r/Bourbon 2021 Pinhook Exclusive Private Batch
Year: 2021 by t8ke, Blake Riber, Sean Josephs, Ryan Lintz, G-List, WhiskeyCurator, PhillyPretzelTahiniShake, bradbobaggins
Info: 660 Bottles
Notes: Brown sugar, light nuttiness and caramel at first on the nose. A surprising amount of oak thanks to one of the anchor barrels holding a lot of tannin and baking spice. Sweet cream, vanilla bean, light pepper, orange peel and a long sweet finish. Castle & Key’s stocks are drinking nicely at 4 years, and this blend capitalizes most heavily on their baking spice / caramel character, while bringing in light floral character and bold oak notes.
Additional Info: The first ever private blend coming out of Pinhook for r/bourbon leveraging their Castle & Key stocks. Bottling at true barrel proof. A panel of 10 people took part in blending barrels for an entire day at Saxony farm.
This batch release is really a special one. Taking place in June, this selection was the whole reason I planned the trip to Kentucky in the first place. Once I’m in town, I like to make the most of my time, so I’ll add as many other distilleries as possible, but for this one, I knew a trip was required.
Early in the spring, I was talking to Sean Josephs over at Pinhook about a single barrel release. He asked me how many single barrels I was hoping to pick, and I gave him my token answer: another question. “How many can I have” is usually how the conversation goes, and he asked why I’d want to do more than one. I explained the size of r/bourbon, how just doing 1 barrel at a time means many people miss out, etc etc. He was silent for a while and asked what I thought about blending, after a pause. He’d been toying with the idea of having folks do their own blend, but wasn’t sure if they’d be invested in the results, or willing to go through the hoops required to put together a blend.
If you’ve been around long enough, you remember our first Penelope blend, which was a knockout success and has already led to the planning and beginning stages of execution on a Penelope II Project. I told him blending was a huge dream – let’s pick the best barrels we can, then blend them together for the best blend to release. Let’s change the narrative on blends being mass market, low quality, sales pads for brands and create a top notch blend.
The end goal is the best possible bourbon, produced at a scale that allows more people access, with advantageous pricing. Penelope had never had a team on site to do their own blending, and never released something at true cask strength. He asked if I might be interested in coming to Pinhook, rather than the Pinhook coming to me (via samples), so we could spend the morning of a day picking barrels, and then a whole afternoon doing the blending. I called up Blake at Seelbach’s who was just as interested as I was, and planning started.
Sean is – as he puts it – a reformed sommelier, with ties to the restaurant industry. He’s all about analytical drinking, tasting notes, taking down data and getting to the root of why people like what they like. My kinda guy. We chatted, did some sampling, talked and schemed, and prepared for blending.
If you know anything about Pinhook, it’s their sourcing -> bottling approach that makes them interesting. They’ve been sourcing from MGP, from some others, from Castle & Key. He asked if I would mind if we blended from their oldest Castle & Key stocks, the first that would get to come out. On top of being the first custom blended release, and the only released at cask strength…it was a deal.
Fast forward to June – we all arrived at Saxony farm for a day of work, er, drinking. Joining myself and Blake were WhiskeyCurator, G-List, xreekinghavocx, bradbobaggins – all notable folks from Aficionados Group and the reddit sphere. Ryan from The Bourbon Buddy also joined us, a hand I had been looking forward to shaking for many years! Blake brought two bourbon fans from his family as well – it was a full house, ready to create some great booze. It was a beautiful sunny day, so we all got down to business, joined by the Pinhook team.
The first order of the day was to go through barrels that matched specs we were hoping for. They had just been pulled at Castle & Key. Pulled from the stock aging in Castle & Key’s old E.H Taylor brick warehouses, this is the real deal. I had Sean and Marcelo taste through and select 6 barrels they thought were showing well ahead of time, and we started working through them.
Our first plan of action was to isolate each barrel and boil it down to key characteristics. The key to blending is to ensure harmony of flavor between each component, and balance some major facets like the perceived ethanol content, the tannin structure, and aspects of sweetness / bitterness. After a couple hours of tasting, deliberation, and some blind selection work, the team settled on 3 barrels from the 6 as right components for a blend.
- Barrel 1 Characteristics: Dominant toffee notes
- Barrel 2 Characteristics: Dominant fruit notes: primarily apple, stone fruit
- Barrel 3 Characteristics: A more powerful, grain driven cask
- Barrel 4 Characteristics: Cinnamon, baking spice, rich spice
- Barrel 5 Characteristics: Bold, oaky, toffee and brown sugar
- Barrel 6 Characteristics: Sweet, creamy, really viscous and satisfying butter cream notes
Cask 5 ended up being the anchor – we wanted it present due for sure thanks to the amount of body and tannin it had – impressive at 4 years old.
We took a quick break for lunch, determining it was probably good to give our palates a break, and get some calories in after a morning of trying and retrying barrels and deliberating on their qualities.
Over the next couple of hours, we all took our sweet time coming up with some test blends we wanted to see. We elected to use 100% of each barrel so we could focus on the interplay between notes. Given that our Penelope blends are partial cask blends, and yields are lower, it was a perfect contrast to take a look at another aspect of blending – different sides of the same coin.
It’s really handy to note that one tool made this work much easier than we ever expected. We wanted to ensure accuracy of all the blends, so we implemented blends using the Four E’s Scientific Auto Pipettor – it allowed us to precisely measure the ml of each component for every single blend so every person was tasting the exact same make up and exact same portions. No spills, drips, eyeballing…nothing.
After several hours, we had three blends we liked the most, so we took it to a blind tasting. The victor emerged as a combination of barrel 1, barrel 5, and barrel 6 – the toffee, tannin and butter cream dominant barrels. The result was certainly more complex as a sum of its part, and we all looked forward to a taste after blending and marrying.
This is the first iteration of the project, and we’ll certainly be back to do more, each year, as the stocks increase in age. Each bottle comes with a custom designed and printed data card to help you follow along with every single blend release, and help you compare with each vintage in this Vertical, True Small Batch release from r/Bourbon, Seelbach’s and Pinhook.
Tasting Notes: Brown sugar, light nuttiness and caramel at first on the nose. A surprising amount of oak thanks to one of the anchor barrels holding a lot of tannin and baking spice. Sweet cream, vanilla bean, light pepper, orange peel and a long sweet finish. Castle & Key’s stocks are drinking nicely at 4 years, and this blend capitalizes most heavily on their baking spice / caramel character, while bringing in light floral character and bold oak notes.