Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Buffalo Trace Tests Barrel Entry Proof in Latest Experiments

The latest release in the Buffalo Trace Experimental Collection looks at barrel entry proof. Buffalo Trace doesn't always offer opinions about the results of their experiments, but this time they have. The tasting notes are theirs, not mine.

Buffalo Trace began this experiment more than 12 years ago, using four different entry proofs with its rye-recipe bourbon. All of the experiments came off the still at 140° proof. All of the barrels were aged together in Warehouse K for 11 years, 9 months and bottled at 90° proof.

The naming convention for the group is 'rye' followed by the entry proof, so it bears repeating that this is rye-recipe bourbon, not rye whiskey.

Rye 125 – At 125° proof, this was the highest entry proof used. It is also Buffalo Trace’s standard entry proof for its rye recipe bourbons, and the maximum entry proof allowed by law. The result was typical, a well-balanced bourbon with spicy cloves mingled with sweet vanilla, caramel and toffee to create a well-rounded and complex flavor.

Rye 115 – This rye recipe bourbon was put into the barrel at 115° proof and has light oaky flavors mingled with leather and palm sugar.

Rye 105 – At an entry proof of 105°, the angels were particularly greedy with their share taking the highest amount of all four experiments with an evaporation rate of 26 percent. The 105° entry proof produced a bourbon which has a good overall flavor with some earthy tones, followed by a buttery, light finish.

Rye 90 – At an entry point of 90°, this bourbon had a 25 percent evaporation rate. The result was a bourbon with a light fruity flavor followed by some hints of dried nuts and spice, with a drier finish.

Buffalo Trace previously performed a similar experiment with wheated bourbon. Both the wheat and rye experimental barrels were distilled around the same time, aged in the same warehouse, on the same floor, rick, and row and bottled around the same time. A key learning from both experiments was that entry proof does affect bourbon flavor, and it does affect evaporation rates. Also, different barrel entry proofs will produce varying flavor elements.

"Although it should not be a surprise to us, we found in blind tastings the rye-recipe with the 125° entry proof, which is our standard barrel entry proof for our rye-recipe bourbons, tasted the best to us," said Harlen Wheatley, master distiller. "The flavor profile was the most balanced, while still offering the most pleasant mixture of tastes. It’s gratifying to know that even in blind taste tests, we still favored our ‘standard’ method as the best of the four in the experiment."

Buffalo Trace has more than 2,000 experimental barrels of whiskey aging in its warehouses.

The Experimental Collection is packaged in 375ml bottles, 12 to a case, with three bottles of each entry proof in each case. The suggested retail price is $46.35 each. This set should be in stores later this month.


erin hagan said...

Is 125 a natural sweet spot, or would the richness and fuller flavors continue to build at a higher entry proof (were such allowed by law)? How and why was the legally defined max set there?

First time commenter, btw, long time reader. Love your blog, thanks for writing!

Chuck Cowdery said...

Consider the source. That's the entry proof BT uses, so naturally they like it best. Others use lower entry proofs and think those are best. Distillers generally resist going higher than 125. The balancing act is between flavor from the grain and yeast, and flavor from the wood which is magnified by higher entry proofs.

tanstaafl2 said...

This looks to be the follow up to last years wheated bourbon barrel proof experiment. In that case the BT traditional barrel proof is 114 and lo and behold the 115 BTEC proved to be the favorite. Still, if one is willing to pay the fairly spendy price for these bottles it has proven to be an interesting experiment and if you can find all four and manage to pay anywhere close to MSRP which isn't always possible (They are typically around $55 locally) you can decide for yourself. I found that I prefered the 105 in the wheated bourbon experiment. The difference from 115 to 105 was a bit subtle though for me. However the difference from 90 to 115 barrel entry proof seemed more apparent (still looking for the 125 proof bottle!).

Chuck Cowdery said...

As I noted above in the post, it was really one experiment using both rye-recipe and wheated bourbon. They just chose to bottle and release them a year apart.

Tmckenzie said...

Seems that everything old is new again, let me explain. Years ago, and correct me if I am wrong, but most distillers barreled at 100 proof. And distilled as close to 100 as they could get to not have to add water. I am sure it was done at BT. So now we have what used to be normal, except for a still proof of 140, being experimented with. In my opinion whiskey barreled at 100 proof ages the best. By the sounds of it BT prefers the taste of the 125 entry proof. I have some older bottlings made at what now is BT and the stuff is way better again in my opinion, than any one product high or low end made there today.

Doctor Tarr said...

They like the whiskey that has less water added before aging. I'd like you see lower proof off the still coupled with lower entry proof.

Anonymous said...

When they say "buttery" with the 105, it makes me wonder what some of the dusty bourbons were barreled at (which I find to have that buttery mouthfeel more than today's). Things like ND Old Taylor. Any thoughts on what the entry proofs used to be? Or did they have a similar entry proof, but a lower proof off the still?

I think that would be a fascinating experiment - variations between not only barrel entry proof, but proof from the still (maybe from 100 - 140 in increments of 10).