Ask Arok: Single Barrel is not the same as Barrel Proof

I got a comment on my last post (Rebel Yell Single Barrel) from MadHatter: 

Which begs the question: If this is a single barrel and unless the barrel contents were exactly 50 abv, why did they water it down to 50 abv?

I like this question. Not just because I know the answer, but because it is always good for me to remember that the audience for this site is not just experienced connoisseurs of bourbon. There are a bunch of people reading this who are just starting out on their bourbon journey. And to them, I say: "Welcome! The bar is in the corner, pour yourself a drink of something nice."

So let's break down MadHatter's question. The way I see it there are two parts:

  1. Is this really a single barrel bourbon and was the barrel proof exactly 100° proof?
  2. Why would they dilute it to 50% ABV if it didn't come out of the barrel that way?

So let's address the first part. I can tell you all with reasonable confidence that the Rebel Yell Single Barrel is actually a single barrel product. Not only because it says it on the label, but because last year I had bourbon from two different barrels side-by-side and though similar, they were noticeably different from one another. Also, I can assure you that the contents of the barrels used for Rebel Yell Single Barrel were almost certainly not all exactly 100° proof, because that would take a string of good luck that is pretty inconceivable. But just for the sake of completeness, I reached out to the company for comment. The following is from Head Distiller John Rempe by way of my contact at their PR agency:

"Yes, Rebel Yell Single Barrel is a legitimate single barrel bourbon. ... [We] dump each barrel independently and cut it to 100 proof, it is not a barrel proof product."

There now that the conspiracy theorists are satisfied (I kid, I kid... conspiracy theorists are never satisfied) we can move on to the second part of the question. But before we do, let's just lay out an underlying fact: single barrel bourbon and barrel proof bourbon are not the same thing, they are separate descriptors. Though there is no legal definition of either, they are generally held to mean the following: 

  • Single Barrel Bourbon: The product of a solitary barrel of bourbon, that has been dumped independently from other barrels, and then bottled as its own product.
  • Barrel-Proof Bourbon:  Bourbon that has not been diluted with water before bottling. 

Yes, some single barrel products are released at barrel strength. Jack Daniel's has one and most of the Four Roses Single Barrel private picks are barrel-proof. But most single barrel bourbons are not released at barrel-strength. Just think of Blanton's at 93 proof, Jim Beam Single Barrel at 95 proof, Evan Williams Single Barrel at 86 proof, Four Roses Single Barrel at 100 proof, Old Forester single barrel at 90 proof...I could go on and on, but I won't. Let's just keep it simple and say that a single barrel bourbon does not have to be barreled at barrel proof.

But as to why Luxco (and every other major producer of Kentucky Bourbon) dilutes their single barrel products? For the same reasons as they dilute all their other products. They either think it tastes best at that proof or they can make more money at that proof. More than likely it is some combination of the two. It tastes good at 90 or 100 proof and they can get more bottles out of a barrel that way. There may even be some tax incentives to bottle it at non-barrel strength. I can assure you, whiskey dilution makes a huge difference in the taste of the final product and companies that are trying to put out a premium product do not undertake it lightly. 

Do you have a bourbon question you'd like answered? Just get in contact with me using one of the icons in the sidebar to submit one. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find it from someone who does.


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Rebel Yell Single Barrel: 2018 edition

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank Common Ground PR for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. 

I got a new oven today. I'm not terribly happy about it. See I liked my old oven. It was full of bells and whistles that made life easier. Of course, the part that broke was the very part that controlled all those bells and whistles. And it would have been a significant portion of the purchase price to get it fixed. 

So I got a new oven. And even though it isn't quite as good as the old one used to be, it is infinitely better than the old one has been for the last two weeks since the new one does such fancy things as heat up and cook food.

I'm pretty sure there is some sort of life lesson there. I put off getting a new oven for two weeks because I couldn't find one that I liked as much as the last one. Finally, I just picked one. It isn't perfect, but as they say, the perfect can be the enemy of the good.

I've never had a perfect bourbon. Mostly because I have no idea how I would define such a thing. I have had very good bourbons, however. And tonight's bourbon is a fine example of that. I'm pretty sure this bourbon will not be as good as my old oven...I loved that thing. But I'm almost positive I will like it more than the new oven.

Rebel Yell Single Barrel, 2018 

Purchase Info: Common Ground PR provided this sample. Suggested retail price is $59.99.

Details: Barrel#: 5083254. Aged since September 2006. 50% ABV.

Nose: Brown sugar, oak, cherry and under it all are hints of wintergreen.

Mouth:  Nice warmth with good spiciness. Red fruits, caramel, worn leather and baking spices.

Finish: Warm and on the longer side of medium. Dry with lingering baking spice.

