Cooper's Craft Barrel Reserve Review [In Depth]

Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Details

Distillery: Brown Forman

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA

Alcohol: 50%

Composition: 75% corn, 15% rye, 10% malted barley

Aged: At least 4 years

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

Price: $30-35

From the company website:

“Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve is born from our one-of-a-kind, chiseled and charred American White Oak barrel. This expression is a bold and complex Kentucky bourbon bottled at 100 proof.”

Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve overview

Brown Forman is a huge name in the whiskey business, owning brands such as Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s, and Woodford Reserve. But more recently (probably mid 2010’s which is a lot more recent than the others), they released Cooper’s Craft. The goal is to celebrate the coopers (barrel makers) that work at their company-owned cooperage, which is unique to them. You might often hear about Independent Stave Company among others, but Brown Forman owns their own.
But unlike their other whiskeys, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve utilizes slightly different barrels that have grooves in the staves, which is different from Old Forester 100 Proof. They both have the same ABV, but with other underlying differences, possibly including mashbill as well. I’ve gotten conflicting information as well, so I’m not really sure. Anyways, those special grooves increase the barrel’s interior surface area, allowing for more interaction between whiskey and barrel.
It’s sort of the same general principle as using a smaller barrel: increase the ratio of oak to spirit (more oak touching the spirit) so the oak interacts more with the spirit over time. In food terms, it’s also like removing the inside of bread to allow for more room for soup. The added grooves should lead to a different end result, although I personally haven’t had the chance to compare grooved and ungrooved versions of the same bourbon to fully understand it. I’ll take their word on that one.
I’ve already reviewed the lower-ABV version of Cooper’s Craft, and mostly enjoyed it. My main critique, as it often is with lower-ABV bourbons, is that the lower ABV brings too much thinness and wateriness. Modern bourbon these days do not hold up well to dilution, unlike bourbon from the 90’s and before when 45-47% ABV still offered so much character. But hey, this one is 100 proof, which I hope boosts Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve.
Here’s a potentially shocking fact for you: Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select, which is often north of $130, uses similar grooved / chiseled oak staves in its barrel. I can’t quite say that the barrel grooves are exactly the same (plus the difference in Tennessee whiskey vs Kentucky Bourbon), but they’re at least similar. Cooper’s Craft 100 Barrel Reserve is $30-35, and Sinatra is $120. That massive difference is weird to say the least.
Let’s find out what the higher ABV and groovy staves bring to the experience in this Cooper’s Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve review.
Thank you to Brown Forman and Punch Media for sending this bottle. All opinions, good, bad, amazing, and/or terrible are my own.
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Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve smell

Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve first brings earthy and roasty caramel sweetness, that Brown Forman vanilla and banana creaminess, toasted oak, earthy caraway seed, cinnamon, dried red apple, clove, orange peel, dusting of cocoa powder, and baked bread. For a lack of a better description, it smells like amped up Old Forester. I haven’t gottena firm grip on whether Cooper’s Craft uses different distillate (I’ve found indication that it does), but the barrels are definitely different.
Nonetheless, it’s a dark and decently rich bourbon that covers dark sweetness, oak, dried fruit, and spice, so I can’t complain. Even the heat isn’t a big deal, and never bites.
After swirling, I first smell the same blend of toasted caramel, banana, and vanilla, followed by roasted oak, dried red apple and orange, cinnamon, licorice, dried banana chips (I had some the day before doing this review so it stuck out to me), dried cherry, and fresh oak and toasted grains.
Banana bread comes to mind because of that mix of dark sweetness, banana, and toasted grain. If you couldn’t tell, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve is banana-heavy with dark sweetness, oak, spice, and fruit. The heat is slightly stronger as well, but nothing out of control.
Swirling and 6-7 minutes of rest takes away some of the heavier darkness, but it comes back with a bit more time. My recommendation is to let this rest even longer, probably 15+ minutes if you can, because it makes a big difference in letting everything open up again.
And with more time, the apple and orange fruitiness become a bit more expressive. The extra “nosefeel” (as I like to call it) is there as well, but does a better job of filling all that space. It’s fully dense and rich, but it’s way better than Old Forester 86 Proof, which has a lot of empty pillowy space.
Overall, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve 100 Proof smells good. It isn’t as hefty and deep as I want from my favorite bourbons, and still has a little bit of “blobish” character so there’s not a lot of definition between the scents, but I give credit where it’s due – it smells very good and I enjoy it.
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Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve taste and aftertaste

