Every once in a while something comes along that changes the game. It disrupts the standard as we know it. It gives us something unexpected...in the best way.
But these game changers are never labelled that way - with whiskey, or with any other evolution of something as we know it, whether it’s a product or a new way of thinking. There’s no invisible hand that rises up and smacks you in the face screaming “this is it!” In fact, these new concepts are often overlooked or written off. Many may never even make it to market, or if they do, it takes them a long time to get there. These ideas often recede to the depths of pencil scratchings, forgotten patents, or simply the creator’s inability to get the idea off the ground.
If you’re a whiskey geek, or at least follow along with what whiskey geeks are doing these days, then you’ve probably heard of “infinity bottles” (also referred to as “solera bottles,” “fractional bottles,” or “living bottles”). For those who haven’t, the concept is simple - it’s a homemade blend of fractional parts of many whiskeys in a single bottle. It continues indefinitely, and as it’s consumed the empty volume is continually replaced with fractional portions of new whiskeys.
To my knowledge, no whiskey maker has ever attempted to create an “infinite” whiskey on a large scale and brought it to market.
Enter Barrell Craft Spirits. Founder Joe Beatrice and Master Distiller Tripp Stimson have won the attention of many bourbon drinkers since their initial release only about four years ago. Curating bourbons, whiskeys, and even rums, their goal is to create no two batches that are alike, and then release each carefully crafted batch at barrel proof.
As part of their ongoing process, Barrell Craft Spirits holds "blue-sky" product meetings at regular intervals. In these meetings the invisible walls of conventional thinking fail to exist, elevating the discussion to creative outside-the-box concepts. In attendance: Beatrice, Stimson, and National Director Will Schragis. According to Beatrice, Schragis is an integral part of Barrell Craft Spirits team. It was one of these meetings that the idea first arose. It would be called, "The Infinite Barrel Project."
The Infinite Barrel Project is a whiskey geek’s infinity bottle on a larger scale. It challenges conventional whiskey making and blending, where the ultimate goal is consistency, consistency, consistency. Instead, it’s all about each blend being different. And more importantly really good.
According to Barrell Craft Spirits, “The intent is to create an ever-changing whiskey blended from barrels of mature whisk(e)y. We began by selecting barrels for their flavor contribution and complexity and blending them in a larger single, or ‘Infinite’ vessel. At each bottling, we’ll remove a portion of that whiskey and replace it with other barrels that will complement the remaining blend. We'll then repeat the process - bottling a portion and adding newly selected whiskeys each time.”
Unlike a solera process, which strives for consistency over time and blends within a series of cascading barrels, the end goal of the Infinite Barrel Project is to create a unique whiskey every time. With the Infinite Barrel Project, many whiskey barrels, or fractions of barrels, are combined into a single vessel.
Barrell’s Infinite Barrel Project blending is currently being done in a stainless steel tank, but may soon transition to custom made 1,000 gallon barrels, which are “not cheap” according to Beatrice. This will be a single UPC code, a continual release under one product name. Different dumps, each with their own unique flavor profile will be identified simply by the bottling date on the front label. The company’s website can then be referred to for additional details.
The first bottling, dated February 12, 2018 and scheduled for release in May contains Tennessee Whiskey and Rye, Indiana Whiskey finished in Oloroso Sherry butts, Indiana Rye, 100% Polish Malted Rye finished in Curacao barrels, Scotch Whiskey, and Irish Whiskey. Stimson notes that while the percentages are not disclosed, they’re tracking data in such a way that they will be able to calculate the percentages of each whiskey into the future.
If you’ve ever attempted to blend whiskeys at home then you know how challenging it can be. You probably know first hand how easy it is to turn a few good whiskeys into a disgusting Frankensteinian beast. Beatrice and Stimson could easily have a beast on their hands - bourbon, rye, scotch, Irish whiskey, different finishes...it could become quite a monster. More importantly it begs the question - Just who is the Infinite Barrel Project intended for anyway?
“We’re thinking carbon based life forms of legal drinking age,” Beatrice tells me.
It might be hard to judge out of context, but Beatrice is only half joking. Beatrice and Stimson want this product to appeal to anyone that can appreciate whiskey, and have gone to great lengths to achieve a blend that they’re both happy with. Stimson adds, “I gave a friend a bottle of this, he’s a die-hard bourbon drinker. I mean he’s loved I.W. Harper and all the Stitzel Weller stuff since he was younger. He said ‘man I have to tell you, would it hurt your feelings if I told you this is the best product you’ve ever made?’ I really believe that anybody that appreciates bourbon whiskey across the board will find some sort of enjoyment out of this product because there is so much in there.”
Blending begins with a lot of testing in the lab, followed by replicating a desirable lab blend on a much larger scale. For this first release, it was an evolving process that took over 30 days where small tweaks were constantly made to arrive at a desirable outcome - an outcome that both Beatrice and Stimson are happy with. “It takes a subtle hand because you never know what is going to become predominant in something. And then there are things that you think will be predominant and then they aren’t. We always test up to things very slowly,” says Beatrice.
When asked what he thinks consumers should expect when they taste the first release of Infinite Barrel Project Beatrice replied, “expect the unexpected.”
In a sense, the Infinite Barrel Project represents a big risk and could easily be a flop if the folks at Barrell can’t quite pull it off. And if it fails, a large volume of expensive whiskey will be sacrificed in the process. Regardless, you have to admit it’s an exciting project and the possibilities are endless when it comes to new flavor profiles. I’m sure this concept has the attention of other whiskey makers, and if it succeeds I wouldn’t be surprised to see more try something similar.
As for our thoughts on how the first release tastes, watch for tasting notes soon.