In a recent Buzzard’s Roost review, I was making a case for sourced whiskey, in terms of how some people perceive it as a somehow inferior product. The accusation is that distilleries source whiskey as a shortcut to making their own is still an argument that can get pretty heated at times. My argument in the review was that, if the whiskey is good, and the marketing is transparent, who cares where it’s from. But I was kind of missing the point a little.
Why do non-distiller producers source whiskey? One of the major reasons is to have something ready for consumers as soon as the lights turn on. And those lights stay on because of the sourced whisky. Others, like Lost Lantern, bottle whisky from different distilleries to showcase everything that America has to offer. What I wasn’t thinking of at the time were brands like Buzzard’s Roost and Broken Barrel, the focus of this review.
By sourcing whiskey from other distillers, they can focus on innovation instead. The idea of re-barreling (Buzzard’s Roost) and cask stave finishing (Broken Barrel) are not new concepts, but these brands have found a way to innovate using techniques that the risk-averse big guys shy away from. For Seth Benhaim, Broken Barrel’s founder, almost any stave finish goes. Not only that, by partnering with different distilleries for one-off or continuing collaborations, they have an almost infinite variety of whiskey and stave finishing combinations.
By passing on the cost of distilling to others, Seth has been able to concentrate his time and cold hard cash towards continuing that innovation and it has really been paying off as of late. His core-range Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon won Best Finished Kentucky Bourbon at the 2023 World Whiskies Awards, which is quite the honour.
The specs on this Broken Barrel Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon are exactly the same as the Cask Strength, save for the proof, of course. 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 47.5% abv.
Nose: Even though the mash bill and Oak BillTM are the same, I’m getting far more of the French oak staves than the Cask Strength expression. Compared to the Christmas cake vibes I got with the Cask Strength (that’s the Sherry cask staves talking), this is fresh strawberries and blackberries. This is fairly light on the dark chocolate (ed note: confusing). Other than a bit of cinnamon, I’m not getting any of the spices one would expect from a French and Sherry oak stave finish. I’m sure the palate will change that.
Underneath it all, there are plenty of notes that remind you that this is still a young bourbon. It is a little grain-forward on the nose, but it’s not harsh. I’m getting a crazy cherry bubblegum note after a while. There’s not a lot of vanilla, but plenty of toffee. At the end, I’m getting a hint of roasted peanuts and more than a hint of Frosted Flakes.
Palate: This is very creamy and mouth coating on the entry. Like creamy honey mixed with a few shavings of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate-dipped strawberries appear at the beginning of the development. At this point, the spices from the French and Spanish oak really start to dig in their heels. Cracked black pepper, nutmeg, and a little bit of allspice. By mid-development, it’s quite dry and a little tannic. There’s also more than a little youthful heat as well. On top of that is a pretty heavy hit of cocoa powder.
Finish: Thankfully, the heat does die down early. This gives way to dark toffee, almost on the edge of being burnt. The cocoa powder continues through to the end. There’s a little bit of dark fudge as well.
With water added
Like the Cask Strength expression, the Bourbon character is much stronger now, but the berry fruitiness from the French oak is hanging on. This is more classic Kraft caramels than toffee and the chocolate is more semisweet. The entry is promising as it retains the honey from when I sipped this neat. After that, however, there is a lot of that grain-forward, youthful heat except this time, the stave influences aren’t there to balance it out. That cocoa and fudge does remain on the finish, although not as strong as without water being added.
Although this showed promise here and there, in the end, there was a bit too much youth for my taste. Although the whiskey in the Cask Strength expression and Broken Barrel’s Heresy Rye was just as young, the staves were able to mask that youth significantly more. These drank much older than they really are. I bought their California Oak Straight Bourbon a while back and will be interested to review that one soon as well.