Broken Barrel California Oak isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel with their lowest proof offering, but it is making a strong case that young whiskey can be elevated with the addition of staves. By utilizing what the company describes as a unique “oak bill,” Broken Barrel’s California Oak is able to avoid some of the pitfalls of bourbon that’s too youthful (namely, an outsized grain presence and rough-around-the-edges mouthfeel) and offer an enjoyable tasting experience.
I was immediately struck by how fruit-forward this bourbon is, as the raspberry and plum notes are prominent despite it being a relatively young whiskey. Caramelized sugar and a strong black pepper influence makes for a medley of alluring aromas that slightly outperform the palate, but it tastes good too! Led by butterscotch before the fruit and spice develop in the mouth, this is a really well-rounded bourbon for its age.
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This bottle immediately comes with so many expectations that it’s hard to judge it fairly. Tasted blind, this is an excellent bourbon that balances the strong Kentucky and Indiana bourbon profiles while deftly relegating the overly distinct Tennessee whiskey notes to a supporting role. In a blend of whiskeys as old as 17 years, this could easily have been over-oaked, yet it isn’t. It is warm, orange zest-forward (note: not orange vitamins), with bright red fruit evolving into a maple old fashioned without being too sweet.
When it comes to American Highway Reserve, despite some older whiskey in this blend, it all smells young: new wood, green apple, cooked corn, dried rye and ethanol. Initially, the aroma is faint, but a few vigorous swirls moves it from non-existent to hot in the nostrils; from “Is anybody home?” to “Please go back inside your house!” It’s corn-whiskey-sweet and light on the palate before finishing unpleasantly dry. I hate to sound like a jerk, but I like nothing about this bourbon.
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I find the nose to be lovely on this single malt. The fruity notes I discussed in my review of Rampur Double Cask are there but this time they’re joined with juicy aromas from the wine cask finishing. The balance of these two fruity aromas is perfect but all too quickly the wood/spice notes kick in once again to steal the show in a non-flattering manner. I actually found myself cursing out the wood notes for interrupting the party.
In full disclosure, I haven’t had the opportunity to sample a lot of Indian Single Malts. To date, my exposure has been to a few expressions from Paul John which I felt were quite good. In comparison, I found this Rampur Double Cask promising. The nose was fruity and full of heavy malt aromas. The oak swiftly registered and the resulting spice notes were a bit aggressive and overpowered the lighter fruity notes.