Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Mind Your Batches & Barrels
Last week, I reviewed the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof which comes in two releases. The first release was fantastic. The second was very good. The only way to distinguish them is their batch numbers.
Similarly, I recently gave a very positive review to this year's Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel. The one I found on my local shelf was Barrel 3-3J, which I loved. Later, though, I tried 3-3I and found it to have a very different character. Whereas 3-3J was spicy and complex, 3-3I was minty and medicinal, tasting blind, I actually guessed it was an MGP bourbon. I thought 3-3J was exceptional while 3-3I was average.
Most big American single barrel releases have multiple barrels released. In some cases, as with Four Roses, it's easy to track because they list a barrel number right on the bottle. In others, like Knob Creek Single Barrel or EH Taylor Single Barrel, there is no indication anywhere what barrel the whiskey came from, so you have no idea if too bottles are the same or different.
Similarly, many whiskeys are produced in batches. You have no way to tell the difference unless the label includes a batch number or, as with the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, the whiskey is at cask strength, which means that each batch will have a different proof. While the producers will claim that they are selecting barrels or batches with consistent flavor notes for these releases, the tastings clearly show that there is a difference, sometimes a big one.
And here's the rub: most reviewers only review one bottle of these whiskeys. For the big guns, they get sent only one sample by the distilleries, and the little guys like me are only going to buy one bottle. But the bottle I rate may not be the one that shows up on your shelf. That's why it's very important to note, where possible, the batch and bottle number being reviewed. I also do my best to try multiple batches, but it's not always possible, so do your best to mind your batches and barrels.