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Thoughts: Another very good release from the line of Rebel Yell Single Barrels. I'll be looking to grab a bottle when it hits shelves.


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Rebel Yell Bourbon: Revisited

It has been fourteen hundred, sixty-eight days since I last published tasting notes of Rebel Yell Bourbon. It has been seven hundred, seventy days since I proclaimed Rebel Yell one of the five worst American Whiskeys I've had. The first time it appeared on the blog I noted: 

I have no idea what I will do with this bottle, but I certainly won’t be drinking it. My wife has been bugging me to give her bourbon to use in a homemade bug repellant recipe. This might be fine for that. 

The second time I proclaimed it one of the five worst whiskeys I'd tasted and said: 

Eventually I did find a use for it. It became “Prop Bourbon.” When I need to take a photo for a review, but already finished the bottle, I pour my prop bourbon into the empty bottle for the photo. Afterward I dump it back into the Rebel Yell bottle and stick it back in the closet.

Crazy thing happened to that prop whiskey, I tried it in a cocktail. It wasn't bad. I tried it in a couple more. Still not bad. Of course, by this time, it was no longer straight Rebel Yell. Other bad whiskeys having joined it in some sort of unholy infinity bottle. But, it got me to thinking that, since I drink a lot more cocktails now than I did when I posted the original review, it might be time to go back and take another look at this one. Especially since I have liked most of the other expressions that use the name. Heck, they redid the branding, maybe they've gotten their hands on better whiskey to put into the blend as well.

Rebel Yell Bourbon

Purchase Info: $15.99 for a 750 mL bottle at Total Wine, Burnsville, MN.

Details: 40% ABV. Non-age stated. 

Nose: Bran muffin, almond, wintergreen and fleeting hints of melon.

Mouth: Sweet. Almond, pepper, and baking spice.

Finish: On the shorter side of medium. Pretty dry with dried grain notes. 

Thoughts: This is not as bad as I remember. I know, damning with faint praise. But seriously. The bottle I reviewed in 2014 might still be one of the worst I've tasted, but this one does not taste like that. In fact, if it wasn't for the dry, dried grain note finish, this would be an enjoyable sip. As it is, it works well as a mixer when you want to use a sweeter bourbon and don't want to break the bank. I'm upgrading this from dislike to meh and wouldn't fault fans of wheated bourbon (I tend not to be) for liking it more than I do.


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Blood Oath Pact No. 4

I state in my Statement of Ethics that if I accept a review sample, I will disclose it at the beginning of the article. Please consider it disclosed. I’d like to thank Common Ground PR for providing this sample to me with no strings attached. 

Today I had 5 dogs in my house.

So, ok, this isn't terribly unusual for me. In addition to being a freelance designer, occasional paid writer and guy with an Etsy store, I am also a dog sitter. I never really intended to be a dog sitter. What I actually wanted was a third dog. A proposal which my wife opposed. Instead, she suggested that I sign up on Rover.com to watch other people's dogs. Not only would this give me extra dogs in my life, but it could also bring in money.

My accountant wife is a big fan of paying the bills while also having enough left over to support the whiskey habit.

So, I never intended to be a dog sitter, but I've found that I really enjoy it. Sometimes the dogs are easy and I barely notice they are there. Other times, they are like today. 120 pounds of playful baby Great Dane and two other guest dogs that oscillate between playful and in my lap. Neither of these is conducive to me getting the real job of freelance designer done. 

But here's the thing, I wouldn't have it any other way. I love dogs. All dogs. It doesn't matter if they are playful babies that are just under half my weight or little three-pound old lady dogs that are super sassy. Dogs are my jam.

So what does this have to do with whiskey? Other than making me want one? Nothing. I just wanted to share that I have a house full of dogs and you don't. Well, let's see, there is a small connection that could be made, though it may be stretching a bit. I also never intended to be a fan of Blood Oath. The first time I bought it, I regretted it. I thought that Pact 1 was very meh and not worth the $100 asking price. So much so that I skipped trying Pact 2 when I saw it at an event for FREE. But then I relented and got a sample of Pact 3 last year. I really enjoyed it. So much so that I went out and bought a bottle when I saw it on the shelf. And so when I saw that a sample of Pact 4 was available, I jumped on it. Let's see if the taste they gave me makes me want to drop another Benjy on this year's version.

Blood Oath Pact No. 4

Purchase Info: Common Ground PR provided this sample. Suggested retail price is $99.99.

Details: 49.3% ABV (98.6° proof, just like blood in Fahrenheit, get it?) finished in toasted oak barrels.

Nose: Caramel, vanilla, oak and cinnamon.

Mouth: Cinnamon and nutmeg bring some heat to the party followed by sweetness and oak.

Finish: Spicy and warm with sweet caramel and citrus. 

