Review: Barrell Whiskey American Vatted Malt
Even with its already robust portfolio of small batch whiskeys, single barrels, and limited editions, the folks at Barrell Bourbon can’t seem to satisfy their creative appetites. Enter their latest special release, American Vatted Malt. It’s admittedly an unsexy name for a pretty unique undertaking. I’ll let Barrell explain:
This bottling is a blend of exclusively American single malt whiskeys. We partnered with small and large producers across the country to select whiskeys that express the full diversity of American terroir and style. The resulting blend is remarkable, and we are proud to be the first to showcase the growing category of American single malt in this way.
We chose the name “American Vatted Malt” as an homage to the old Scottish category of vatted malt, which was once the preferred nomenclature to describe a blended whisky made entirely from single malts. Today, the Scots refer to that style as blended malt, but affection for the term “vatted” lives on.
As a new category, American single malt producers are notoriously creative, looking to their local environment and regional traditions to create distinctive whiskeys. That meant the blend was a challenging one technically, as it asked us to bring together a plethora of unique components. Never before have we strived to balance the distinctive tang of Southwestern mesquite smoke with the sweet and creamy maltiness of malted barley, or contrast briny coastal peat with the warm vanilla character of toasted oak. The resulting blend is complex and multi-faceted, rewarding the drinker with unfolding layers of flavor.
This first release of American Vatted Malt was years in the making, as many of the components in the blend come from emerging distilleries that have never traded or sold bulk whiskey before. Some of our collaborators have asked to remain anonymous, but the core group of participants includes:
• Balcones Distillery, Waco, Texas
• Hamilton Distillers Del Bac, Tucson, Arizona
• MGP, Lawrenceburg, Indiana
• Harvest Distillery, Valatie, New York
• Santa Fe Distillery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
• Kings Country Distillery, Brooklyn, New York
Barrell itself admits that this one was a challenge. American single malts run the gamut of flavor profiles, and the products coming out of these distilleries are no exception. Full disclosure, I was a little nervous about this whiskey. But where there’s a will…
While most American single malts tend to be grain forward and wood heavy, this vatting of single malts is much more delicate with layers of unique complexity. The sweet cereals are a clear top note but balanced with other earthy aromas: wet leaves, fennel seeds, clay, and a soft mesquite wood smoke. There’s also a little vanilla cream and mint in the mix, along with subtle hints of dried orchard fruits. On the palate, it’s rich and syrupy with silky sweet malts, clover honey, red apple, and black licorice. There are big smoky components in this blend (ahem, Balcones), but what follows is a nice integration of those diverse elements, coming across more as pit-smoked barbecue and wet match-heads than hoary puffs of smoke, and complementing an easy heat even at nearly 60% abv. That campfire element fades into a considerable finish with lingering candy apple sweetness and a bit of drying barrel char. A truly unique and enjoyable dram.
Barrell, I’m sorry I ever doubted you on this one.