its own life or personality, and not all barrels are created equal. With single barrel products, distilleries can’t blend-away flaws from an individual barrel, so you as the drinker better hope that they picked well. Store picks add to that variation because instead of a distillery employee picking the barrels, some person or group of people, usually from a retailer or whiskey club, select the barrel based on their own preferences.
For this single barrel comparison, I’m comparing a 2013 standard Buffalo Trace release of Blanton’s Single Barrel to a 2018 release selected by the good people at Calvert Woodley Liquors in Washington DC. I gave them both “Mid-Shelf+” ratings, so going into this I know that they’re very good bourbons, but I also recognize that 5 years of oxidation may have an impact. Let’s explore this Blanton’s comparison to get a peek into how barrel selection may impact the end bourbon and your enjoyment of it.
The below table outlines key facts and figures for each Blanton’s Single Barrel.
How to Read the Chart
Blanton’s (Buffalo Trace release) is in blue, and Blanton’s Calvert Woodley Select is in orange. The center of the circle indicates none of a trait. Further out the line indicates a stronger presence of that trait.
The scale (from inside to out):
This is one of those cases when barrel selection makes a noticeable difference in drinking experience. While they aren’t night and day, careful smelling and tasting reveal enough differences that make me prefer Blanton’s Calvert Woodley Barrel Select. While both are sweet on the nose, the standard Blanton’s is brighter and has more forward apple and lemon buttercream notes, and the Calvert Woodley Select has darker caramel and brown sugar sweetness with musty wood, ripe cherries, cocoa, candied oranges (like in Armangac), walnuts, and roasted corn.
The difference is more apparent when drinking. Again, both are overall pretty sweet bourbons, but the “regular” Blanton’s Single Barrel is brighter with honey, apples, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and corn. Blanton’s Calvert Woodley Select has a darker sweetness from caramel and brown sugar, as well as more wood, spiced oranges, corn tortilla, and grassy floral notes. It delivers a little more depth and character, all from the same 46.5% alcohol. Good job Calvert Woodley Liquors.