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Thoughts: This was a sample, but once again, I'll be on the lookout for a bottle at retail. I'm really digging this. I think I may like this just a little less than last year, but that could just be a glitch in my memory as well since this is pretty tasty.


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Bottom-Shelf Bourbon Brackets 2018: The Championship Rounds

Well, it's finally here. The championship rounds. This year was an interesting one for me on a couple of levels. For one, it was the first year that had guest judges. I have an idea that I may expand it further next year. This feels like it could be a fun party game for whiskey folk, provided the sips are restricted and everyone has a driver. Secondly, it is also the first year that I didn't restrict the competition to bourbon. I included corn whiskey and rye whiskey and sort of expected that corn would fold and rye would reign supreme. I was sorta right on the corn whiskey, it was a little too delicate to win against the flavorful rye, but it was no pushover. 

So now here we are. We are at the Last Four (Final Four being a registered trademark of a very litigious entity, there is no way I will use those two words together in a bracket post...): Old Grand Dad Bonded vs Two Stars and Old Forester vs Ezra Brooks Rye. Three bourbons and a rye. Let's see if rye reigns supreme or if bourbon can hold on to the odds. 

Division 1, Round 2: Two Stars (A) vs Old Grand-Dad Bonded (B)

Nose: Whiskey A is drier with more grain present while whiskey B is sweeter but shows a bit more alcohol. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey B is sweeter but also shows a lot more grain notes. Whiskey A is more of a well-integrated whole, though it is a tad more delicate. Winner Whiskey A.

Finish: The finish on Whiskey A is a bit harsher and drier. Whiskey B is really good though and it has no obvious plusses or minuses to it.Winner Whiskey B. 

Thoughts: I'd say that Whiskey B wins this one on the strength of a better mouthfeel and a much tastier finish. Old Grand-Dad Bonded is moving on. 

Division 2, Round 2: Ezra Brooks Rye (A) vs Old Forester (B)

Nose: Whiskey A has a spicy ginger note while Whiskey B is pretty generic with sweet caramel.  Winner: Whiskey A.

Mouth: Whiskey A is spicy and fun but a bit thin. Whiskey B is sweet and spicy with a nice mouthfeel. It is close but the Winner is Whiskey A

Finish: Whiskey A shows ginger and citrus while Whiskey B is sweet and fruity. This comes down to personal taste. Winner: Whiskey A.

Thoughts: This one is tough. I adore the fun aspects of Whiskey A. I think it is bright and vibrant and I'm digging the citrus notes. On the other hand, I really like the sweet flavors, the nice mouthfeel, and the fruity finish of Whiskey B. Gun to my head? Winner: Ezra Brooks Rye. 

Championship Round: Old Grand-Dad Bonded (A) vs Ezra Brooks Rye (B)

Nose: Whiskey B is a spicy soda, Whiskey A is a dusty rickhouse. Winner: Draw.

Mouth: Whiskey A is sweet with a lovely mouthfeel. Whiskey B is spicy with a ginger ale flavor. Winner: Draw

Finish: Whiskey A is long with more sweetness. Whiskey B is also long, but is spicy. Winner: Draw.

Thoughts: Sometimes the tasting notes of bloggers make it look like we value the individual parts of a whiskey more than the whole. Though these two whiskeys are different, I liked them both, just in different ways. I like the spiciness of Whiskey B and I like the lovely mouthfeel of Whiskey A. There was a draw on every indiviual metric. And, though it was really close, when taken as a whole the Winner is Old Grand-Dad Bonded. 

Lessons learned

So was I shocked by anything this year? Not really. I was surprised that Old Forester beat Four Roses for every participant, but not enough to call it shocking. I was mildly surprised that a four seed beat a one seed, but when you notice that it is rye vs corn whiskey it is less surprising. Going into the final rounds I had guessed that Old Forester could very possibly be my winner, but wasn't shocked that a rye whiskey beat a bourbon. Even if it was only two years old.

Overall, I thought that there could very possibly be five winners in the initial grouping. I wouldn't have been surprised at any of Old Grand-Dad, Old Forester, Four Roses, Ezra Brooks and I thought that Mellow Corn had an outside shot. Because I worried that the seeding worked against them I went ahead and tried an alternate seeding. I put all the bourbon on one side and matched corn vs corn and rye vs rye on the other. Ezra Brooks beat Old Overholt and Mellow Corn defeated Hirsch, with Ezra Brooks rye still advancing to the finals. On the Bourbon side, Old Grand Dad beat Four Roses on the strength of a good mouthfeel and Old Forester beat Two Stars. Old Grand Dad then defeated Old Forester and advanced to the finals where the result was the same. Overall, I'm satisfied that the best whiskey (for my palate)won.


BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!