Well, not exactly an Oscar, but in the spirits industry it might as well be one. The 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition managed to squeeze in before the country went on pandemic lockdown, and boy are we glad! While most bourbon connoisseurs turn their nose up at blended bourbons, it was indeed a blended bourbon that won Double Gold designation, Best Bourbon, Best Small Batch Bourbon, and Best Small Batch Bourbon 6-10 years at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Say what?!?
SFWSC started in 2000 and is one of the oldest competitions of its kind. Over 3,000 entries were judged this year in a three-tier, double blind process to ensure an even playing field for everyone. Judges are not given any information prior to tasting, so price point and producer have no influence on the results. Each entry has the potential to earn a Gold, Silver, or Bronze rating, but if all of the judges on a panel score the entry as gold level, it is designated Double Gold.
So who exactly does this untraditional bourbon belong to?? Introducing Barrell Craft Spirits, founded in 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. In less than a decade, Barrell has gone from distribution in 2 states to 46, doubling of sales every year, and multiple wins at very prestigious competitions. While impressive, you might be thinking that a lot of distilleries have experienced rapid growth and recognition, as the Kentucky Bourbon Trail has gained popularity. Get this – Barrell Craft Spirits is NOT a distillery! There’s no secret recipe grandpappy; no illegal moonshine history during prohibition; and founder Joe Beatrice had no official brown spirits experience. From the start, Barrell was very transparent about sourcing and blending all their whiskey, rye, and rum in lieu of distilling their own product.
Currently, Barrell sources whiskey from 65 suppliers around the world. When coming up with a new product, Beatrice and Barrell’s Master Distiller take samples from hundreds of barrels and sort them into groups. From there, they combine whiskey from different locations, yeasts, mashbills, barrels, char levels, and ages into one amazing product.
The blended bourbon that took San Francisco by storm was Barrell Bourbon Batch 21 – a blend of three distinct groups of 10-year aged whiskey from Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky. One group was more corn forward and buttery, one was more woody, and one was from a rare lower-proof barrel. An additional 18 carefully chosen 14-year barrels were integrated into the final product.
Congratulations to Barrell Craft Spirits for daring to be different and shaking up the spirits competition world! Can’t wait to try Barrell Bourbon Batch 21. Cheers!