During my recent visit to Lexington to tour some distilleries, I toured the Barrel House Distillery. Barrel House Distillery was founded in the winter of 2008 by Jeff Wiseman and Pete Wright. Like most artisan distilleries that do not want to source Bourbon to create a brand, they started making vodka, moonshine and rum to pay the bills. They also started making Rockcastle Bourbon in small barrels. They are still making these products, but they are also making Barrel House Select, aged in 53 gallon barrels for four years and bottled in three barrel batches.
The distillery is located in the old James E. Pepper Distillery site. It is a very small distillery. They are associated with the Elkhorn Tavern, located next to the distillery. Rosemary and I started by having lunch at the Elkhorn Tavern. A nice BLT and fries for me. I then walked over to the gift shop to see about getting a tour. I was lucky enough to be able to get in on a tour that was just starting.
The tour guide took us into the next room and gave a little history of the James E. Pepper site and of Barrel House Distillery. Then we turned around and talked about fermentation. They are using industrial plastic bins of about 200 gallon size as fermenters. They were fermenting some rum on that day. They had three fermenters in use. About twenty feet away, in the same room, sat their small, gas fired pot still. The tour guide discussed distillation and the fact that they only make about a barrel a day.
We then walked over to the next room where they fill the barrels and bottle the products. The bartender at the Elkhorn Tavern doubles as a bottle line worker. They really are a small distillery with few employees. I saw about six people working on my tour and two of them were tour guides or gift shop workers. I did not finish the tour as one of the owners came in and I was invited to talk with him. The result was I did not hear where they age their products. I would think they are renting space from a larger distillery. I had a pleasant tour and picked up a couple of bottles after my tour. Here are our tasting notes on the products.
Age: Two Years in small barrels
- Mike: Very simple, buttered popcorn and vanilla with some oak wood.
- Matt: Buttered corn, caramel and oak wood.
- Mike: Lots of citrus, vanilla and oak tannins – you can tell it was aged in a small barrel. Tasted with a dried cranberry and the citrus notes are enhanced. Tasted with a pecan and the flavor becomes a little more balanced with citrus, caramel and a hint of chocolate.
- Matt: Lots of corn with vanilla, caramel and a buttery mouth-feel. The dried cranberry gave it lots of vanilla and corn – like a corn pudding casserole. The pecan made the vanilla and caramel dominate the flavor with a little oak wood.
- Mike: Medium long with dry oak tannins and a little lingering vanilla. The dried cranberry took the bitter tannins down a couple of notches. The pecan enhanced the bitter tannins.
- Matt: Spicy red pepper flakes and oak. The dried cranberry made the finish buttery and sweet with lots of vanilla. The pecan made the finish hot with lots of heat from cayenne pepper and oak tannins.
Barrel House Select
Age: No Age Statement
- Mike: Vanilla and oak with some floral notes – maybe honeysuckle.
- Matt: Vanilla and citrus and definitely honeysuckle flowers.
- Mike: Vanilla and lemon zest with some cardamom spice notes and oak wood. The dried cranberry enhanced the vanilla but reduced the spice notes. The pecan brought out the lemon zest and added a little white pepper to the cardamom spice.
- Matt: Lots of vanilla with honey and orange notes and oak. The dried cranberry enhanced the orange and vanilla – like a creamsicle ice cream bar. The pecan made it very creamy like a bowl of oats and honey cereal.
- Mike: Long with oak wood and cinnamon spice. The dried cranberry made it shorter and reduced the spice notes. The pecan made the finish long and pleasant with oak and spice and a lingering note of lemon zest.
- Matt: long with oak and spice – cayenne and nutmeg. The dried cranberry made the finish shorter, but left a lingering, warm spiciness. The pecan made the finish very short with oats and oak wood.
I enjoyed my tour of Barrel House Distillery. The Elkhorn Tavern had good food and the tour was interesting. The Bourbons are good, solid products that I expect will get even better with time as the distillery grows.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller