The Holy Grail & One Species of Tree
Four years ago, Buffalo Trace Distillery piqued the curiosities of self-proclaimed whiskey enthusiasts (i.e. nerds) and casual whiskey fans alike with an intriguing and mysterious experiment in "The Single Oak Project." Put simply, Buffalo Trace selected 96 white oak trees for whiskey barrels; Buffalo Trace would make 192 barrels out of said trees with 96 of the barrels coming from the top of the trees and the other 96 barrels come from the bottom; additional variables on wood grain and sour mash recipe were selected; then wait 12 years. Would the whiskey taste different? In 2011, the whiskey was still in barrels, so readers would have to wait and come up with their own hypotheses.
At my previous job, our owners afforded us a little bit of freedom with our menu direction. We embraced this liberty and opted to purchase an entire barrel of Elmer T. Lee Bourbon; though it wasn't one from "Single Oak Project", it was another label from Buffalo Trace. It was a great way to high-light our whiskey list, and we got a discount on a great whiskey. So, on a sunny afternoon, our cocktail director, beverage director, a couple whiskey enthusiasts on staff and I sat down to test four samples sent to us. It was easy an easy selection - Barrel #16. Then we received 140+ bottles of whiskey, which understandably did not necessarily please our owner. But the whiskey was delicious, our customers embraced it, and we flew through those bottles.
When it was time to select our next barrel, the committee gathered again. We tried the first four. Nothing. We requested an additional three samples. None of the samples jumped out, but we eventually settled on Barrel #41. It was really good, but it was no Barrel #16. I wouldn't be able to tell you what caused the drastic differences between those eleven samples, or what made Barrel #16 so special. #Barrel16RIP
In the case of Buffalo Trace's Single Oak Project, the best whiskey writers in the world received samples to taste, and now they are sharing the results. Would there be a recognizable difference in flavor? Or, would the experiment be a total waste of time and money? Would the distillers get in trouble with the owners for such an expensive experiment? Would they find the Holy Grail of bourbon? Tune in next time for the answers.
I'm just kidding here's a link to the article: Could this be the Holy Grail of bourbon? (Spoiler alert: Yes. Not that I know of. Also, not that I know of. According to the author, Barrel #80.)