Review: Broken Barrel Is an Aggressively Fun Whiskey Brand
How young whiskey can thrive when exposed to unique wooden staves from hacked-up barrels
What we’re drinking: Multiple expressions from the Los Angeles-based Broken Barrel Whiskey Co.
Where it’s from: Broken Barrel’s founder Seth Benhaim started out creating single bottle infused vodkas (Infuse Spirits) before his love of whiskey inspired him to source some younger bourbons and ryes from Kentucky and Indiana and experiment with barrel staves.
Plenty of other whiskey brands have used staves, but Benhaim has built a brand around the idea of an Oak Bill — basically, taking traditionally-aged whiskey (usually two years or so), then taking out the liquid and placing it in stainless steel tanks and adding different barrel staves for anywhere from three to 21 months to create unique taste profiles.
“This is totally different than moving the whiskey from one barrel to another, like a barrel finish,” says Benhaim. “Our process allows for consistency, and it deepens the flavor of a younger whiskey so it can stand up to something a little older.”
The key? Surface area. “You’re getting the inside and outside of the stave, so there’s way more wood in contact with the whiskey,” he says. As for other whiskey brands that may shudder to look at Benhaim actually taking a pick-ax or hammer to very expensive barrels? “I hope it makes people uncomfortable. We want to turn heads a bit.”
Right now Broken Barrel has four core expressions — a fifth is on the way — and a number of limited releases. Benhaim will also do custom barrel picks. “When someone takes the time to reach out, I respect that,” he says. “And I’ll get my team to even make a unique graphic for the bottle.” (See below for the weirdest request he’s ever received.)
We tried a few core and limited-edition expressions. Our favorites are below.
How it tastes: The standout is Heresy, a 105-proof Kentucky Straight Rye whiskey (95% rye, 5% malted barley) that’s undergone additional oak stave treatment utilizing ex-bourbon, new French oak and Sherry cask oak. It’s very fruity and spicy while offering a sweet kick and a warm finish.
For the bourbons, I recommended the California Oak, where the 80% Central Coast Cabernet Wine Barrel staves and 20% French oak staves bring a nice balance of dark fruits and wood spice.
Want something unusual? Cornucopia is the same mashbill (70% corn, 21% rye, 9% malted barley) as their core bourbon releases, but utilizes ex-peach brandy, ex-apple brandy and ex-Cognac staves. It’s complex and the casks used here actually accentuate the corn and rye spice while adding hints of raspberry jam and creme brûlée. It rivals a good Barrell Craft Spirits release.
Fun fact: BB’s weirdest customer request? “Someone wanted a rye whiskey from Indiana finished with ex-mezcal, ex-white wine barrel and bee honey barrels. It was vegetal and sweet, very dark in color not what you’d expect — the nose and palate and finish were all completely different.”
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