Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon Details

Distillery: Broken Barrel

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 47.5%

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 Small Batch Bourbon overview

There are a lot of cask finished bourbons out there, borderline a dime a dozen at this point. Surprisingly though, stave finishes are still relatively unexplored, and that’s where Broken Barrel swoops in to do something different.
Broken Barrel is the Los Angeles, California based company that sources whiskey and always uses staves to finish their whiskey, be it bourbon, rye, or American whiskey. As part of this, they highly publicize the full rage room process to break down the barrels, which is more of a “Hulk smash” type of action.
Often, there’s a video of someone (oftentimes Seth, the owner) just wailing away at a barrel trying to break it. And it’s very much part of their social media strategy to make people curious about why they’re just smashing barrels. Here’s the answer – they want the staves, assuming of various sizes, to enhance their bourbon.
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.
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.
The stave finishing process itself isn’t unique to Broken Barrel, although they appear to be one of the very few who consistently employ it. To my knowledge at least, Maker’s Mark is the only other company that consistently incorporates stave finishes, using them in Maker’s 46, Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, Private Selects, and BRT releases. It’s hard to say why more companies don’t do it, because it’s not proprietary.
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 whiskey that’s at least 2 years old. 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. The trade-off is that we get a lower price, in this case $40 price. Even sourced 4 year old Kentucky bourbon is creeping up north of $50. To be fair, I’ve reviewed some 5 year old Kentucky bourbon that wasn’t so impressive, so young doesn’t mean bad and older doesn’t necessarily mean good. Who knows what’ll happen here.
Let’s find out what these staves can do in this Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon review.
Thank you to Broken Barrel for providing this bottle. All opinions are still my own.
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Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon smell

On my first few sniffs I get honey, cinnamon, dried apricot, roasted oak, orange peel, dried cherry, mint, vanilla, dry and fragrant oak like in Maker’s Mark 46, and lighter roasted grains and eucalyptus.
Off the bat, Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon smells nice with good range and a little bit of richness, although there’s not much depth or heft. There’s a fragrant and effervescent oakiness and vanilla that honestly makes it smell a lot like Maker’s 46. Of course Maker’s is wheated and this isn’t, but I can’t shake that thought.
After swirling I smell honey coated with fragrant toasted oak, orange peel, apricot, vanilla cream, cinnamon, nougat, dried cherry, and a little bit of fennel, mint, and roasted grain. Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon smells better after swirling with a bit more density and personality.
It brings out more of the dark sweetness and spice that I associate with french oak (like Maker’s 46). Unfortunately, the sherry cask stave part doesn’t seem to come through, bringing more dark berries, which is the part I want the most.
There’s some good stuff going on hehe. I wish it had more body and fullness, but it delivers a solid experience that’s decently interesting.
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Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon taste and aftertaste

At first I taste honey, dried apricot, cherry, cinnamon, roasted oak, vanilla, citrus peel, mint, a bit of dry oak, toasted grain, and earthy caraway seed. There’s a fairly even mix of sweetness, fruitiness, and spiciness with a faint nip of heat.
After one sip, I already know that Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon tastes better than it smells, with a bit more substance, richness, and expressiveness to liven up the experience. There’s more variety in the fruitiness and spice, and there’s also that shimmery oakiness and spiciness that again reminds me of Maker’s 46. If I had to pick, I would always pick a bourbon that tastes better than it smells.
After chewing, I taste honey, apricot, orange and orange peel, cinnamon, roasted and effervescent oak, spicy cinnamon, vanilla cream, caramel nougat, lightly sweet and vegetal apple peel, caraway seed, and mint bubblegum. I will admit, “chewing” opens it up a lot, and I get more sweetness, fruitiness, and spiciness (with a little spicy bite). It’s slightly spice-forward, but not oak-heavy.
I’m glad it’s finally showing its true form, because it’s tasty and has improved expressiveness and vibrance. The oaky, spicy, and lightly sweet shimmer is a little more…shimmery, and that also makes it more interesting. I just wish there were more body and richness, but I suspect that the higher ABV version may do that. The 2 year old bourbon doesn’t hold this back, although it doesn’t elevate it to an even higher level.
The finish starts with roasted honey, cinnamon, dried apricot, oak, and mint with lingering spicy cinnamon, toasted oak, apple peel, and mint.
After “chewing” it leaves honey, toasted oak, cinnamon, dried apricot and red apple peel, and vanilla with lingering effervescent oak, cinnamon, honey, nougat, and mint. It’s actually slightly drying, as if it were older.older than it actually is.
Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon is approachable and has some twists and turns to give it some personality and layers. It’s not mind blowing or all that deep, but I like it nonetheless.

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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 Small Batch Bourbon Reserve Rating

Mid shelf+
I’m pleased with Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon. I don’t know how the underlying bourbon is by itself, but the combination of bourbon + staves feels well done and enhances the bourbon to higher levels that compare well to bourbons made by some of the mega-distilleries. I would take this over a bunch of stuff coming out of the major Kentucky distilleries today.
The sweetness, fruitiness, oak, and spice are there and more advanced than usual because of the staves, and any youthful funk or unpleasantness is completely gone. All things considered, it feels like a much older bourbon, maybe 6-7 years old. So while the base bourbon is young, it’s definitely not a problem.
I’ll mention this a third time – it’s nice and weird that this feels like it has so much in common with Maker’s Mark 46, different base bourbon aside. The effervescent oak, spice, and vanilla cream feel so similar, and I think that the similar French oak stave finishing process has a lot to do with that. So if you like Maker’s 46, then I think you’ll like this too.
I have a few qualms though. Of course I’d love to have more density to everything, but the cask strength version is there for that reason. I think that is better suited for what I want. Second, I couldn’t really pick out what the sherry oak staves did. I know what sherry cask finishes do, such as infuse date, blueberry, and prune notes, but I got little to none of that here.
I am a massive fan of dark fruit notes in my bourbon, so I wonder if a much greater percentage of sherry cask staves would have been better…for me at least. French oak is great too, but just like Maker’s Mark says, it adds more spice and vanilla. It doesn’t necessarily add a ton more fruit.
But all in all, I think that Broken Barrel Small Batch Bourbon delivers a fragrant and flavorful experience worth the $40 asking price.
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)