Having recently been very impressed by a couple store-selected single barrel bourbons (in particular a Kroger 1792 and a Liquor Barn Russel’s Reserve), I thought it would be interesting to see what difference there is in a name. Specifically, the name of someone’s store on a bottle. I’ve often placated myself that master distillers would always put their best whiskey into their own retail releases, and that any private barrels would be from the same quality of stock. I’m not the type of person that rushes out to get the latest and greatest store release if there are single barrels picked by the master distiller available anytime. However, after a recent disappointment with this very bottle of Knob Creek Single Barrel compared to the first Liquor Barn selected bottle that introduced me to this product, I decided a head to head was in order. So here are my thoughts on a couple recent retail releases versus their store select counterparts:
1792 Ridgemont Reserve Barrel Select – 93.75 Proof, approximately 8 years old, high-rye recipe (it says barrel select in the name, so they’re all specially selected right?)
Retail Version – Paid $28.99 (ranges anywhere from $25-30)
Nose: esters (coconut and banana), maple syrup, caramel, very sweet, faint candied nuts
Taste: extremely sweet mid-palate, candy corn, rye spice and cardamom/clove spice, hints of bitter orange particularly on the finish, medium length finish. Overall satisfying and easy
BBB Rating: 3 Barrels, but perhaps the low end because of the simplicity and sweetness. This is basically an extra aged VOB 6 Year BIB that is good for cocktails, sipping or on the rocks and is priced right.
Rarity: Albino Squirrel, can be found most places in Kentucky but is occasionally mysteriously absent.
Kroger Single Barrel Select – Paid $25.99 on sale at Kroger
Nose: toffee, leather, sweet pipe tobacco, rye spice
Taste: much more wood/deep flavor, good and prominent rye spice, red fruits, very balanced sweetness, medium-long finish of good tannic wood (think red wine aftertaste)
BBB Rating: 3.5 Barrels. The increase in complexity compared to the retail version is amazing. If the tannic back end were slightly tamed and more balanced, this could easily be a 4 Barrel bourbon.
Rarity: Giraffe. Very seldom have I seen barrel picks of this, but they are out there. I think it’s a giraffe simply because you never know who will be smart enough to pick up a barrel.
Knob Creek Single Barrel – 120 proof, aged 9 years, traditional recipe bourbon
Retail version – Paid $35.99
Nose: Beam yeastiness is nicely covered by rich barrel notes, but is there to let you know it’s beam. Tart cherry, something citrusy (almost like lemon baked goods).
Taste: Red fruits are dominant, with barrel notes to round it out. Still has the Beam ‘yeastiness’, but that is mostly on the back end and is muted. Even with water added, the alcohol hits a little too hard giving a distinct boozy color to the otherwise good flavors. The finish is very tannic, like a good dry wine. I want a cigar to go with this.
BBB Rating: 3 Barrels, but on the low end. This is a solid bourbon, but it is the bottle that disappointed me originally compared to the Liquor Barn select I started with. I was going to give it 2.5 Barrels, but after further consideration, realized that was just my comparative disappointment talking. I’d still rather have this than our 2.5 Barrel standard, Maker’s Mark.
Liquor Barn Barrel Select – Paid $39.99
Nose: Red fruits, and again something like citrus baked goods. Cinnamon/clove and wood smoke (the good kind, like when you’re smoking meat). The classic Beam yeastiness is nearly completely hidden.
Taste: Much sweeter on the front with TONS of vanilla and toffee. The finish rounds out with fantastic cinnamon/clove and bitter orange. Hints of red fruit in the mid-palate. Really no yeasty beam flavor to speak of. The longer I supped it, the more I started to get some hints of rye.
BBB Rating: 4 Barrels, but just by a hair. Yea I went there. The difference between this and the retail version is night and day. I like this a whole lot. This is a bourbon that you keep sipping on to try and identify what that flavor is, and by the time you figure one out, the glass is empty. Guess it’s time for another.
Rarity: Bear. Liquor barn has tons of the stuff, but it is a single barrel, and it all depends on how close you live to a Liquor barn.