Whiskey fans love to dissect their favorite releases, deciphering what flavors and aromas they can pick up on the nose and palate as they somberly consider just what makes the whiskey so good (or bad). And one especially fun way to do this is when whiskey is released in batches, from year to year or sometimes several times throughout the year. This way, you can really compare and contrast the difference between the casks selected to see how the differences in proof, age, and other factors affect your perception. And this is particularly when it comes to barrel proof whiskey, which truly captures the character of the liquid. Here are three recent barrel-proof whiskeys, each compared to its previous incarnation to see which comes out on top.
The difference between the 2019 and 2020 editions of Templeton’s Barrel Proof Rye makes itself known with the first sip. The 2019 version of this 95% rye-sourced from MGP is slightly higher in proof — 115.8 compared to 2020’s 113.1. But the real difference is revealed on the palate. 2019 starts with a cherry blast, followed by big spice notes, with some cocoa to chase it down. 2020, on the other hand, is all about caramel and vanilla, with the baking spice flavors and even some menthol taking a supporting role. Overall, I found the 2020 to be the superior batch, with a slightly sweeter and softer palate and a silkier, more satisfying mouthfeel.
This bourbon is known for being pretty high ABV (and very high quality), but the first batch of 2020 (A120) is really intense at 136.6 proof. At this level, a little water goes a long way to unlock the flavors. Once you add a few drops, the nose explodes with stone fruit and chocolate, and rich plum and apricot collide with oak on the palate. The next batch (B520) is a bit more accessible at 127.2 proof, more along the lines of a strong batch of Booker’s. Butterscotch, vanilla, and some grape soda notes get even more intense after adding a little water. The verdict: Even though A120 is a happy slap in the face, the flavors are spot on and you can proof it down to the level you are comfortable with.
This barrel-proof and non-chill filtered version was a long time coming for fans of this wheated bourbon from Heaven Hill. It’s aged for six to eight years, and the two batches released thus far (one more is on the way this year) are fairly easy drinking for cask strength whiskey. Batch A120 was bottled at 123.2 proof, and has long notes of vanilla and freshly cut grass, with a bright, grainy nose. Batch B520 is just slightly lower at 122.2 proof, and has a nose full of corn with similar sweet and grainy notes on the palate. Both of these are good versions of this beloved bourbon, but the trophy goes to the more recent B520, which edges out its predecessor with just a little more flavor and complexity.
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