Review: Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Bourbon Round Twelve

Round 12 of Buffalo Trace’s “Single Oak Project” experiment has arrived, meaning there are just four more iterations of the grandest experiment in whiskeydom to go before it’s all over.

Previous rounds can be found here:

Round One (including all the basics of the approach to this series)
Round Two
Round Three
Round Four
Round Five
Round Six
Round Seven
Round Eight
Round Nine
Round Ten
Round Eleven

This round focuses on tree cut (two barrels are made from each tree — one from the top, and one from the bottom). This round looks at wood grain as well, as grain will vary from one tree to the next. As always, recipe (rye vs. wheat) is also varied through this batch. Barrels are paired, so barrels 15 and 16 have the same recipe and aging regimen — but are made from the top and bottom of the same tree.

Does tree cut matter? Here’s what Buffalo Trace says:

Many bourbon fans have asked why, or if, tree cut matters. Master Distiller Harlan Wheatley has this to say on the topic, “From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different.  The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins.  Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde.  Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla.  Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out.  The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration.”

Variables remaining the same are char level (#4), warehouse type (concrete ricks), stave seasoning (12 months), and entry proof (125).

Overall, this was a mixed-to-good batch of whiskeys, with #80 standing as my (slight) favorite of the bunch. Looking back at the SOP so far: #82 has the lead among all the whiskeys released to date, based on online reviews. (I gave it a B+ and called it “fun.”) As for the top vs. bottom question, the whiskeys aged in barrels made from the bottom half of the tree got higher marks in 3 of 6 pairs here. The top barrel scored higher once. Two rounds were ties. But in most cases, my scores were similar between the two barrels. Interpret as you’d like.

Thoughts on round 12 follow.

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #15 – The nose is spicy with hints of cherries, offering promise. Surprisingly there’s lots of marshmallow on the palate, spiced fruits, and a silky, caramel candy bar finish. A lovely and surprisingly little whiskey. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #16 – A big, alcohol-heavy nose disguises mint, lumberyard, and black pepper notes. The body is rich with spice, but a silky caramel character comes across to smooth out the finish. This one drinks like a much bigger, older whiskey than it is. A- (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #47 – Ample wood on the nose, muscling out some of the sweeter notes you get on the palate: milk chocolate, caramel, some spice on the finish. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #48 – A big, woody bourbon, almost overpowering on the nose. The body is gentler, offering soothing lemon tea and applesauce notes. Kind of a weird combination of experiences. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, tight grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #79 – Racy, with notes of fresh mint on the nose. Apple-focused on the front of the palate, with smooth caramel coming along on the finish. Lots to like, but still finding its balance. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #80 – Mellow, salted caramels on the nose. Really lush and dessert-like, it’s got a bittersweet chocolate edge to the finish that makes it a lovely after-dinner sipper. A (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #111 – Moderate nose, with a cocoa powder and charred wood character. On the body, fairly plain, with heavy wood notes and a lingering, almost bitter lumberyard finish. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #112 – Restrained nose, with a focus on wood. The body’s got classic Bourbon character: vanilla, caramel, some restrained lumberyard character. Lingering mint notes on the finish. Fine, but fairly par for a whiskey of this age. B+ (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, average grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #143 – The nose gives off few clues about this one, a barnburner on the tongue that exudes flaming orange peel, old sherry, and more brutish, raw alcohol character. Not my favorite. C+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #144 – Restrained nose, with a focus on wood. The body’s got classic Bourbon character: vanilla, caramel, some restrained lumberyard character. Lingering mint notes on the finish. Fine, but fairly par for a whiskey of this age. B+ (rye, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #175 – A solid effort, but a little indistinct. The nose and flavors are both muted, with mild vanilla, oaky wood, and applesauce notes, but all dialed way back. B (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, top half of tree)

Buffalo Trace Distillery Single Oak Project Barrel #176 – Funky, almost medicinal on the nose. The body’s quite different, a mix of vanilla up front and brewed tea on the back end. Lots going on, but the nose is ultimately a bit off-putting. B- (wheat, 125 entry proof, level 12 seasoning, coarse grain, concrete ricks, #4 char, bottom half of tree)

$46 each (375ml bottle) / singleoakproject.com

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