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Barrel Proof Blind Tasting

In Banter by Brent JosephLeave a Comment

A few weeks ago some of my bourbon drinking friends and I were sitting around discussing our favorite drink. I know, shocking right? We started talking about what each of our favorites was. Some preferred wheated, one liked high rye, I like a lot of barrel proofs, etc. Then we started to discuss our favorites in the specific categories that we preferred. This gave me an idea that would be perfect for a Bourbon & Banter post, A Blind Barrel Proof Tasting! What a great idea I thought, it also gave me another excuse to host a few drinking buddies over and let them give their thoughts and share the experience as well. After all, bourbon is always better when shared with friends.

The idea I had was to find four Barrel Proof bourbons that were not necessarily hyper-limited releases. Blindly taste bottles that wouldn’t be impossible to find or cost you a kidney if you were to buy or trade for a one on the secondary market. So no unicorn bottles or BTAC offerings in this tasting. I chose four bottles from four different distilleries in Kentucky. These bottles were all from my home bar and personal collection. All bottles had already been opened previously. I invited two of my good friends and regular bourbon drinking buddies over, and we sat on my back deck on a mild evening and set out to find our favorites without knowing what we were tasting. Since I poured the samples, I knew what the four bourbons were, but I did not know the order we tasted them in.

The Barrel Proof Blind Tasting Bourbons

The tasting notes and results are below. At the bottom I’ve included my guest’s notes as well as their final blind rankings. I kept their thoughts short and to the point. I hope you enjoy this post as much as we did while sampling and trying to pick a winner. All samples were tasted in Glencarin Glasses, neat.

Whiskey #1: Booker’s Center Cut, Batch 03-2015, 127.2 Proof

Nose: Oak and Vanilla with a little bit of baking spices. If you take a big inhale of this, you get a big hit of alcohol burn.

Taste: Viscous and warm. Sweet maple and some cinnamon with some subtle corn notes. Thick syrup like mouthfeel.

Finish: Very long with a warm mouthfeel that coats your mouth. An extended tingling sensation on your tongue and gums. This one just keeps going. It stays with you for a good while and you can even feel it in your chest. Not for amateur bourbon drinkers. This one would be ideal to sit around a fire pit on a cold night.

Whiskey #2: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, 134.8 Proof

Nose: This one is a bit lighter on the nose than the first sample and not nearly as sweet. A little sweet corn with an alcohol burn on the nose.

Taste: Lots of heat with some black pepper on the tongue. Not as thick and viscous as the previous sample. Oak, dark brown sugar and tobacco leaf with some other herbal notes.

Finish: Another long finish. Even hotter than the first sample but doesn’t last as long as the first sample. Some Crème Brulee (creamy vanilla with burnt sugar).

Whiskey #3: Maker’s Cask Strength, 111.6 Proof

Nose: Much lighter on the nose than the previous two samples. I get a hint of vanilla mixed with a sweet mineral scent. A bit of baking spices and a faint hint of wood. 

Taste: Honey, corn, and a little oak. Much lighter/thinner mouthfeel than the prior two samples. Not nearly as hot, drinks like an 80 proof compared to the first two we tried.

Finish: Compared to the previous two, this one goes down smooth and easy. Possibly a hint of citrus on the finish but it’s hard to tell. Warm with a much shorter finish than the first two. Not nearly as complex and doesn’t last as long either.

Whiskey #4: Col. EH Taylor Barrel Proof, 135.4 Proof

Nose: Brown Sugar, dark fruit, faint alcohol notes, and some corn mash.

Taste: Candied dark fruit, toffee, and corn.

Finish: This one is a monster. Big intense heat on the sides of your tongue when you give it a good long Kentucky Chew. You can feel the heat all the way down in a good way. A few drops of water added a whole new dimension where the sweetness really started to shine through and cut the alcohol burn in half. A long finish that keeps you wanting more. I really like this one.

My Overall Rankings

Here’s my blind ranking (in order of preference): Col. EH Taylor BP  |  Elijah Craig Barrel Proof  |  Booker’s  |  Maker’s Cask

I wish I could say that I was shocked by the results but I wasn’t. The only surprising thing was that I really liked the ECBP. In the past it hasn’t been something that I’ve particularly enjoyed. Even after my fellow B&B contributor Brett Atlas kept telling me it is one of his favorites, I went back to it to give it another run and I still wasn’t wowed by it. I’m not sure if the blind tasting had any effect on it or not but it really stood out as exceptional during this tasting.

As you can see below, my two other guests that participated in this with me chose it as their favorite. I just think that for me, the Col. Taylor Barrel Proof hits all the right notes for me and this tasting proves that it is one of my favorite pours. Also, from the rankings and the tastings, everyone agreed that the Maker’s Cask Strength was the weakest of the bunch but I still really enjoy it. It just couldn’t stand up to the other bolder and higher proofed bottles in this tasting. Also, of the four bottles in this blind tasting, the Maker’s is probably the one that is most readily available at your local liquor store.


Guest Rankings

Guest A Final Blind Rankings

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof  |  Col. EH Taylor Barrel Proof  |  Booker’s Center Cut  |  Maker’s Cask Strength

Whiskey #1: Sweet Smell, burned a ton on the KY Chew. Way better with a drop or two of water.

Whiskey #2: Smelled familiar until the KY Chew and totally changed. Right in his wheelhouse. Got worse when water was added. This is a bourbon I can sit around and sip all night.

Whiskey #3: KY Chew was hot and tasted like sour mash. Seemed young and needed age.

Whiskey #4: Nose was amazing, KY Chew was hot but mellowed and turned amazing with a few drops of water.

Guest B Final Blind Rankings

Elijah Craig Barrel Proof  |  Col. EH Taylor Barrel Proof  |  Booker’s Center Cut  |  Maker’s Cask Strength

Whiskey #1: Tasted Vanilla, black pepper, and oak. Long finish.

Whiskey #2: Had a grain smell, tasted citrus. Liked it a lot. Favorite of the bunch.

Whiskey #3: Had the heat but not as much flavor. Tasted a bit of vanilla but it didn’t go anywhere.

Whiskey #4: Super hot, a sweetness to it with hints of oak.

About the Author

Brent Joseph

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Brent was born and raised in Indianapolis, IN. After graduating from the University of Kansas with a degree in Journalism, he moved back to Indy where he eventually resurrected his family’s brand of all beef kosher style hot dogs and opened a restaurant, King David Dogs, in downtown Indianapolis. When he’s not juggling the many duties of an entrepreneur, he can usually be found relaxing at home with his wife, their twin boys, and their two dogs. Brent is a member of the Bourbon Society of Indianapolis, a BBQ enthusiast, and a cigar aficionado. Three things that are even better when enjoyed together with good friends. If Brent is not talking about bourbon, he’s probably talking about sports, in particular, NFL football and Kansas Jayhawks basketball. You can follow his blog, BBQ and Bourbon here: http://bbqbourbon.tumblr.com/.