Taste Test: A Chaotic Blend of Cask-Finished Bourbons Delivers an Unexpectedly Harmonious Whiskey

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Do we need another cask-finished whiskey? Sure, why not let another one join the ever-growing party. How about a blend of bourbons that have been finished in six different types of casks? That might sound like an overly complicated recipe, but B.R. Distilling Company got it right with the new Blue Note Special Reserve.

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It’s not like this concept is such a novelty—after all, brands like Barrell Craft Spirits have proven themselves to be specialists in sourcing and finishing whiskey in different barrels. Some of those releases are finished in up to three unique casks ranging from amaro to rum to fortified wines. But six barrels is a whole lot of wood, and just like a cocktail made with too many components or an entree that requires 24 ingredients, things can go quickly awry.

But that’s not the case here at all. B.R. Distilling Company is a Memphis producer that sources whiskey from other distilleries, and its best known label is called Blue Note. Blue Note Special Reserve is a limited release of just 2,100 bottles consisting of bourbon made from three different mashbills (two of which are high rye) that is sourced from Kentucky and Tennessee, and ranges in age from four to 19 years old. Each of these straight bourbons are individually finished in a different type of cask and blended together along with one unfinished bourbon. The breakdown is as follows: 19-year-old bourbon finished in Cognac casks, 17-year-old bourbon finished in new American oak barrels, 12-year-old bourbon finished in sherry casks, 11-year-old bourbon finished in port casks, five-year-old bourbon finished in madeira casks, and four-year-old bourbon finished in vino de naranja casks. The unfinished bourbon is also four years old. All of these whiskeys were blended in relatively similar percentages (around 15 percent), while the white oak barrel finish is only at three percent.

Obviously, each of these finishing barrels will bring a different flavor to the blend, and in this case it’s a harmonious marriage. The whiskey is a dark amber color, and the nose is full of honey and not overpowering even at a cask strength of 112.5 proof. Instead of pinpointing the specific character each finish contributes, it’s better to focus on the end result—deep dark and milk chocolate notes, some orange zest, coconut, vanilla fudge, spiced apple, mulled cider, and toasted almond and grain notes are all present when you sip. Fruit, spice, and sweet flavors complement each other, a testament to what must have been a very involved process of deciding on what proportions to use of each finished whiskey.

To repeat the point: Do we need a blend of seven different whiskeys with six cask finishes? Absolutely not. But I’m glad it happened, because while cask finishing seems to be as common a device as barrel proof is these days this is one that gets it right, and that is not always the case. Blue Note Special Reserve is available now, and according to the brand it will only be available at retail in states in which it has distribution. If you do find a bottle, it very well might be above the $225 asking price. But it’s worth it if you can afford it, and if not you can always find bottles of the core Blue Note lineup to buy from websites like Total Wine.

Score: 93

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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