Exploring Private Barrel Selections with Nasa Liquor header

Exploring Private Barrel Selections with Nasa Liquor

In Banter by Patrick "Pops" GarrettLeave a Comment


Exploring Private Barrel Selections with Nasa Liquor header

Disclaimer: A sample of Four Roses Single Barrel and Smooth Ambler Old Scout Private Selection bourbon were provided to us by Nasa Liquor for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow Bourbon & Banter to review the booze with no strings attached. Thank you.

“It was like staring down a bourbon tsunami. I couldn’t make a decision or move my feet from sheer awe and fear of making a bad decision.”

That’s how one of my friends described his recent experience visiting a liquor store. He had gone in looking to buy a bottle of whiskey for a house-warming gift. A simple task he thought. He wasn’t prepared for the reality of today’s bourbon market.

Liquor store shelves are flooded with new bourbon brands seemingly every week making it increasingly difficult for consumers to make a decision. Don’t get me wrong. Choice is good but when taken to the extreme it can be paralyzing. Add in the fact that many of these new brands have questionable, yet enticing, back-stories and it quickly becomes dumb luck for many people to pick a bottle with actually decent juice inside.

I can only imagine what happens after someone’s fallen victim to sexy labeling and shitty bourbon more than a few times. I suspect many return to their “safe” bourbon and give up on trying something new. Others will attempt to keep an open mind but every trip back to the “bourbon tsunami” results in unnecessary stress and anxiety. Being gun-shy about a bourbon purchase is no way to live one’s life.

If you’ve ever found yourself in or want to avoid this situation, I suggest you explore your favorite store’s private barrel selections.

Private barrel selections are bourbons chosen by a liquor store based on samples provided by the brand. Most of the major distilleries offer a barrel selection program these days where they provide 3-10 samples from different barrels to stores and restaurants looking to offer something unique to their clientele. A few years ago only the larger stores and venues regularly had private barrel selections but the practice has now become mainstream. In fact, it’s become so mainstream that stores often have multiple private selections available from different brands at any given time.

Private barrel selections are a great way to try something “new” without the risk associated with unknown brands or labels. Personally, I love private selections and have experienced some really amazing picks from stores around the country. Keep in mind though that stores, since people make their picks, may not have tastes that align with yours. When possible sample a private selection during an in-store tasting to see if it fits your palate.

In some instances private barrel selections become legendary resulting in bourbon lovers across the globe rushing to snag a store’s latest pick. Bottles go fast once word has spread and the secondary market becomes the only place to obtain these bottles–assuming you’re willing to spend a small fortune. Don’t worry though; there are more than enough excellent private barrel bottles available in stores across the country.

I strongly encourage that you check what your favorite store has to offer with their private barrel program. Then expand your search by visiting other stores in your area and see if their tastes align with yours. Keep notes and soon you’ll be able to determine which stores have tastes similar to yours. Then make sure you’re on their mailing list for a heads up on their next private barrel release.

As much as I love private barrel selections I don’t really get the chance to try things from liquor stores outside of St. Louis. That’s why I was so psyched when Alex Le from Nasa Liquors offered Bourbon & Banter a chance to try two of their recent private barrel selections– a Four Roses Single Barrel and a Smooth Ambler Old Scout.

For those of you unfamiliar with Nasa Liquor, they’re a Vietnamese family owned liquor store in Houston that specializes in craft beer and high-end whiskey. They’ve built a great reputation among local whiskey lovers and from what I’ve heard; they pretty darn good at picking outstanding private barrel selections.

Nasa’s Smooth Ambler Old Scout bottling was chosen by Alex and a panel of whiskey connoisseurs who did an extensive tasting of 6 samples provided by the brand. Inviting customers to help pick private barrels is one of the ways NASA has made a name for themselves among Houston-area whiskey lovers. Needless to say, if I lived in the Houston area I would be doing everything I could to be on Alex’s tasting panel list.

According Alex, he decided to pick a Four Roses selection during a trip to the distillery where he spent some time with Master Distiller Jim Rutledge tasting samples across all 10 of Four Roses recipes. Having done that myself with Jim, I know how hard it can be to narrow 10 down to just 1 barrel. It’s an amazing way to spend half your day but it’s no walk in the park. Of course Jim doesn’t help the situation since every barrel he distills is amazing. It’s like being asked which one of your children is your favorite. But luckily for Alex he didn’t have to do it on his own. He was able to rely on his panel once again for this selection. Talk about a lucky group customers.

By the time my sample bottles arrived my expectations were set pretty high. It was time to crack them open and see if Alex’s palate was compatible with mine. Let’s go ahead and dive into my formal tasting notes.

