Sunday, December 31, 2017

Eagle Rare, HOTW Single Barrel Select

I wrote a post back in September detailing a private barrel selection tasting I had taken part in with the restaurant group that I work for. We tasted samples from three barrels of Eagle Rare and picked our favorite. This took place toward the end of May, but there was some lag time before our barrel was scheduled for bottling, then transit time from the distiller to the distributor, to the state liquor commission’s warehouse, to the local retail outlet, and finally to our restaurants (Hen of the Wood Waterbury, Hen of the Wood Burlington and Doc Ponds). We had our whiskey in hand the first week of December; now I’d like to go over the details of the barrel we purchased.

As soon as we started to consider buying a barrel from Buffalo Trace, I made a push for it to be Eagle Rare. This was partly because it’s a bourbon that we already sell quite a bit of between the three restaurants, but also because I had a feeling that there might be a shortage of Eagle Rare in 2018. Most distillers cut production in response to the 2008 financial crisis, and it took them a year or two to figure out that the world wasn’t ending and get back to normal production levels. Buffalo Trace and Maker’s Mark seemed to have cut more heavily than others and that was evidenced by shortages of their six year old products in 2014. With a 10 year age statement, Eagle Rare was likely approaching the same situation, making this a great time to buy in bulk.

The barrel we selected carried an ID number; 05-L-12-L-2-60-332.

05-L-12 represents the date the barrel was filled, 12/12/2005 (the L is a month code – 12th letter of the alphabet for December).

The second “L” indicates that the barrel was aged in Warehouse L.

Warehouse L is co-joined to Warehouse M, with a firewall separating the two halves. These were built in 1936, during the distillery’s post-Prohibition era expansion. Both of the warehouses are constructed with brick walls and concrete floors, and each one holds 50,000 barrels. The warehouse has five floors, with the barrels stacked six high on each floor.

The last three numbers indicate the barrel’s specific location in the warehouse:
Floor 2
Rick 60
Barrel 332

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any information regarding the details of that location (near a wall or closer to the heart of the warehouse, near the floor or the ceiling, etc.)

But I was provided with a little more information about our barrel:
Barrel staves seasoning time - 6 months
Barrel char level - #4
Barrel entry proof - 125
Bottling date - 9/22/2017
Barrel yield - 156 bottles
Bottling strength - 90 proof

This means that the Eagle Rare, HOTW Single Barrel Select was aged for 11 years, 9 months, 10 days. That seems odd for a whiskey that carries a 10 year age statement. Did we get an extra special barrel? Well, yes and no. All three of the barrels we had to choose from were the same age (within a few days). Looking around online I saw that all of the recently reviewed Eagle Rare Single Barrel Select bottlings I could find were aged at least 11 ½ years. And you might recall from my previous post, all of these barrels were approved to become regular Eagle Rare before they were chosen as Single Barrel Select prospects. This tells me it is very likely that all Eagle Rare currently being bottled is pushing up on 12 years old.

There’s a reasonable explanation for this. It was well-known to the folks at Buffalo Trace that there was a looming shortage of 10 year old product coming for 2018. Rather than drop Eagle Rare’s age statement and put progressively younger whiskey into the bottle over 2018, 2019 and maybe 2020 to get across the gap of low production, they chose to be proactive and address the situation in advance. They’ve been bottling less Eagle Rare than they had available (at the appropriate age), probably over the last two to four years, allowing their stocks of aged whiskey to build up while the age of what they were bottling has gradually crept up over that time. Once they get into 2018 and beyond they should be able to maintain the amount of Eagle Rare they can bottle, while the age gradually recedes back to 10 years over the next two to four years.

Further confirmation of this situation came when I learned that Buffalo Trace will be suspending Private Barrel Select bottlings of Eagle Rare for 2018.

The response to our private barrel bottling has been quite positive, and I find this to be a great sipping whiskey. The nose is somewhat restrained, but there are plenty of interesting aromas to be teased out if one spends a little time with it; soft spice, clay and old books come through for me. On the palate it shows sweet caramel up front followed by spearmint and vanilla. It turns drier on the finish with more oak and warming spice notes. What really makes this whiskey stand out for me is how elegant and well-composed it is overall. The flavors evolve nicely from start to finish while it maintains incredible balance.

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