With construction work on Anvil moving ahead at a feverish pace, I have found it next to impossible to sit down and string together a post for months. The blog updating which Bobby and I hoped would continue with one or two posts a week has been traded for refining countless details at Anvil. Thankfully Bobby has been able to keep writing a little, while I on the other hand have stopped writing, shaving, and maintaining any professional appearance whatsoever.
Recently however, I found a moment to sit down and start going through the pile of beer and spirit tasting notes that I have in my note book. As the weather is trying to grow colder, (this is Houston, after all) I find myself opting for darker and heavier options. Whiskey has always been one of my favorite spirits to consume in any way I can get it, and it just happens to work out that the bar just down the street from Anvil, Poison Girl, has one of the best bourbon and American whiskey selections in town. On one recent trip, I was fortunate enough to drink my fill of one of the most limited and interesting whiskeys on the market; the Buffalo Trace Experimental 8 Year Cab Franc Finished Whiskey. Because I am a lazy blogger, I like to abbreviate this name with BTX for Buffalo Trace Experimental.
Whiskey is, by its simplest definition, a spirit distilled from fermented grain mash then aged in a wood cask. There are six major whiskey producing regions in the world; Scotland, Ireland, America, Canada, Japan and Wales. The Japanese and Welch whiskeys are fighting an uphill battle for international respect, and others, like India, are vying for positions as additional significant players. American and Scotch whiskeys are the most subdivided. Scotch is recognized by 5 or 7 regions (depends on who you ask).
American whiskeys are a little less strait forward being divided by region and styles. The 5 major types of American whiskeys are Bourbon Whiskey, Rye Whiskey, Corn Whiskey, Tennessee Whiskey and Straight Whiskey (Which can make it confusing because you can have a Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Straight Rye Whiskey… or just Straight Whisky which are not the same thing). Buffalo Trace by tradition and reputation is a generally recognized as a bourbon distillery. In 1964 the U.S. Congress recognized Bourbon Whiskey as a distinctive product of the United States and established a list of legal guidelines for the production Bourbon Whiskey. Bourbon must be:
-Made of a grain mixture consisting of more than 51% corn
-Distilled to no more than 160 proof
-100% natural including no artificial flavors or colors
-Aged in new charred American White Oak barrels
-No higher than 125 proof when introduced to the barrel
The production process for Bourbon is fairly straight forward; a mash of selected grains (most commonly about 70% corn) is allowed to ferment, this low alcohol mixture is called the wash. The wash is then distilled yielding a clear spirit that is then put in the barrel to age anywhere from 2 to 25 years. There is almost an endless amount of modifications that can be made to the production process to create unique and distinctive whiskeys. The experimental collection is as the name suggests a series of very small batch experiments that buffalo trace has been working on for the past two decades. The notable modification in the aforementioned whiskey is the finish in Cab Franc Barrels. The word finish in reference to bourbon means the movement of the bourbon from the white oak barrel to another cask or barrel. By finishing the spirit in a second barrel the whiskey can take on a world of different flavors and nuances. The finishing process is what makes the BTX line so intriguing. While finishing in a second barrel adds a lot to the bourbon it comes at a cost; increased product loss (angel share) and increased time. The action of pouring the bourbon from one barrel to another increases the amount of product lost. The dry second barrel will eagerly drink up at least some of the whiskey over the first year or so. Second; in order to take full advantage of the second barrel, the bourbon must spend at least a few more years in the barrel house. Because the second barrel in this case is used it will take it longer to give up its flavors. The BTX whiskeys are the most notable in the recent trend in the industry toward new (or very old) variations of traditional whiskey.
This might be the most badass label I have ever seen on any bottle of booze ever. It’s badassness comes from the fact that is all business and no bull. You have to remember that these are very limited single barrel runs meant as an experiment in both production methods and consumer taste. The label has all the information an enthusiast would need to understand how the bourbon was made and what factors affected its taste. The label gives the following information; The type of spirit: Whiskey, The total amount of production: 1 barrel, The date it was distilled: 7/2/90, Date barreled: 8/19/98, Recipe: BT Rye Mash #1, Mash type: Sour, Still proof: 140, Entry proof: 126.5, Warehouse/Floor: I/1, Rack/Row/Slot: 0/0/2, Barrel Type: French Oak Cab Franc, Maker: Barrel Associates, Staves: 6 mouth air dry, Treatment: medium toast, Bottled: 2/26/07, Age at bottling: 16 years, Evaporation: 43.oo%, Filtration: chill filtration, bottle proof 43% ABV – 91 proof. At the bottom of the bottle the distiller gives a brief tasting note. The only issue I have with the label is the ambiguity with the barrel description. When the label talks about the maker, the treatment, and the staves is it describing the new white oak or the finish cab franc cask?
In this tasting I had a shot of the cab franc 8 and 6 next to each other. They are made with a rye mash that adds a very hot spiciness. Although it is called an 8 year, it was really 16 years old when it was bottled, the bourbon spent 8 years in new oak and 8 in the cab franc cask. The deepest difference between the two was the alcoholic heat and the rye flavor. You can really taste the 2 extra years on the 8; it is much smoother despite noticeably more rye flavor. In the 8 year, the color of the more than generous 2 once pour was a deep reddish brown amber. The nose is all about the rye and wine, you can really get the cab in the nose; however, if I didn’t know it was a cab franc finish, I would have just called it a dark fruit. It is more than drinkable and is really smooth; but there is less wine on the palate, the oak is lost to the wine cask flavor. The 6 while hotter is heavier on the wine, the 8 is smoother but more about the rye. The mouth feel is smooth round and buttery. Both the 6 and 8 years were made with the same rye mash. Personally, I think a wheat heavy mash would have allowed the wine to come more to the front, but then again this stuff is called experimental for a reason. We are going to do our best to try and carry as many future releases of the BTX collection at Anvil in the future, so you will be able to weigh in with your own opinions.
One of my favorite things about whiskey is the protracted length between conception and introduction of a new product. Because my favorite whiskeys generally spend at least 7 years or so in the barrel (this number can grow very quickly when you start talking about second barrel finishing), the time between a distillers initial conception of the experiment and the final bottling of a commercial ready product can be as long as 3 to 4 decades. That is why the BTX bottles are so exciting – it gives you a glimpse into the creative and evolving world of American whiskey. We might see a mass release of the BTX products, but it may not be for 15 or 20 more years, the experimental release is a glance in to the world of gut feeling and wild ideas that are the foundation of innovation in what is a classic American spirit.