Tasting whiskey without knowing anything about it—a.k.a. blind—is always interesting. It challenges me to focus on what’s in the glass, its aromas, color and taste, without leaning on preconceptions tied to brands or age or mash bill. When I have to review a whiskey, I wish I could keep all that info hidden until I’ve written my remarks, but that would require an assistant, which my wife doesn’t want to be.
The Blind Barrels tasting experience solves all that in a terrific and beautiful package. According to its owner, Bobby DeMars, the point is to remove bias builders like brands and costs to let drinkers focus solely on the liquid before them.
For Blind Barrels, that means craft whiskeys that are innovative and delicious. (Thankfully, the number of those has increased steadily over the years.) When DeMars and his friends receive samples from craft distilleries, “We shut our eyes to bias, we avoid any assumptions we might have about the liquid, and we select those that pass our rigorous standards.”
I was willing to try the kit DeMars sent, and I set to. As I mentioned, the package is beautifully done: compact (like a wide cigar box) with a black matte finish emblazoned with a gold foil logo of what looks like a love child sired by Abe Lincoln and an unlucky primate: simultaneously clever and creepy.
Inside are detailed instructions on how best to enjoy this “Whiskey Journey” including the basics of adding water to open up the spirit, flavor and aroma guidance on a colorful chart on the back side, plus a QR code that, once you’ve tasted the spirits blind, can be used to reveal those brands’ names, mash bills and ABV.
The drill is familiar to most experienced drinkers: Set out four tasting glasses, remove the four 50ml samples from the dense, cut-foam packaging, open and pour some spirit into each, let the spirits breathe a bit and get into it.
Whenever blind tasting, I make no effort to guess what distillery made it. Not only do I not care to rush into such a fool’s errand, I just want to enjoy the whiskey as is. If familiar flavors and aromas strike me, sure, I’ll guess, but I don’t spend much time on it. I’m not that good at such guessing anyway. (Can you see the cycle of laziness emerging here? Just let me nose and drink, eh?)
The whiskeys were different and unique, but all bore some of the common craft notes of youth, overripe tropical fruit, grain-forward aromas, small barrel tannin, etc. Still, all were good, but none were the ones I hoped to buy. The good news is there are lots of options out there.
The QR code identification of the whiskeys worked seamlessly. At the website I was led to click on sealed envelopes to learn what I’d just drunk. The animated graphics were well done and slick. (Given that these samples may be in future Blind Barrels releases, I’ll not mention them here.)
A few days later I signed up for the free master class—an all-video multi-segment breakdown of things like how to taste whiskey, descriptions of mashbills, whiskey nomenclature and much more—that’s really well done and worth watching no matter your mastery.
Want to know more? There are two levels for subscribers (click here to go to the site):
- A quarterly subscription that gets users a new four-bottle kit every three months for $59.99.
- An annual subscription that gets users four kits per year for $199.99.
For the cost, I think the experience is quite good. It’s interactive, the product is professionally made and the whiskeys that I got are fine. To taste 16 craft whiskeys in this format for $200 is a fair deal, and it would make a great present for serious and new drinkers alike. (And with 16 bottles, you’ve got enough to hold your own intimate blind tasting just by refilling them.)
I had no preconception as to whether this would be a gimmick, but still count me pleasantly surprised. Cool product!
Disclaimer: Blind Barrels provided Bourbon & Banter with a sample of their product for this review. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.
Steve Coomes is editor of BourbonBanter.com. A Louisville restaurant industry veteran turned award-winning food writer, he has edited and written for dozens of national trade and consumer publications including Pizza Today, Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living over his 31-year journalism career. As a spirits writer, Steve's work can be found in Bourbon Plus, Bourbon Review, Bourbon & Banter, WhiskeyWash.com and other publications. In 2014, he authored the book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and has authored other titles as a private ghostwriter.
Read Steve's full profile.