Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon​ Review [In Depth]

Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon​ Details

Distillery: Broken Barrel

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 57.5%

Composition: 70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley

Aged: At least 2 years

Color: 1.3/2.0 on the color scale (russet, muscat)

Price: $40

From the company website:

Broken Barrel Bourbon features a unique blend of corn, rye, and barley that makes it perfectly balanced to infuse. We partnered with an incredible world-class Kentucky Bourbon distillery to select the finest bourbon base for our products. The bourbon is aged a minimum of two years to be called a Kentucky Straight Bourbon, which also ensures a specific quality we’re looking for before incorporate our Oak Bill.

After a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels, the bourbon is dumped to steel tanks, where each batch of Broken Barrel is hit with new French oak staves, ex-bourbon barrel staves, and a blend of ex-sherry cask staves.

Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon​ overview

I’m always excited to try the cask strength version of a whiskey that I’ve already reviewed. I previously reviewed Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon, clocking in at 47.5%, and now I’m trying the heftier and fuller version coming in at 57.5% ABV.
Broken Barrel is the Los Angeles, California based company that sources whiskey and always uses staves to finish their whiskey. As part of this, they often highly publicize the full rage room process to break down the barrels, which is more of a “Hulk smash” type of action.
And if you’re wondering why they’re smashing barrels instead of filling them with more whiskey – they want the staves, assuming of various sizes, to enhance their bourbon. They’re taking a different approach to the more common barrel finish
In short, stave finishing is the process of putting oak staves (staves meaning pieces of wood in whatever shape) into whiskey and letting those staves infuse character into the whiskey. The process is similar to the barrel finishing process. With barrel finishing, you pour whiskey into a barrel, and the wood imparts new traits into the whiskey.
With stave finishing, you put the wood staves into the whiskey, which may or may not be in an oak barrel. And if it sounds familiar, Maker’s Mark does the same thing with Maker’s 46 among other bourbons.
There are some benefits of stave fnishing
  1. You are not limited to how much liquid you can pour into the barrel. You can put any number of staves into as large or as small a container as you want, potentially giving you more control over the process.
  2. You can use different types of staves at the same time. With barrel finishing, you are “stuck” with one type of barrel, unless you go through the painstaking process of disassembling a barrel and re-assembling it with different staves. I don’t think that anyone does that, it’s too time consuming. With stave finishing, you can mix and match staves, which Broken Barrel does, to create some type of profile.
  3. The inside, outside, and sides of the staves contact the whiskey, meaning more interaction. With barrel finishing, the whiskey interacts with the inside, a little bit of the side as it soaks into the barrel, and none of the outside.
This is the breakdown of the staves in this Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon:
  • 40% bourbon cask staves
  • 40% new french oak staves (Maker’s 46 uses these too)
  • 20% sherry oak cask staves
Broken Barrel takes that mix of staves, and for better or worse, soaks them like teabags into at least 2 year old bourbon. There are no details on any older components of the blend. I’m always a little concerned about young bourbon, although I have been pleasantly surprised at times.
Let’s find out what these staves can do in this Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon review.
Thank you to Broken Barrel for providing this bottle. All opinions are still my own.
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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.

Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon​ smell

At first there’s dense honey, a slight minerality (Dickel-like), peach, vanilla frosting, fragrant oak and cinnamon, apricot, orange peel, clove, and ripe red apple. Broken Barrel Cask Strength bourbon smells nice with good fruitiness, sweetness, and fragrant oakiness.
The density is pretty good, although it’s missing low end roundness and complexity. It has denser surface-level traits that are balanced and well rounded with just a little depth.
After swirling, I smell honey, apricot, peach, fragrant oak, a lot of cinnamon, vanilla cream, clove, orange and apple peel, minerality, and a little roasted grain with a tad more heat.
The french oak component (I think) still brings more fragrant oakiness and spice. Higher ABV amps up the body and density, but at the same time the younger bourbon doesn’t really help improve the complexity.
Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon isn’t simple by any means, but it’s reveals itself all at once and doesn’t evolve or show any layers. Broken Barrel Cask Strength has great scents and solid range, aided by the staves, but the younger base bourbon starts to hold it back from greatness
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Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon​ taste and aftertaste

The flavors start with dense honey, minerality, vanilla cream, apricot, fragrant oak, cinnamon, caraway seed, dried red apple and orange peel, and lightly sweet red pepper flakes. Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon is more oak and spice-forward than in the scents are with a more kick and spicy zing.
It tastes very good with nice range and added richness from the added ABV. With another sip it becomes even more oaky and spicy in ways the 47% ABV version isn’t. I guess that’s the mix of more alcohol and amped up traits coming together to bring a bigger and bolder experience.
At the same time, it doesn’t feel that complex or layered. There’s body and density, but it mostly is surface level stuff. It’s good, but it’s surface level. In some ways, it reminds me of Maker’s Mark 46 Cask Strength, but with less chocolate malt ball.
With vigorous “chewing”, I taste honey, vanilla cream, minerality, dried apricot, lemon peel, red apple, fragrant and roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, cherry, fennel, and pineapple. Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon tastes so much better than it smells. It smells good for sure, but it doesn’t have the same expressiveness and pop as the flavors do.
This has shimmery and effervescent oak, likely from the French oak, but also has a slightly round apple fruitiness that’s also really nice. It has more vibrant and denser fruitiness and sweetness to balance out the oak and spice. It starts sweet and fruity and becomes more oaky and spicy in the back, so the range is there already.
The aftertaste leaves honey, roasted oak, cinnamon, dried orange peel and apple peel, clove, and caraway seed with lingering oakiness and spice. After “chewing”, it leaves honey, vanilla, red apple, orange peel, roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, and fennel with lingering roasted oak, cinnamon, clove, and orange peel.
While the flavors have good richness and range, “chewing” doesn’t open up more layers. It’s not one-dimensional, it’s just not that deep or complex. That’s the trade off though – using young bourbon with staves elevates the bourbon with more traits, but the ceiling is only so high because of that base bourbon.

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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.

Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon Rating

Mid shelf+
For better or worse, Broken Barrel Cask Strength Bourbon does a lot of things well, but at the same time leaves me wanting just enough that it’s not a “Top Shelf” bourbon. It’s very close, but not quite there.
After reviewing the lower ABV Broken Barrel Small Batch, I mentioned that the higher ABV version would amp up the sweetness, fruitiness, oakiness, and spice that were already in the bourbon. It definitely does that, filling out so much of what I enjoyed in the small batch bourbon. I especially appreciate the denser and more vibrant fruitiness. In that regard, the higher ABV does the job.
At the more “unadulterated” 57.5% ABV, the bourbon still holds up, but it also becomes more clear to me that the base bourbon holds it back from being “Top Shelf” amazing. The staves enhance the base bourbon a lot, creating an enjoyable experience, but it feels like there’s a ceiling to how much the 2 year old bourbon can be improved.
The heft is there, but it’s hard to hide the fact (for me at least) that the bourbon itself isn’t that complex or deep. It’s like with many things, you can only enhance something so much until you hit the ceiling. I don’t know what plans there are to go to even 4 year old bourbon, but I think that could make a huge difference.
Nonetheless, for $55 or so, I think it’s one to consider as you buy and try various things. I don’t think that it’ll blow your socks off, but I have a good feeling that you’ll enjoy it a lot like I did. Give it a try if you’re curious, but I don’t feel FOMO for not rushing out and getting it immediately.
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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BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)