How you place your product in a particular market is something that every entrepreneur thinks about very carefully (or should do, at least!). Think about Apple with its Macintosh, iPod or iPhone or any number of social media platforms, for example. Some filled a niche that was untapped. Others filled a niche no one had even thought about.
Let’s think about the American whiskey industry and the market it serves. Up until recently, it was dominated by a few really big firms that served up a stable of brands that could be found on most shelves for a pretty decent price. Yes, there were a few premium brands and limited releases, mostly of older whiskey, but that was pretty much it.
With the explosion of new whiskey distilleries in all corners of the United States over the past decade, some have chosen to fill niches in the small batch, craft whiskey space. Others have tried unique mashbills or grain-to-glass approaches, special cask finishes or a combination of these. More often than not, all of this comes with a premium price. In many cases, this is understandable due to the lack of productions of scale, but the cost to many consumers can be prohibitive.
This brings us back to Broken Barrel. Instead of attempting to place their expressions in the now crowded, premium-priced craft whiskey market, Broken Barrel founder Seth Benhaim looked to those buyers who bought more affordable bottles distributed by the big brands. That market seemed like a prime target for something new, but not so out of left-field as to be difficult for buyers to understand. After all, stave finishes had been popularized by expressions such as Maker’s Mark 45 and barrel finishes like Woodford Reserve Double Oak.
Offering multi-stave finished whiskey (something that had only really existed in the premium market) for an affordable price was a magic bullet for Broken Barrel. Combined with savvy marketing and a proven track record with Seth’s initial venture, Infuse Spirits vodka, Broken Barrel became an instant success that is now available in 40 states (and now Canada) after only around five years in the market. Consider that niche fulfilled!
Offered at around $80 CAD in Alberta, the Broken Barrel Cask Strength Straight Bourbon, which is in my glass today, certainly impresses with its appealing price tag. It has a mashbill consisting of 70% corn, 21% rye, and 9% malted barley. Aged for at least two years in new American oak, the whiskey is then dumped into a tank along with Broken Barrel’s signature Oak BillTM of cask staves: 40% French oak, 40% ex-Bourbon, and 20% ex-Sherry. After the cask stave finish is complete, it is bottled at a healthy 57.5% abv.
Nose: Four words…uncooked Christmas cake batter. And I mean that in the best possible way. This takes me way back to my childhood (waaay back. Man, I’m old) when I helped my mom make Christmas cake in November. You’d store it in a cool place to let all the flavours sink in. Like their Heresy rye that I reviewed earlier, the Sherry and French oak staves are speaking the loudest. Dried figs, sultana raisins and medium dark chocolate from the ex-Sherry staves. Cinnamon, from the new American oak maturation and ex-Bourbon staves, as well as allspice from the French oak are in there too. Like their rye, there is a youthful grain note (corn/frosted flakes here), but the stave finish more than balances that out. But I keep coming back to that rich cake batter, really just a combination of all these notes…corn flakes excepted, of course.
Palate: The entry is surprisingly light and creamy at first, but also very sweet. Regular Kraft soft caramels, I think. The development builds slowly. For a cask strength Bourbon, there is not the stereotypical, abrupt spice wave. The early to mid-part of the development is more youthful than the back half, but there’s not a harsh graininess, which is tempered by the staves. That second half rewards you for keeping it in your mouth that long. Lovely rich, dark notes, but also a moderate drying once the spices kick in. Speaking of which, I’m getting a dash of earthy nutmeg and clove on top of what I got on the nose. A pinch of dark coffee and cocoa powder. The caramel has transitioned to sponge toffee. Toasted walnuts as well when I smack my lips to let in some air.
Finish: Wonderfully balanced and medium to long in length. Those dark baking spices continue to dry out the experience, but there is enough toffee sweetness to counteract it somewhat. The slight bitterness comes from the fading cocoa powder. Really couldn’t ask for more here.
With water added
This is nosing more like a young Bourbon now. I’m not getting as much of the ex-Sherry staves, but some of the spices from the French oak remain. The dried fruits are strawberry and blackberry now. Quite a bit of vanilla as well. The initial character of the entry and development is much the same as without water added, but the back half has a spicier kick. The extra heat actually gives the finish a bit more personality and helps to lengthen it a bit.
At its price point, this whiskey is a steal. Maybe one of the best values you can find on the Bourbon shelf. This is proof, once again, that Seth’s process turns a young whiskey into something totally unexpected. Water gives off more classic Bourbon notes and, without, highlights the staves more. This lets you choose your own adventure, depending on the season.