Cooper’s Craft 100 Proof starts off with a mix of caramel, vanilla, and banana up front followed by roasted oak, more banana, cinnamon, red apple, earthy caraway seed, and some vegetal banana peel (yeah really). The flavors have that Brown Forman viscosity / “pillowy-ness”, but with way less empty space. There’s not much burn. It’s a pleasant mashup of sweet earthiness, oak, fruit, and spice.
It feels more rounded and developed than Old Forester 86 Proof, and has absolutely none of that “ew” vodka-like alcohol flavor. I’m thankful for that, because that vodka vibe was unpleasant. I can’t say how much of the improvement comes from the barrel grooves versus the ABV, but the combination of the two leads to great improvement that doesn’t push me away in disinterest and a little disgust.
“Chewing” makes a noticeable difference, giving me toasted caramel, vanilla, and banana (again) followed by roasted oak, caraway seed, toasted banana chips, baked apple, cinnamon, banana and apple peel, and a hint of dried grass. In the Brown Forman way, it’s sweet, banana-y, earthy, oaky, and spicy, but with a little more fruit than usual. Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve has some nice range.
The extra swishing also provides a little more viscosity, which I find across Brown Forman whiskey, but with the bonus of more substance in all that pillow-y space. I appreciate it. And the more I explore it, the more I find all types of bananas. There’s some toasted ripe banana, vegetal peel, and dried chips…banana for days.
I was concerned before this part though. After “chewing”, Old Forester 86 Proof and Jack Daniel’s have a distinctive vodka alcohol note that sticks out like a sore thumb, and I simply don’t enjoy it. Thankfully, those less pleasant flavors aren’t there, allowing the other dark and banana-y flavors to take the lead.
Caramel, vanilla, and banana lead the charge into the finish, followed by roasted oak, banana chips, cinnamon, clove, licorice, and banana peel. There’s long-lasting banana chips, roasted oak, and cinnamon, and the finish as a whole feels like a continuation of the flavors.
After “chewing”, Cooper’s Craft 100 Proof leaves me with toasted banana, vegetal apple and banana peel (also underripe banana), cinnamon, roasted oak, and caraway seed. Chewing makes the finish more earthy and vegetal with longer-lasting apple and banana peel, caraway seed, and roasted oak. It’s pleasant though, and it keeps going even after 4-5 minutes with a lingering toasted banana. I like banana chips, so I dig it.
Sure, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve could be richer, denser, more refined, and offer more non-banana flavors, but Brown Forman probably saves that level of magic for other bourbons like the Barrel Proof and Birthday Bourbon. All things considered, I’ll gladly take it as-is though.
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Cooper's Craft 100 Proof Barrel Reserve Rating

Mid shelf+
I’m happy with Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve 100 Proof. I often have a love/ hate relationship with Brown Forman bourbon, but this one overall brings enough richness and range, and avoids the “pitfalls” of regular Cooper’s Craft and Old Forester 86 Proof.
“Really nice” crossed my mind multiple times because it provided a varied, somewhat deep, and not at all “weird” or “off” experience that mostly kept me entertained. While that doesn’t sound like a glowing endorsement, it’s still meaningful to me when I drink and review whiskey.
Now for better or worse, Cooper’s Craft 100 Proof sticks to the distinct Brown Forman profile that has a lot of viscous banana and vanilla with all the dark sweetness, oak, and earthiness. At least for me, it’s really different from other Kentucky bourbons.
Nonetheless, the heftier 100 proof adds more substance and “muscle”, filling out the pillowy yet empty space I often find in lower ABV Brown Forman bourbons (including Jack Daniel’s). The unpleasant vodka taste in Old Forester 86 and Jack Daniel’s is also gone, which makes a huge difference for my enjoyment.
But be forewarned – if you don’t like Old Forester bourbon, Woodford Reserve, or banana in general, then I don’t think you’re going to like this either. It has so much in common with Old Forester that you would be forgiven for thinking it was. I caught myself a few times midway through typing “Old” before catching myself.
Here’s a quick tangent, I think Coopers Craft Barrel Reserve is way more interesting and enjoyable than Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select. The insane part is that you can buy 3-5 bottles of Cooper’s Craft (with the grooves in the barrel too) for the price of 1 Sinatra Select. Purely in terms of drinking, Sinatra Select doesn’t make any sense to me. You’re just paying for the name and the box.
To be honest with you, the Brown Forman profile generally isn’t my favorite (Heaven Hill is), but I certainly appreciate the experience I got, and think that it’s a worthy buy for $30-35. Although price has no bearing on my rating, it will affect the tone of the review, sometimes in savage ways.
I’ll reiterate that while Brown Forman provided this bottle to me (thanks again), I’m not obligated to provide a positive review…and I haven’t in some cases. It comes with the territory. But in this case, I’m happy to say that Cooper’s Craft (I started typing Old Forester again) is a compelling bourbon, especially for the price. This is what I’ve been looking for from Brown Forman in this price range, and consider it a worthy bourbon for under $50.
Well done.
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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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