Founded five years ago by Seth Benhaim, Broken Barrel Whiskey Co. is the perfect example of one successful product building upon the popularity of another. His first venture, Infuse Spirits vodka, included fruits and other ingredients straight into the bottle. Although this was something Seth had seen behind many a bartender’s counter, he wanted to make this kind of craft presentation available to everybody. The end result was a vodka that stood in stark contrast to the big brand’s offerings, which contained mostly artificial flavouring.
From this starting point, Seth’s love of whiskey, combined with a desire to do something similar to Infuse Spirits, led him to start a similar experiment with Bourbon. This time the infusion would be not with fruit, but with wood. Since much of the resultant flavour of whiskey comes from the cask, one way of imparting unique flavours would be to experiment with a variety of barrel finishes, but this can take a lot of time to yield results and is certainly not cheap.
Instead, Seth decided on a more unique and time efficient approach. Stave finishing involves breaking down existing casks and placing the staves into the whisky itself. Seth didn’t invent this process, but his contribution was to scale up the concept, use multiple stave types and sell the resulting whiskey at an affordable price.
An initial experimental phase involved placing bits of stave from a single cask type into large bottles filled with Bourbon. These bottles were then blended together. Over countless iterations, Seth settled on a stave combination that used 40% ex-Bourbon, 40% French oak and 20% ex-Sherry. This Oak BillTM now forms the backbone of most of Broken Barrel’s core range, which was first released in 2017. More recently, rye has joined their core lineup as well
Speaking of which, it’s the rye that I’m reviewing today! It has a mashbill of 95% rye, and 5% malted barley. Aged for at least two years in new American oak, it is finished with Broken Barrel’s signature Oak BillTM of cask staves: 40% French oak, 40% Ex-Bourbon, and 20% ex-Sherry. Then it is bottled at 52.5% abv.
Nose: Such a rich nose for such a young rye. The Oak BillTM has clearly left a major mark on this whiskey. Even though ex-Sherry only makes up 20% of the finishing staves, I get the notes from that type initially. Milk chocolate, toasted hazelnuts, nutmeg and a touch of allspice. There’s some sweet cinnamon in there too. I think I’m going to get some more spices on the development, but we’ll have to see. There are light citrus and floral notes underneath all this. The rye bread note reminds you that this is still a young whisky, but there is so much more to balance it all out. I can’t wait to sip this.
Palate: On the entry, the milk chocolate and cocoa don’t wait around till the development to make themselves known. That citrus carries forward from the nose. The transition into the development is slow and steady. A little bit of the rye bread and youthful graininess starts to creep in, but there is more than enough of the character from the entry as well as the spices, which join in mid-way through the development, to have it overpower in any way. The fruitiness bobs along the surface the whole way through the experience. There’s a rich sponge toffee sweetness that lasts just as long as the fruit. Towards the end, clove joins in with the rest of the spices from the nose. This is spice rich, without the intense heat. Something that I am rather fond of.
Finish: This becomes longer as I sip it more. Besides the fruitiness, everything else fades in equal measure. Because of that toffee, the finish doesn’t really dry out at all. With the baking spices and cocoa (though not the chocolate), the richness of the finish persuades you from going back for another sip so quickly. Instead, just savour the experience.
With water added
Interesting. The spicing actually fades a bit on the nose. I was actually expecting the opposite. The sponge toffee and cinnamon are much more pronounced as well. It’s more dark chocolate than milk chocolate now. Overall, it noses a little more light and youthful. This theme carries over into the entry and development. Those intense, dark notes are mostly absent. It’s sweeter and spicier than without water added. It’s not that I dislike it, but I liked it far more than without water added.
This is the perfect cold weather dram. The richness of this rye far exceeds its age. Many of these notes are present only on much older, and far more expensive ryes. The stave finish, anchored by the ex-Sherry and French oak really takes this dram to another level, and with a fantastic price point to boot.