Here’s something you don’t see every day. Buffalo Trace, makers of many bourbons you want but can’t find, recently launched the 24th release in their Experimental Collection, and it’s easily the strangest one yet. It isn’t a bourbon. It isn’t really even a whiskey. It isn’t even a spirit familiar to the Western world. It’s a “Baijiu style spirit.” What the what? I’ll let the mad scientists at Trace explain:
Baijiu, which is regarded as the largest selling spirit in the world, accounts for about 31 percent of spirits volume globally, according to the International Wine and Spirits Record (IWSR, 9L volume, calendar year 2019). This Experimental Collection Baijiu style spirit, although distilled like a whiskey, is produced using traditional Baijiu ingredients of sorghum and peas. After aging the distillate for 11 years in three separate casks, uncharred, charred and toasted white oak, the spirits were married together and bottled at 90 proof.
While the spirit itself sounds bizarre (peas?!), the justification for the experiment does not. Like all major spirits companies, Buffalo Trace is looking forward to the next big thing, or rather, the current big thing that they would like a piece of. Having tasted very few baijius in my day, and having enjoyed exactly none of them, I was honestly pretty skeptical of this one. Here goes.
The nose is surprisingly pleasant. There’s an airy sweetness, almost of marshmallow, and some lemony brightness bordering on furniture polish that softens as it opens in the glass, transforming to canned peaches in heavy syrup. The mix of cask types has achieved some nicely balanced and complex barrel notes, from sawn lumber and sawdust to older, more seasoned aromas that evoke baking chocolate. The palate is certainly unique but, like the aroma, not something a brown spirits drinker wouldn’t recognize. The closest comparison that comes to mind is rhum agricole but minimally aged. It’s light and sweet with a distinct, grassy funk balanced against big barrel notes of chewy toffee, cinnamon sugar, and chocolate chip cookies. A vegetal, green bell pepper note arrives mid palate and builds into the finish, which is somewhat fleeting but accented with saffron and pink peppercorn. “Baijiu style” is definitely the appropriate qualifier for this one because the method of distillation and the careful mix of barrel aging have clearly done a lot to enhance a spirit that’s usually consumed unaged and is often regarded as excessively funky (and that’s being generous). The wizards at Buffalo Trace continue to impress.
B+ / $46 (375 ml) / buffalotrace.com