Ask Arok: Eagle Rare Barrels

It all started with one little article shared on twitter. “Reverend Nat's Eagle Rare Bourbon Barrel Aged Revival Cider.” It’s a hard cider that they claim was aged in barrels that previously held Eagle Rare. This prompted a response on Twitter.

@arok is there such a thing as an Eagle Rare barrel? Gonna guess that isn't what was on it when it was dumped.
Andrew Elms ‏(@elmsandr)

Now, I’m going to guess that Andrew is asking this question with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek since I suspect he knows the answer to his question already. But still, it is a good question and one that someone who isn’t obsessed with bourbon might not know the answer to.

First a little background. Eagle Rare is a bourbon produced by Buffalo Trace. It is dumped out of barrels that were filled with distillate made from Buffalo Trace’s Rye Bourbon Mash Bill Number 1 (though I have been told that very occasionally a mash bill number 2 barrel will hit the flavor profile and become Eagle Rare). This same distillate is also used to fill barrels that will become Old Charter, George T Stagg, Buffalo Trace and Benchmark. Buffalo Trace has four mash recipes that are fermented and distilled to create all of their brands. There is the aforementioned Bourbon Mash #1. There is Rye Bourbon Mash #2 which is used to create the distillate that will eventually become Ancient Age, Elmer T. Lee and Blanton’s among others. There is a Wheat Bourbon Mash used to create distillate that will become the Weller line as well as the younger Van Winkles. And there is a Rye Mash that is used to create the distillate that will become the Sazerac Ryes and Thomas H. Handy Rye.

If you do a search online you will find no end to the things that claim to be aged in a certain Buffalo Trace brand’s barrel. There’s a Buffalo Trace, a George T. Stagg and a Van Winkle barrel aged Tequila. There are numerous beers aged in Stagg, Buffalo Trace and Van Winkle barrels. And there is the Eagle Rare barrel aged hard cider mentioned above. To name just a few. 

Which brings us back to the question: Is there such a thing as an Eagle Rare Barrel? The answer is: kinda.

You see, there is no barrel that was filled with the intention of it being Eagle Rare (or Stagg, or Van Winkle, etc) when it was emptied. Every barrel that is filled with something that might become Eagle Rare will be labeled Mash #1 (or on a rare occasion Mash #2). So if your perspective is driven by what went into the barrel, then no. There is no such thing. 

Of course, what went into the barrel and what came out of it were two completely different things. All sorts of factors act on that distillate to change it from Mash #1 to Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare or (Benchmark for that matter). So if you look at it from the perspective of what came out of the barrel, then most certainly there is an Eagle Rare barrel. There is a barrel that held Eagle Rare. It just happens to be labeled Mash #1 (or on a rare occasion Mash #2).

So who is right? I tend to look at it from the "what came out" side. Blanton’s and Elmer T. Lee are both single barrel bourbons that came from the same distillate, but they taste much different. Old Charter tastes much different than Buffalo Trace or Eagle Rare even though they came from the same mash recipe. Based on that, as long as they are being honest about what came out of the barrel, I’d say Buffalo Trace is well within it’s rights to sell an empty barrel as an Eagle Rare Barrel or a Van Winkle Barrel or a George T. Stagg Barrel. Especially if people are willing to pay extra for it.

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