Thursday, November 20, 2014

Are You a Top or a Bottom? Tree Section, that Is

The last time I mentioned the Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project in a post was August of 2012, when release number six came out. Number fifteen came out on Monday. There is just one more to go.

As usual, the twelve whiskeys in this release focus on several variables, but the most interesting one is tree cut. Each tree contained enough wood for two barrels so they made one from the top half and one from the bottom half.

As Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley explains, that's bound to make a difference. “There are four direct components that are related to wood that contribute to our bourbon flavor; hemicellulose, lignin, tannins, and the char layer. There are two major considerations when it comes to tree composition and location, and those are lignins and tannins," says Wheatley. "The top half of the tree tends to have more lignin, which contributes to the formulation of vanilla and vanilla flavor. The bottom half of the tree tends to have more tannins, which contributes to the formation of ellagic acids and tannic flavor. Tannic flavor leaves your mouth dry and delivers complexity or richness in texture.”

All of the bourbons in this release were aged in barrels with the same entry proof (105°), same stave seasoning, aged in the same warehouse (concrete floor), and same char level (number three). All other variables; recipe (wheat or rye), grain size, and tree cut (top or bottom of the tree) vary.

If past online votes are any indication, fans will be all over the board when it comes to their favorite. Currently, barrel #82 is in the lead, but other barrels in the top spots vary in char level, tree location, recipe and char level. The only thing it seems fans can agree upon is entry proof (105° is preferred) and warehouse type (rick). More than 4,300 reviews have been submitted so far at
The Single Oak Project is part of an intensive study Buffalo Trace began in 1999 by hand-picking 96 trees with different wood grains and then dividing them into top and bottom pieces, yielding 192 unique sections. From there, staves were created from each section and air dried for either 6 months or 12 months. A single barrel was created from each tree section, resulting in 192 barrels. The barrels were given either a number three or a number four char and then filled with either wheat or rye recipe bourbon.

For more variety, the barrels were filled at two different proofs, 105° and 125°. Two different warehouses were used, one with wooden floors and one with concrete floors. During the eight years of aging, the distillery created intricate databases and came up with a potential of 1,396 tasting combinations from the 192 barrels.

Participation in the Single Oak Project isn't cheap. Suggested retail is $46.35 per 375ml bottle.  


Marduk said...

I never could pull the trigger on this one, though I see them on the shelf all the time. Too rich for my blood - this 1/2 a bottle.

Anonymous said...

It's a funny juxtaposition between BT and Diageo. Diageo goes out of the way to not tell you anything about the whisk(e)y they sell and more importantly-market. Whilst BT gives you every detail. Kudos to BT. I imagine this is why their stuff is so hard to get and Jeremiah Weed and its ilk sit on shelves.

Dan Garrison said...

I think its a fascinating study. I am learning from it and truly appreciate Harlen's willingness to publicly share the data. But there are other variables: What if staves are air seasoned 24 or 36 months? What if the White Dog is single distilled, triple distilled or produced on a pot instead of a column? What would happen if the staves were thicker? What if the aging barrels were subjected to varying climates, temperatures, humidity levels and terroir?

This bourbon barrel we all drink from is deep and wide, and delicious.

Jeff said...

So no one else is going to comment on this being the greatest title ever used for a post on this blog? [stands and claps].