Belle Meade Bourbon Honey Cask Finish is part of Nelson Green Brier’s Craftsman Cask Collection. According to the company, the collection “is a series of unique, almost experimental, cask-finished bourbons done in extremely limited quantities. The entire series features well aged bourbon that has been finished in unique casks, each with its own story to tell. Bottled at cask strength, each release represents entirely unique expressions of bourbon.”
As in past releases, the company once again partnered with TruBee Honey Farm located in Arrington, Tennessee. TruBee Honey makes their honey by filling empty Belle Meade Bourbon barrels and ages their local wildflower honey in the barrels. Once these barrels are emptied of honey, Nelson Green Brier Distillery refills them with a proprietary blend of bourbon and finishes them for an additional 6-8 months.
The 2021 release is composed of two different versions. The small batch version is a seven barrel blend totaling around 1,300 bottles and bottled at 106 proof. A single barrel version was also produced for the distillery’s Coopers Club totaling approximately 240 bottles and bottled at 105.3 proof.
The bourbon being reviewed is bottle #1116.
There’s no denying that this bourbon was finished in honey barrels, as rich sweet scents of honey are immediately noticeable. Interwoven are sweet aromas of vanilla cookies and sticky buns along with light oak. Additionally, the high proof nature of this bourbon is apparent as a thin layer of ethanol is always present. The focal point of the nose though is the honey scent. It provides a sweet, albeit slightly lopsided opening to the sip, and makes you intrigued for what’s to come.
Rich thick honey slams into your taste buds. Complementing this are hints of baked bread, vanilla, and a noticeably pleasing rye spice. These flavors ride the waves of honey as the sweetness ebbs and flows the longer you dissect the sip. The honey sweetness is nicely complemented by the rye spice and forms a rich mouthfeel that is a delicious midpoint to the sip.
The honey from the palate carries over to the finish with a burst of honey buns. This is joined by oak, leather, green peppercorn, vanilla wafers, and a large dollop of rye spice. As flavors fade away, you’re left with that familiar sticky honey, which is the defining flavor note of this bourbon, along with dry oak and pleasant warming heat. These gently fade away providing an extremely satisfying finish to the sip.
Belle Meade Distillery was one of the first to release a honey barrel finished bourbon in the mid 2010s. Since that time others have followed suit, realizing that consumers will gravitate towards any and all unique barrel finishes and that sweeter bourbons are a plus for many. While companies like Wild Turkey release a honey flavored bourbon liqueur, Belle Meade finishes their bourbon in used barrels that previously held honey (and bourbon before that). This allows the bourbon to stay at full cask strength while also absorbing any leftover sticky honey that is left in the barrel.
Sure this process may be viewed as being just one step removed from directly adding honey to the bourbon, but it's the extra time in the honey barrels that makes the difference. By resting in barrels for an additional 6-8 months, Belle Meade ensures that not only does the leftover honey remnants fully dissolve, but that the bourbon now has a chance to continue aging in the barrel. The end result is a clearly honey influenced bourbon that still maintains the backbone of a classic bourbon at a much higher proof than you’d ever find with a honey infused or artificially flavored honey themed whiskey product.
What’s unique about Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon, along with the other handful of distilleries who are now experimenting with this finishing technique, is that the final bottle count is very small. Belle Meade only released a total eight barrels in 2021, and they were only sold at the distillery. Honey barrel finishing is still very niche in the grand scheme of things, with consumers not having a chance to easily acquire a bottle due to the limited amount normally created. While low bottle counts alone don’t make a bourbon unique, taken in combination with the process of how this bourbon was created, you have one of the more unique offerings in 2021.
The last time I wrote about a Belle Meade honey release was in 2019. At that time, the price was $125 a bottle, a relative steal compared to the $175 now charged two years later. No matter how you cut it, $175 is a lot for a bottle of bourbon, with Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon being no exception. That said, in the topsy turvy world of modern bourbon prices, it also won’t come as much of a surprise to many.
The fact that in order to produce this bourbon, the organization goes to great lengths to work with TruBee Honey Farm to create the honey barrels used in the finishing process, does need to be taken into consideration. Additionally, the extremely limited number of bottles also needs to be accounted for. While the honey finish will not be for everyone, in today’s climate, being priced at under $200 for a bourbon that only had ~1,500 bottles produced is actually in line if not cheaper than many other small quantity limited releases. Love it or hate it, sky high prices are here to stay and believe it or not this is priced accordingly for what it is.
Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon succeeds at what it sets out to do, producing a unique sip that is noticeably influenced by the barrel finishing technique used to create it.
Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon is a bourbon that is easy to love to hate. This stems from the fact that it actually is a really great bourbon that everyone should have the opportunity to taste once, but unfortunately most likely can’t. This fact is also the exact reason it’s so easy to hate. It’s a shame that such limited amounts are released every year, and that it’s only released onsite at the distillery.
Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon was a trailblazer of a bourbon when it came out a few years ago. Originally written off as a gimmick when first announced, it has quickly captivated many bourbon drinkers who chase after it trying to procure a bottle. It doesn’t have a classic bourbon flavor profile, instead offering consumers a chance to really push their imaginations at what is possible in the realm of bourbon finishing. Many years into its product journey, Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish Bourbon stands up to the test of time, and is still a delight to taste. Hopefully more distilleries take note and try their hand at honey barrel finished bourbon, since the end result is both interesting and delicious.