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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Private Barrel Selections.

Private selection barrels are hot items.  Retailers, serious whiskey bars, and local whiskey societies desperately want them.  Unfortunately, the demand has resulted in some distilleries being overbooked, some are low on available stock, some give a take-it-or-leave-it option of barrels that are nothing special, and some have had to suspend their barrel selection program. 

For the most part, the barrels offered for selection are going to be superior barrels.  This does not mean, however, that privately-selected Bourbon is going to taste better than the standard issue of that brand.  Sometimes private barrels are not better, they’re just different.  Oftentimes, they can essentially taste the same as the standard, less expensive bottles, and occasionally, they’re disappointing because they’re not as good as the standard offering.

A private selection can be disappointing due to the lack of experience of the selection team, or because their personal preferences are a little off, and you can end up with a Bourbon that is too bitter, bland, or unbalanced.  Additionally, very few distilleries permit bottling of private selections at barrel strength, so when proof is taken down, the flavors in the private selection change and it might not taste anything like it did straight from the barrel, so the selection team has to toy with adding the right amount of water.  The key is that consumers need to look for private barrels from palates they trust.

In some circumstances the stars line up, a knowledgeable selection team has access to enough barrels, and fate includes a true honey barrel in the mix.  A quick Twitter survey (thanks for all of the tweets!) came up with a great list of retailers and bars who have selected your favorite private barrels.  Four Roses, Smooth Ambler, and Willett (whose program is now on a hiatus) absolutely dominated your tweets, with an occasional Old Weller Antique, Knob Creek, Woodford Double Oaked, and a few others rounding out the list.

Some of these private barrels are known by the people who selected them, like Doug Philips – whose Rye selection is spoken of in legendary terms – and newer selection groups, particularly the Bourbon Crusaders.  On rare occasions, private barrels are known by their own name, like “Wheated Warrior” and “Aged Truth.”

Certain retail stores have gained a reputation through consistently great picks across all distilleries, like Liquor Barn, or an award-winning selection, like Crown Liquors with its 2014 Four Roses OBSK pick.  Bars and restaurants with private barrel programs can become renowned for their picks too, like many Louisville establishments (as should be expected), but non-Kentucky players, too.  Dry 85 in Annapolis, for example, has an outstanding private barrel program, but it goes a step further and has also worked with Angel’s Envy on developing unique private blends.

Consumers are starting to look not just for any private barrels, but for barrels with particular characteristics, like OBSK and OESK barrels aged on the East side of Warehouse M at Four Roses (“ME” barrels), and odd 65 gallon barrels stored upright at Heaven Hill for 15 years (which became part of mysterious private barrel of Heaven Hill Select Stock).  Keep an eye and an ear tuned for these kinds of tips because this sort of information can help give the consumer confidence that the extra money will be worth it. 

I haven’t been lucky enough to try any of the Doug Philips selections, Wheated Warrior, or Aged Truth, but I’ve been amazed by the quality of private barrels that are more readily available.  Some of my favorite private barrels over the past several years (not necessarily ranked in order) have included:

·         2014 Four Roses OBSK, 9 year, 11 month, selected by Liquor Barn;

·         2015 Four Roses OESK, 9 year, 7 month, selected by Bourbon Crusaders for Joyal’s;

·         2014 Heaven Hill Select Stock, 15 year from 65-gallon barrels, selected by Bourbon Bar (despite being on the menu as a $40 pour, these bottles were returned under a shroud of mystery, and have since trickled out into retail);

·         2015 Knob Creek 120 proof – aged 15 years instead of the standard 9 years – selected by Liquor Barn (I’m in the middle of this one now; it’s the best Beam product I’ve had other than Booker’s 25th Anniversary).

·         2015 (first batch) Dry 85 Angel’s Envy Private Blend, comprised of three six-year old Bourbons each finished in port barrels.

What has been your favorite private barrel selection?  Which retailers and restaurants or whiskey bars routinely stock the best private barrels?  Your Twitter responses gave the following stops for an epic road trip across the U.S.:

Kentucky / Cincinnati
Liquor Barn (Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green, Danville, KY)
Haymarket Whiskey Bar (Louisville, KY)
Down One Bourbon Bar (Louisville, KY)
Bourbon’s Bistro (Louisville, KY)
Westport Whiskey & Wine (Louisville, KY)
Cork ‘N Bottle (Crescent Springs, KY)
The Party Source (Bellevue, KY)
D.E.P.’s Fine Wine & Spirits (Cincinnati, OH and northern KY)
The Livery (Lexington, KY)

East
Julio’s Liquors (Wesborough, MA)
Joyal’s Liquors (West Warick, RI)
Dry 85 (Annapolis, MD)

