Since 2016, Barrell has ended a long year of whiskey releases with a limited edition bourbon send-off dubbed New Year. When I first discussed this release years ago with the Barrell Team, I was told that the New Year bottling is a much-loved project among Barrell’s blenders because they’re given a little freer rein to push the creative envelope. That’s saying something for a brand that recently vatted a bunch of American single malts and finished bourbon in amaro casks.
Sure enough, this year’s New Year release looks, on paper, like quite the blending roller coaster. It is comprised of bourbons between 5 and 11 years old from both the usual suspects (Kentucky, Tennessee, and Indiana) and an even larger number of unnamed craft producers from New York, Wyoming, Colorado, and Texas. It’s quite a mix of bourbon styles, all presented in typical Barrell fashion at cask strength. I don’t need to tell you good folks what kind of year 2020 has been, so let’s see how Barrell is celebrating its merciful conclusion, shall we?
The aroma is full of fresh wood notes, albeit well-polished, with lots of sweet sawdust and toasted oak that manage to avoid coming across as sharp or too tannic. Also in the mix: a good smear of rich buttercream, a bit of dry grassiness, some subtle stone fruit, and candy corn. It’s honestly all over the place, not unlike the year it ushers out. On the palate, however, things are more balanced with mint and vanilla custard giving way to chewy caramels and citrus rind, chocolate covered raisins, and rich, spicy oak. It’s creamy with a generous, warming heat but exceedingly approachable, even at cask strength. A few drops of water bring out dark tea leaves and dried herbs. The finish is crisp and sweet and lingers with clove and orchard fruit. I was honestly in bed before the ball dropped this year, but if I’d had this bottle around, I may have made it to confetti time. A fine way to begin the new year… and take your mind off of the old.