New Riff Barrel Pick
On February 20th 8 individuals from CWS went down to New Riff distilling to do a single barrel bourbon pick. Organized by Steve Llewellyn and accompanied by Michael Baladi, Evan Tisher, Mark Tisher, Jeff Griebel, Andrew Simpson, Sam Stuart, and Nathan Thomas. New Riff provided a great experience and was very accommodating to the needs of the Crane Whiskey Society. Upon arrival we were greeted by Cory, a member of the New Riff Single Barrel team.
The single barrel selection did not occur at the distilling location, rather around the corner at the bottling and rick house location. After greetings on arrival Cory took us into the rick house for a tour. The New Riff rick house can store up to 18,000 barrels. The internal rick house structure is detached from the external concrete shell that covers it.
The rick house was cool, despite the 60+ degree outside temperatures. As a group of engineers we made sure to point out several sketchy looking rails holding barrels in the rick house. Cory stated that in the peak of summer the top end of the rick house reached temperatures in the 125+ degree range.
After concluding in the rick house the group transitioned back to the bottling warehouse. We were shown the bottling line which was doing a practice run for a blend that was sitting in their proofing tanks. Once New Riff chooses a batch for bottling the barrels get weighed, dumped, and placed into proofing tanks. The proofing tanks can be used to blend the batch if necessary. They will slowly add water to the proofing tanks to achieve their target proof for a batch. The proofing tanks then feed the bottling line.
The single barrel staging area has stands where barrels selected for the single barrel program get placed. Each barrel has a 750 ml sample pulled that they will use to provide vials to tasting groups. The single barrel staff and other tour guides also sample the barrels and write up tasting notes for groups to reference after they have made their selections.
Our tasting session began with a pallet cleanser of a New Riff BiB bourbon. We were setup on two tables of four with 5 vials each to sample.
The approach of the group was to take a couple passes through and rank both nose and taste separately. As Mike expected from past barrel picks he found that one of his least favorite on the nose was his most favorite on the pallet. After everyone recorded some individual notes we consulted together and put some votes up on a white board. The group quickly was able to eliminate vial number 5. Vial number 4 also received fewer votes. Of course with 8 people that means on the votes we had an even split of 2 people per vial. While vials 4 and 5 were very lacking on the nose, vial 4 was an amazingly complex bourbon that Nate and Mike both pushed hard for. The majority of the tasting votes however went to vials 1 through 3 with some movement occurring as we continued to discuss and taste. Cory was quick to note that he had never before seen such an equal distribution of votes across so many barrels. Of course this resulting in some lively discussions and numerous varied ways of tabulating votes. After much debate we down selected to vials 2 and 3 and Cory offered to provide us with a second blind sample set of these 2. Mike confidently picked number 2 out of the blind sample set…… and was wrong. Of course our final vote tally of the last 2 vials was a dead even 4-4 split. In the end vial 3 was selected as the overall group consensus. After tasting was complete we were provided with the following staff tasting notes.
Unfortunately the staff tasting notes were each done by different people which introduces a lot of variability into the notes. These were taken with a bit of skepticism. Our barrel, vial 3, ended up being the last one on the sheet. The * indicating a “light barrel.” For New Riff this means the final barrel weight ended up under 400 pounds. The barrel itself had some barrel candy on it so it may have had a small leak at one point. This is not detrimental to the final product so long as it hasn’t all spilled out. We ended up finding out we could customize to a case resolution how many bottles we could take and the 168 bottle final count to fulfill everyone’s desires allocations may very well be close to the full amount of the “light barrel.”
Evan Tisher provided the following tasting notes from himself: “On the barrel we picked I think there was a nice balance between dessert and fruit. Maybe caramel and raspberry. Maybe a touch of a tea/rye note with some sweet oak.”
This was a challenging pick to achieve consensus on but all of these vials were solid bourbons from New Riff. Their willingness to accommodate fully on how many bottles we receive and the experience in general was really fantastic. We believe this is going to be an option we return to often in the future. Completing this bourbon pick will also make the group eligible for rye barrels going forward.