Southeast
McScrooge’s (Knoxville, TN)
Bottles Beverage Superstore (Mt. Pleasant, SC)
Decatur Package (Decatur, GA)
Lincoln Road Package Store (Hattiesburg, MS)
Nasa Liquor (Houston, TX)

Midwest / Northern Midwest / West
Big Red Liquors (Indianapolis, Terre Haute, Bloomington, IN)
Crown Liquors (Indianapolis, IN)
Liquor Locker (Evansville, IN)
Tippins Market (Ann Arbor, MI)
Antioch Fine Wine (Antioch, IL)
Binny’s Beverage Depot (all over Chicago, IL)
West Lakeview Liquor (Chicago, IL)
Warehouse Liquors (Chicago, IL)
South Lyndale Liquors (Minneapolis, MN)
Ken & Norm’s Liquors (Minneapolis, MN)
Davidsons Liquors (Highlands Ranch, CO)

West Coast
Hard Water (San Francisco, CA)
Elixir Saloon (San Francisco, CA)


Which stores or bars are missing from this Twitter list?  Please add your favorites in the comments below.  Cheers!

49 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Excellent. I love to see more Michigan stores listed.

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  2. There are a lot of bars and stores in Portland, OR with private barrel picks. I had a really good Four Roses Barrel Proof from Rose City Liquor a few years back.

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    1. Have you had the current OBSK store pick? I was thinking of picking one up.

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    2. OBSK is my favorite, so I usually pick it up whenever I see one. Not sure which store you mean, but chances are good that I've had it. Cheers!

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    3. And thanks Jordan, too. I've heard that Portland is a hotbed for some great private barrel selections!

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    4. I was referring to Jordan's comment regarding the private barrel pick from Rose City Liquor - they currently have an OBSK there. I've noticed quite a few private barrel picks around Portland including an Eagle Rare, quite a few different Four Roses, and a Blanton's which I picked up but have yet to try.

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  3. Fishpaws Liqour Store Arnold, MD. (Outside Annapolis)

    Eagle Rare Barrel; I've purchased 8 bottles already and may very well buy myself another case for Christmas. It has vanilla & caramel in greater abundance than most bottlings.

    Too often the char is overpowering in randomly purchased bottles.

    Yeah... I think I'll get another case.

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    1. I've had a tough time finding good store selection in MD, so thanks for adding Fishpaws to the list!

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    2. Fishpaws has a very tasty Knob Creek single barrel selected by local tasters, and they have about 4 cases left. The selection was described in an April 20th post on the Maryland Bourbon Tasters FB page, here https://www.facebook.com/groups/1435451316714934/

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    3. Bay Ridge in Annapolis also has a great KCSiB. I helped pick that one, so I may be a bit biased.

      The proofing down from 129.4 definitely changed things a bit, but not enough to ruin it.

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    4. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    5. There are three Liquor Stores in a 15 mile radius that all have Knob Creek Single Barrel here in the Annapolis Maryland area.

      I really wish Beam would offer more barrel programs.

      Fishpaws, Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits and Harbour Spirits all have Knob Creek Barrels.

      I liked the Bay Ridge Barrel best.

      Dawsons in Severna Park recently acquired A smooth Ambler 10 year. I profess to not enjoying Smooth Ambler on the past. But this offering is definitely tasty.

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    6. I'm seeing more Knob Creek too. I would love to see Beam add Booker's to the private barrel program though.

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  4. Totally agree with Dry 85. Have a bottle of their private barrel Eagle Rare. Waiting for their Smooth Ambler private barrel. Also had a Buffalo Trace private barrel at Southern Steak and Oyster that was one of the best bourbons I have tasted.

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    1. I tasted Dry 85's Eagle Rare.

      The bartender told an interesting story how Buffalo Trace didn't intend for it to be Eagle Rare. Upon tasting they thought it was closer to that than anything else.

      It seemed to have a higher rye content. The char more prevalent than most bottles.

      Lastly, according to the bartender. This barrel was a take it or leave it offer -- there was no tasting or selection involved.

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  5. Fishpaws Liquor Store Arnold, MD

    Four Roses Barrel Proof (OBSV)

    This Definitely has a high rye kick. The lips & tongue tingle upon first taste... The 59.7% alcohol content lends to that.

    Mid-pallet is surprisingly sweet and smooth... The swallow is easy. Just a bit of pleasant on the back of the throat.

    It's expensive at $65.00 a bottle. But worth it.

    I bought 5 so far. I may get two more.

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    1. Dave,
      To your comment "This Definitely has a high rye kick. The lips & tongue tingle upon first taste... The 59.7% alcohol content lends to that."
      I actually drove the 40 miles to buy what turned out to be the last OBSV bottle in the store 2 weeks ago on account of your tasting notes and thought I bought your same bottle. Until I realized my OBSV from them was at 57.6% alc content from Warehouse US Barrel Y3-3R. This is not the bottle you got, is it, or does that mean they had 2 different OBSV releases? I guess I am hoping your alc content % was a typo and that I have your same bottle:)

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    2. Ah! My question about the alc content relates to the Fishpaws OBSV that you had very good review notes about...

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  6. San Francisco:

    Cask - Weller 107, Blantons, Bernheim, High West Double, Manhattan Cask, Rendezvous Bourbon Cask, Smooth Ambler Single Barrel

    Healthy Spirits - Weller 107, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace

    Civic Center Liquors - Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace, Pappy Van Winkle 15 (yes, I'm dead serious, back from when you could purchase a barrel, pure SW juice)

    Bevmo (Van Ness St., Geary St., Bayshore Ave. locations) - Jeffersons Small Batch Barrel Select, High West Rendezvous Bourbon Cask, Angel's Envy Single Barrel, Whistle Pig Single Barrel Select,


    East Bay:

    Jackson's Wine & Spirits: Eagle Rare, Blanton's, Elmer T. Lee


    These are some of the best in the Bay Area. Just reviewed SF's Healthy Spirits Single Barrel Select of Weller 107 that you can read here: www.bourbonandhouse.com. Keep you posted one here and on bourbonandhouse.com with any future barrel selects I get my hands on. SF Civic Center Wine and Liquor Buffalo Trace Single Barrel Select review coming soon too. Cheers from San Francisco! Feel free to check out bourbonandhouse.com for any reviews and updates on Single Barrel selections available in the Bay Area.

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    1. Wow, thanks! I knew that there was more going on in San Francisco, so this is great info. I'll be bookmarking bourbonandhouse.com. Cheers!

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  7. Did the 15 year Liquor Barn Knob Creek have a barrel number on it?

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    Replies
    1. I have asked about that, plus Lot ID, Warehouse, Floor, proof out of the barrel, etc. and will update my post when I have that information.

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    2. Unfortunately I don't have the Lot ID, etc. information yet.

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  8. World Beverage in Duluth GA has an incredible Eagle Rare and a Whistle Pig Barrel that Dave Pickerell publicly said was his favorite of all 50 barrels available in 2015.

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    1. Another great addition! Thanks!

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    2. They also just received a Four Roses OESK 9 year 11 month old barrel!

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    3. I'm seeing a lot of nearly 10-year OESK, but hardly any OBSK.

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  9. From MD and have to agree with Fishpaws mention. I was just in Denver for the holiday and picked up a great Four Roses OBSF (11 years 3 months, 57.4%) at Small Batch Liquors. Incredible nose, spicy and sweet!

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    Replies
    1. Great additional support for Fishpaws and another CO location. Thanks!

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  11. Pickerell is also quoted as saying that about a barrel he sold to Sherry's on Conneticutt Ave in Washington, DC.

    I bought one bottle and it is head and shoulders above the Regular 10 year Whistle Pig & even the 12 year Boss Hog I bought earlier this year.

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    1. I'm beginning to hear this about WP private selections. Very interesting...

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    2. Dave stood up in front of 40+ potential buyers during the tastings in Atlanta and when World Beverage Duluth picked their barrel and said "Since it is now off the board I can say World Beverage just selected my favorite barrel of all 50 we had for sale this year." He also made a trip to the store in April to sign barrels.

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    3. Did you end up agreeing with him?

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    4. The Bottle from Sherry's in DC was the Best Whistle Pig I've had.

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  12. B&B Liquors in Kingsport, TN has store selects of 4R PS (OBSK), Eagle Rare, BT, Blantons, and Belle Meade SB.

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    1. I'd love to try that OBSK... I also see on the B&B website that they have a private selection Elijah Craig 12, which is always a great find.

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  13. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Slub injected Melange

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  14. Market Square Liquors in Tallahassee, FL. All 10 4R recipes on the shelf this year (9 left I think!) plus many many more SB picks. I've never seen another store have dual barrel blends of Woodford Reserve. They've had strong Willett picks over the years with an exceptional 8 year black wax top 3 or so years ago... has to be one of the best for barrel picks in Florida. Tell Barry Swanson I said hello!

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    Replies
    1. Sounds fantastic! Market Square Liquors sounds like THE place to go in Florida. Thanks!

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  15. Liquor Barn has a new Eagle Rare pick. They have 3 barrels. The guy at the Hurstbourne store recommended Barrel 1. It is awesome. Almond Joy in a bottle.

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    Replies
    1. Sounds fantastic! You can really get some great private selections at Liquor Barn.

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    ReplyDelete