Classification: Rye Whiskey Finished in Martinique Rhum Casks, Agricole Casks, Apricot Brandy Casks & Madeira Casks
Company: Barrell Craft Spirits
Distillery: Sourced (from undisclosed distilleries in the Indiana, Tennessee and Canada)
Release Date: March 2021
MSRP: $90 (2021)
Barrell Seagrass is an “ode to coastal memories'' according to the company. It is a blend of American and Canadian rye whiskeys, with each ingredient meticulously sourced and finished separately in Martinique Rhum Agricole casks, apricot brandy casks, and Madeira barrels. The product was developed by Barrell Craft Spirits founder Joe Beatrice, Chief Whiskey Scientist Tripp Stimson, Chief Product Innovation Officer Will Schragis, and Assistant Blender Nic Christiansen. The release is available in 45 states and on the company’s website. More details can be found in the press release.
Potent yet playful candy store aroma that's filled with childhood nostalgia. Everything from gummy bears, cotton candy, and strawberry shortcake to fruity bubble gum flows out of the glass. This sugar filled aroma is cut by sweeping swings of rye spice providing excellent contrast. It's a tight collection of scents that work well in tandem providing a striking impression.
A creamy medley of red summer fruits, sugary vanilla molasses, and a twinge of apricot brandy form a club you’ll want to get into. Its unique and striking flavor profile can be rather lavish and challenging at times. It’s the second and third sip where familiarity begins to step in and the whiskey's eccentric collection of flavors begins to click. Equal parts sugary, fruity, and spicy, it is able to come together and work.
The fruit medley of the palate starts to wear off on the finish, replaced by slight dryness, and additional rye spice and heat. This is where the whiskey’s proof does it a bit of a disservice as the heat can be surprisingly punchy here. A touch of water does the whiskey wonders allowing the flavors to slightly open up while mellowing the heat. Comparatively the finish is a mild letdown after an entertaining ride.
With most whiskey companies looking to find the next new thing, they often rely on barrel finishes to accomplish this task. Barrell Craft Spirits is no stranger to this. Their Barrell Whiskey line began under this technique when it launched in 2017. The company has also released a surprisingly wide array of barrel finished whiskeys under their private selection single barrel line, and more recently introduced unique releases as Infinity Barrell Project, Dovetail, American Vatted Malt, and Armida to the market. Barrell Craft Spirits is certainly one company not afraid to take risks.
While new ideas can sometimes come across as a company simply throwing any old idea at the market and seeing if it sticks, it’s easy to forget that it’s a costly endeavor and a certain amount of vetting needs takes place. After hearing the concept of Barrell Seagrass there were probably a wide range of reactions to it. It’s weird, unique, different, and crazy all at the same time, but there’s an aspect to it that feels: “this could actually work.”
With Barrell Seagrass each of its barrel finishes can be picked out if necessary, but more interesting is how well they work as a cohesive unit. Just as you pick out the Madeira influence, a rum note will pop in, quickly followed by a brandy one. It’s this ever changing, yet well-working collection of flavors that you wouldn’t think would work at first, that somehow absolutely does and continually surprises with every sip.
We always say experimentation comes at a price for both the producer and customer. It's a statement that is proven to be more fact year after year as whiskey companies look to explore the unexplored in hopes of finding the next new thing.
I doubt Barrell Craft Spirits has a shortage of new ideas as they surprise each year with something wildly different. Amazingly, the company has maintained their Barrell Bourbon price point for these unproven and risky experiments. Their success with their Barrell Bourbon has allotted them some breathing room to take these risks, but to also keep prices in check. The same can’t be said of pricing from major Kentucky distilleries when they try something wildly new, such as Heaven Hill’s Parker's Heritage Collection or Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection, both of which have seen price increases over the last few years.
By maintaining their price point, Barrell Craft Spirits allows customers to take a chance on their new products. They might not all be home runs, but if you know going into these types of wild card release that they are simply just that, wild cards, you feel less of the burn by the price if you don’t end up liking it. This pricing allows Barrell Craft Spirits to take more chances if customers also want to go along with them on the ride. In the particular case of Seagrass, the value is spot on, and because of its uniqueness and drinkability, the customer might even be pulling some extra value out of this one.
Barrell Seagrass is a bold risk that utilizes wildly different finished whiskeys, yet manages to nail it thanks to precision blending.
Barrell Seagrass features a set of finished whiskeys that can all be potent on their own and the idea of blending them seems a bit insane. But blending is what Barrell Craft Spirits has built their name and reputation on. It cannot be a small task to seamlessly blend together the flavor of rye, rum, madeira, and brandy into one product and there really isn’t anyone in the American whiskey market experimenting with such wild blends. There’s no denying Seagrass offers a unique flavor profile - that’s a given at this point - but that Barrell was able to make it work is the bigger takeaway. Using a rye as the base was the correct decision as it contrasts the sugary fruit profile from the finishing barrels effectively. Barrell Seagrass is a one-of-a-kind sip, that for all of its uniqueness, may not be as polarizing as some of the others that the company has released in the past. Barrell Seagrass is a testament that there are still plenty of opportunities in American whiskey for those who seek them out and take a chance.