Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection Rediscovered Barrels 1989, 1991 & 1993
On April 5th, Buffalo Trace announced they will be breaking ground on a new warehouse called Warehouse X, where Buffalo Trace will carry out experimental barrels and creations. Most of us have seen or heard of the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project & Experimental Collection (BTEC from here on) by now. If you have had an opportunity to try some of these offerings, you have had an opportunity to taste the variables the distillers focus on when they make bourbon. There is no better way to educate your palate than by drinking bourbons that are specifically bottled with distinct distilling or barreling techniques.
The most recent BTEC focuses on level 7 barrel char, nearly twice the char as most traditional bourbons and the release before used larger barrels than normal. The Single Oak Project gets down to specific details from the mash bills to the portion of oak tree the barrel is made from. Hopefully when the warehouse is done and the Single Oak Project is wrapped up, Buffalo Trace will have discovered the techniques to create the perfect bourbon…
So, late last year Buffalo Trace released a BTEC from rediscovered barrels that were put away for aging in 1989, 1991 and 1993. These were still around in Colorado during Christmas time, so I was fortunate enough to get the set under my tree. If you are familiar with the BTEC and the Single Oak Project, than you also know it is 375 ml for nearly $60, sometimes more due to liquor store mark up. This has left a lot of bourbon drinkers turned off since really, “experimental” bourbon does not mean “good” bourbon. Not a lot of people are rushing to pay $60 for a half bottle ($120 full bottle equivalent) for possibly good but also possibly bad bourbon.
The BTECs don’t always fly off the shelf, but not everyone carries them so they can be hard to find. It just so happens that the set I will be reviewing today is still in stock at my local liquor store so if you like what you see and live in Colorado, shoot me a message and I will fill you in on the location.
On to the bourbon!
For the Single Oak, you can go on to their website and review the bottle and read what mash bill, how long it was aged and what part of the tree was used to make a barrel which is really quite cool. They take that info and see what techniques people respond well to. With the BTEC, everything is right there on the label for you to read while you are sipping.
On the label you get: (links go to my bourbon dictionary) type of spirit, # of barrels, date distilled, date barreled, mash bill type (bourbon), type of mash (sour or sweet), still proof, entry proof, warehouse and warehouse floor with the rick, row and slot of the barrel, what type of barrel and who made it, what kind of staves and what char, date bottled with the age at bottling, evaporation (Angel’s Share), type of filtration if any and proof in the bottle! Whoo.
Assumably, this is a portion what you are paying extra for, that and the fact it is extremely small production which means BT gets less from each run of the BTEC. It is really personal preference whether or not you will find any value in these.
There is also a description, or tasting notes on the bottom…but if you have been drinking bourbon a while, you know that is hardly accurate to someone that doesn’t have the palate of Harlan Wheatley. I have never tasted “new car smell” in my bourbon and I have no idea what “warm pencil shavings” even smells like.
The most prominent note from the 1989 was that 75.9% of the barrel evaporated! Those 7 barrels sounded like a true “small batch” before, but after hearing that it is like a private bottling. As they get younger, the evaporation shrinks. The 1993’s Angel’s share is 43.6%, still not a great yield, but it makes sense since in order to be “rediscovered”, you kind of have to be forgotten first.
I will grade these against other Experimental and limited releases I have had, not necessarily on all bourbons.
Age before beauty
21 year and 1 month old 1989 rediscovered
Color: dark rusted amber. Nice rich reds, oranges and browns in the glass.
Nose: Nice classic bourbon nose. Sweet caramel and honey with a decent amount of oak spice as to be expected from a matured bourbon.
Sip: Lots of robust oak and caramel upfront in the sip. In the mid and back, the caramel and vanilla suffer a bit due to the overwhelming oak kick. Once the sweetness fades, the spice and smoke is left with not much else.
The bourbon trifecta of sweet, spicy and smooth are not all here. It really doesn’t finish smooth and the spice hides the sweet. It is 21 years old bourbon with very little to almost no blending from other barrels so that rough oak spice is expected.
