Sometime, I might write a post comparing the world of craft beer to craft distilling. For the purpose of this post, I would like to point out what I see is the key difference. In the beer world, the big guns may sell the most, but they trail craft beer in terms of creativity. When craft beer gained a foothold in the industry, BudMillerCoors tried to get in on the act. The results are Blue Moon, Shocktop, Leinenkugel, and other beers that you might think are craft unless you knew better. In the whisky world, the craft guys are lagging well behind, largely because of the time it takes to age whisky, but also because the big companies have been creative and ahead of market trends. Jim Beam created the Small Batch collection, and now you'll see Knob Creek on any given bar in America. Brown Forman, makers of Jack Daniels, the best selling whisky in the world, did not rest on their laurels but instead put out Woodford Reserve, a favorite of both novice and experienced whiskey drinkers. But no company has been as forward thinking as Buffalo Trace. From their sought after antique collection, to the Van Winkle line, to their experimental collection (think bourbon aged in wine barrels), they are the standard in American whisky innovation. Nothing evidences this more than their Single Oak Project. Here is a link to the press release explaining the single oak project. In short, a decade or so ago Buffalo Trace took a bunch of trees, cut them in half for two single barrels, taking into account their rings per inch (aging speed), and then seasoned and charred them differently. They then filled the barrels with a few different recipes of differing proofs, for a seemingly limitless number of combinations of final products. The actual result is 192 barrels with 7 different key variables. The idea is that folks will review the bottles before knowing the variables in their particular bottle, giving Buffalo Trace a better idea of what folks like and what makes their products tick.
Long story short, a couple of buddies got me a bottle for my birthday. Wow, what a great gift (I'll save you some guys). Once you have a bottle, you go online and follow a 12 question rating questionnaire as you taste the bourbon. I had a little trouble reading the barrel number as the marker they wrote with rubbed off of the sticker on the bottle, but I'm pretty sure it's barrel 36. I wound up rating mine out to about an 8 out of 10, and it turns out that it's the wheated recipe, probably the same one that makes Pappy 15, my favorite all time bourbon. What a boon! I wish I could say I knew it was a wheated before clicking "done." I had my suspicions based on the luxurious mouthfeel and soft, round flavor profile.
My only complaint about the project is the interface of the website. It's kind of glitchy, e.g. it's saying I've reviewed 18 different barrels and giving me a different number of points than I've actually amassed (you get points for the number or reviews, creating your profile, and other functions, which leads to fun titles, I'm currently (and probably finally) a "barrel cooper." Other than that, it's a fun project, and as an aside, a fantastic bourbon!