Barrell made its first upmarket moves in 2018 with what was then called the Barrell Craft Spirits line, a selection of extra-aged, cask strength bottlings that represented the cream of the crop from Barrell’s expansive spirits stocks. The initial lineup included a bourbon, whiskey, and rum offering. We only got the chance to sample the bourbon, a bit late in early 2019, unfortunately. Had we been quicker to that sample, it could have easily made our Top 10 for the previous year. So it goes. For the subsequent three years, these bottlings have been somewhat inconsistently released, with only the bourbon making an annual appearance. For 2021, however, Barrell brought back a trifecta of special releases, each now dubbed simply Gray Label. The collection includes another 15-year-old bourbon, a 24-year-old Canadian whiskey, and, in place of the rum offering from past years, a 16-year-old version of the exotically finished Seagrass rye whiskey. Thoughts follow.
Barrell Gray Label Bourbon 15 Years Old (2021) – Like the previous Gray Label bourbon releases, the latest is aged a healthy 15 years and comprises bourbons sourced from Indiana, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The aroma kicks off with an unusual hit of barrel char and damp tobacco before sweetening to peanut brittle, S’mores, and Bananas Foster. It comes across a bit tough and leathery at first but softens with time in the glass. The palate is a bit tight, showing far more oak than the 2018 release. It’s surprisingly light bodied, as well, with early notes of flat root beer and cinnamon candies. As the midpalate arrives, things take on more depth with prune, boiled peanuts, and Chai spice. The finish is long and drying with oak tannins and more cola notes that turn briefly to coffee beans and dark berry jam before fading gently into sweet pipe smoke. 100.4 proof. A- / $250 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]
Barrell Gray Label Whiskey 24 Years Old (2021) – Only the second Gray Label whiskey release, this is a bottling of Canadian stocks that underwent a rather elaborate finishing and blending regiment that includes Oloroso sherry and Armagnac casks. The nose is immediately bright and grassy with sweet cereals and raw honey. There’s a subtle nuttiness, and a complex layer of fruit notes that alternate from dried berries to golden raisin to pineapple cake. On the palate, things are silky and rich with wood-forward notes of mature oak and coconut husks that give way to applesauce and poached pear before a warming and buttery finish of rosemary shortbreads, minted syrup, and a touch of lime zest. Vibrant and complex — and hard to put down. 121.64 proof. A / $250 [BUY IT NOW FROM DRIZLY] [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]
Barrell Gray Label Seagrass 16 Years Old (2021) – Unlike the standard Seagrass offering, which includes rye whiskeys from several American producers, this bottling is entirely Canadian whiskey and made from three different blends, each finished in a separate set of barrels that previously held Martinique rum, Madeira, or apricot brandy. The nose is a bit austere with blunt, grassy notes of dried stone fruit, apple chips, and raw sugar. Given the comparative restraint in the aroma, the palate is massive with flavor, beginning with a burst of candy-sweet jackfruit and apple pie filling, then cascading into candied pineapple, mint tea, and clove-studded orange. The finish is long with syrupy confections – candied apple and baklava, among others – and a lingering mix of mulled wine, peach candies, and berry compote. And I thought the standard Seagrass was a flavor rollercoaster. 130.82 proof. A- / $250 [BUY IT NOW FROM FROOTBAT]