Finish: There is a faint bitterness that lingers with the vanilla and oak. Not overly sweet, but it remains spicy for about 5 seconds.
Overall Grade: B-
This is the quintessential example of what I say about paying for age. Age does not indicate quality, so don’t be quick to jump for the 21 year old bourbon in this group. Most 15 year + bourbons have a savant mixing the barrels to hide the inevitable flaws of age in new oak, but with the 1989 BTEC, they did not have that chance.
Interesting to try, but I don’t recommend you purchase it unless you love oak or collect high age bourbons.
19 year old 1991 rediscovered
Color: This middle brother shares the tint of the 21 year more than the 17 year. Dark maple with some nice orange hughes when its in the glass.
Nose: Much tamer nose with a great balance of honey, vanilla and spice. Quite a bit of apple and red fruits in the nose that was missing from the 1989. Great nose.
Sip: Great balance here. Great sweetness upfront with some honey and vanilla in the front palate and some sharp oak and peppery rye spice on the back. In the end of the sip there is quite a bit of sharp pepper and vanilla that really pulls everything together. This is what I would call a frontier whiskey. My Dad would say this bourbon would put hair on your chest but it has some really pronounced vanilla flavors that balance with the spice.
Finish: Nice smooth finish, with a lovely vanilla cream and sharp oak spice that lingers in the back of the throat for a few great seconds.
Overall Grade: A-
This one has a great bourbon trifecta of sweet, spicy and smooth. The balance is well rounded with tons of complex flavors to think about while you study the label. Great bourbon that I dare say is just about worth the high price for half bottle.
17 year 7 month 1993 rediscovered
Color: This runt of the group has a divergence in color form the older two, showing up quite a bit lighter but still with a nice rich amber/honey color.
Nose: I can tell this one is going to be a sweet tooth’s dream. Tons of robust sweetness in the form of caramel apples and honey all the way through the nose. Oak spice is close behind, but the sweetness is prominent.
Sip: Yup, this is a sweet bourbon. Right up front is a caramel & honey flavor that is shortly followed by a nice oak and cinnamon spice. The balance is fantastic if you are a fan of wheated bourbons, but might be too much if you are a rye drinker. The rye-like spice is small in all of these, but shortest in this one.
Finish: The finish has a nice bit of spice compared the sip. Some fruit and cinnamon spice finally come through in the end. I think the 1993 has the best mouthfeel, leaving my mouth feeling coated well after the sip.
Overall Grade: A+
Best experimental I have had. Great bourbon if you are a fan of the sweet stuff, and even if you are not I think there is just so much depth that you could find this one quite enjoyable. It has a decent amount of complexity that delivers a great overall sipping bourbon but the sweetness might be too much if you aren’t a fan of wheaters (a wheater this is not, only similar). The 1993 seems to hit some reach some really high qualities that the other two failed to attain. The sweet is just sweet enough, the oak and peppery spice is easily definable and the finish is long and smooth. This is one I would recommend “experimental” or not, even at the high price.
The 1993 & 1991 are pretty epic bourbons in their own right. The 1993 really proves that bourbons have sweet spots. Age is not a mark of quality, just age. The 1993 has a perfect balance of sweet, spice and smoothness in the finish so if you have your choice of the three I highly recommend the 1993 and then the 1991. Unless you are interested in advanced aged bourbons that are almost unblended, I don’t recommend you spring for the 1989.
As a collection, you can learn quite a bit about bourbon by paying attention to what qualifies these as “experimental”. High char, age, sizes of barrels and sections of the tree that creates the barrel can create a distinct flavor. If you pay attention to what you like and what you don’t like with the variables Buffalo Trace is playing with, you can really hone your palate.
The dilemma is with the price of these offerings. The Experimental Collection and the Single Oak Project both reach extremely high price points for a half bottle. I look at these as an opportunity to see what these variables do to a batch of bourbon and teach my palate how it tastes in the glass. The BTEC can be fun, they can be awesome gifts, but if you are looking for a sipping bourbon I would strongly recommend you find a review of the actual juice from a place you trust before you pay the premium price.