Starlight (Huber Distillery) Barrel Pick
On January 17th, 2022, 7 faithful Crane Whiskey Society Members made it down to Huber Farms in order to sample and select barrels of the local product. The selection team consisted of Ed Bareng, Nathan Thomas, J Fesler, Shawn Dooley, Alan Lagree, Lukasz Misiewicz, and Mark Tisher. We started the day about 10 o’clock by warming up our palates with the Starlight Bottled in Bond. As we braced the cold weather, we discussed possible options and picks. After a brief tour and a history lesson, we made it to the location by the still where all of the barrels were staged for selection. And so the fun began. At first, we tasted 6 different bourbon barrels. Most bourbons had an entry proof of 110-115. The variety was in barrel types and char levels. Out of the bourbon barrels, the three that were left/chosen for blind taste were barrel #2, barrel #3, barrel #6. Here are the notes, albeit not the best, for the barrels that made it to blind tasting.
ISE Barrel with Char Level 1. 112 entry proof. 5.5 years of age. Some comments from the group: Spice and hotness lingers on the tongue. Dry on the finish, some complexity.
Kelvin barrel with Char Level 2. 112 entry proof. 5.5 years of age. Sweet nose. Some level of spice. Too spicy for some members.
ISE Barrel with Char Level 1. 112 entry proof. Age not noted. Comments from the group: Pleasant, nice complex notes.
Following the bourbon tasting we had a chance to sample some ryes. As Nathan stated, even the rye haters in the group didn’t dislike them, and Starlight rep Andrew has admitted that they strive to make ryes for the Bourbon Drinkers. None of the 3 ryes tasted were convincing enough to make it the the next round of blind tasting.
You might think that after tasting 9 barrels we were ready to call it a day, but the fun was just starting. Next on the menu was tasting of some of the finished products. The first barrel was American Double Oak, followed by the French Cask Double Oak, French Bordeaux Double Oak, Port Finished, La Rosa Sherry Finished Bourbon. You will have to excuse the lack of details on the tasting notes for these barrels, but the quality of note taking was at a quick decline at that point. Needless to say, the 3 barrels selected for blind testing were the Double Oak Bordeaux, Port Finished, and Sherry Finished.
The members quickly convened for lunch, with the counting task of final blind selections to follow afterward. The blind selection proceeded as follows.
The bourbons were split into two groups, unfinished and finished. In each group the members voted to first eliminate one out of 3 choices and cast second vote to pick the product. The glasses were referred to as Left (L), Middle (M), Right (R), which to some proved tough to follow, but you wouldn’t expect anything else from the group of engineers.
Alas, out of the bourbons, barrels 2, 3, and 6, the first elimination was barrel # 3. The votes tally was even with barrels 2 and 6 collecting 2 votes each for elimination. In this case having an odd number of members proved helpful. Left for final showdown was barrel 2 and 6. Between these two bourbon barrels #6 was a clear winner collecting 6 votes, and number #2 coming in with one vote.
Having picked our unfinished product, it was time to move to a finished selection testing. Although suggestions floated to moving to Triangle, Square, Rectangle system of identifying samples, cooler heads prevailed and Left, Middle, Right system was upheld. In the elimination round, Port finish barrel was eliminated. Interestingly, in this elimination round, all votes were cast for either eliminating Port Finish or Sherry Finish. In the second round of voting, the results from the elimination round were confirmed and Double Oak Bordeaux barrel finish has proven to be the winner.
Lastly, all the members (but one) left with quality Starlight hats which kept their brains warm during this unusually cold day.
The predicted yield for bourbon barrel is ~200 bottles, where the finished whiskey is ~130 bottles.
Old 55 Barrel Pick
On November 16th the few of the CWS faithful set their sights on the Old 55 Distillery in Newton In, in order to pick yet another barrel for the Crane Whiskey Society. Upon tasting some fine spirits, they settled on Barrell 3, barreled at 116 proof. To Nick’s liking, it was also the ugliest barrel of the bunch. Check out the distillery website here!
1792 Barrel Pick
After countless page refreshes,multiple open browser windows, and multiple users anticipating the barrel allocation, Mr. Nicholas Amadio was lucky enough to secure CWS an 1792 barrel pick at Barton Distillery. The barrel was picked by 7 members of the CWS on August 20th, 2021. After a rigorous blind voting process, the CWS members settled on barrel D, with a vote of 5 to 2. The barrel proof was 135.2, which will be proofed down before bottling. All in all, everyone was happy.
Eagle Rare, Pick 1
It's finally time to get the first barrel. After the uncertainty whether or not we'll be stuck with enough whiskey to last us a few years, the demand from the society outgrew expectations and bottles were distributed quickly. To this day this barrel is considered by many to be the tastiest pick to date.