Let’s go ahead and get to the tasting.

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Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection bottle imageBourbon Name:
  Four Roses Single Barrel Private Selection – Nasa Liquor

Proof: 111

Age: 10 year 2 months

Recipe: OESF – Herbal Essence

Year:  2015

How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.

My Nose Noticed:*  Juicy Fruit Gum | Toasted Oak | Mint | Vanilla

First Sip:  Floral | Toasted Nuts | Mint | Sweet Oak

The Burn:** A great balance and mouthfeel with sweeter than expected profile. There’s more oak in this one that I would have expected and for me required a little bit of water to tame the tannic flavors. That being said, it has a solid finish with hints of vanilla and mint. The burn builds slowly and stops short of getting your full attention. It’s there but it won’t stop you in your tracks.

Neat, Splash or Rocks:  You can drink this one however you want. It drinks lighter than the stated proof and is stout enough to handle the addition of water or ice. I preferred adding just a few drops of water to take the edge off the oak notes since I’m not a huge fan of wood flavors. 

Share With: A must pour for Four Roses fans. You really can’t go wrong with anything Four Roses puts out and their private selections provide even more to enjoy. Would also be a great choice to introduce a bourbon novice to the difference between different Four Roses single barrels. Pour them this along with the retail version and let the learning begin.

Worth The Price:  Absolutely. It took longer than anticipated to write this review but Alex tells me that they still have some of the Four Roses available for purchase. If you want to get a bottle you better call soon. If you wait too long you might miss your chance.

Bottle, Bar or Bust: Like I said above, when it comes to Four Roses it’s hard to go wrong with adding a bottle to your bar. Enough said.

**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?


 


Smooth Ambler Old Scout bottle imageBourbon Name:
  Smooth Ambler Old Scout Private Selection – Nasa Liquor

Proof: 119.8

Age: 8 years

Recipe: 65% Corn | 30% Rye | 5% Malted Barley

Year:  2015

How I Drank It: Neat, in Glencairn whiskey glass.

My Nose Noticed:*  Cinnamon | Creamy Amaretto | Creamy Chocolate | Golden Raisins | Varnish

First Sip:  Spicy Rye | Honey | Toasted Nuts | Mint

The Burn:** Hard to believe this one comes in at almost 120 proof. It drinks more like 100 proof with none of the heat you would expect at the higher-end of the proof scale. The finish is on the dry side with lots of oak, cinnamon and mint. Chest burn is thick and well-timed letting you know that your drinking a solid bourbon.

Neat, Splash or Rocks:  I preferred this one neat. Adding water seemed to mute all but the oak and spice. Considering that I would have liked to have more vanilla and caramel notes to round this one out putting water in doesn’t make much sense.

Share With: Another solid Smooth Ambler Old Scout private selection that any bourbon lover would enjoy. It’s a bit on the sweet and oaky side for me but it’s got great balance and wonderful burn. I wouldn’t pass on a glass from anyone.

Worth The Price:  As a private selection it’s definitely worth the price. But unlike the Four Roses private selection this one is sold out for now. Alex shared that they’re holding their few remaining bottles to be sold as part of a set when their next SAOS private selection comes in. Perhaps a phone call is in order?

Bottle, Bar or Bust: You’re not going to find this one in a bar either so you better get in line for Nasa Liquor’s next private selection. Or if you find yourself in St. Louis drop me a note and we’ll talk.

**Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?


 

A big shout out to Alex and the folks at Nasa Liquor for inviting Bourbon & Banter to check out some of their private selections. It took way longer than we anticipated to get these reviewed but man, did we have some fun doing so. If you find yourself down in the Houston area I highly suggest you pay them a visit. Ask for Alex and let him know that Bourbon & Banter sent you.

Cheers and thanks for continuing to spread the bourbon gospel with us.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Patrick Garrett, "Pops" as he's known to his friends, is the founder of Bourbon & Banter, LLC and claims the title of Chief Drinking Officer (CDO). A long-time marketing professional and photographer, Pops hopes to use his professional experience and love of Bourbon to spread the Bourbon Gospel and help everyone realize the therapeutic power of having a good drink with friends. Read Patrick's full profile.

About the Author

Patrick "Pops" Garrett

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Patrick Garrett, "Pops" as he's known to his friends, is the founder of Bourbon & Banter, LLC and claims the title of Chief Drinking Officer (CDO). A long-time marketing professional and photographer, Pops hopes to use his professional experience and love of Bourbon to spread the Bourbon Gospel and help everyone realize the therapeutic power of having a good drink with friends. Read Patrick's full profile.