The Barrel Selections at Eight Row Flint, Part 2

By Morgan Weber

The first time I dipped my toe in the water of picking barrels ended up being more like a deep-end swimming pool lesson.  It was way before Eight Row Flint opened (these things take time, and we’re constantly chasing the new barrels that will eventually walk through the door). 

I was in Kentucky for the first time.  In just three days, we were on a lightning fast tour to pick barrels from Four Roses, Buffalo Trace, Jim Beam and Woodford Reserve.  That’s too many, too fast, in my opinion, but ignorance is the best, right?  Each distillery sets up its barrel program differently.  Four Roses throws the gauntlet out:  10 barrel samples lined up on a neat tasting mat.  Each sample is from one of each of their ten combinations of mashbills and yeast strains—certain combinations have gained cult followings in the bourbon nerd world.  I knew none of this.  It was overwhelming to say the least.

I learned as I went though.  I’m a sponge.  I love being around experts—listening to them talk, listening to them educate—soaking up everything.  We would always be guided through the tasting by someone that knew what they were doing and knew what they were talking about.

At Four Roses, Al Young, the company’s legendary brand ambassador, saw my nerves running full tilt.  He told me to not overthink it.  “There are ten samples in front of you.  It is easier to eliminate the ones you know you don’t like before picking the ones you do.” 

Four Roses Brand Ambassador Al Young

Four Roses Brand Ambassador Al Young

I use that nonchalant bit of advice every time I taste through barrels.  If it doesn’t pass the smell test, I usually don’t even taste it.  For me to commit to a full barrel, it has to smell great, taste great, and finish great.

But what the hell does all of that really mean?

This whole thing is highly subjective.  If I taste something and like it, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will. What happens if I don’t know what I like?  After all, we learn as we go, we learn as we taste, and the more we taste, the faster we learn.  This is one of the reasons we are such big proponents of selling flights of our whiskies at Eight Row.  The only way to truly understand is to taste spirits back to back to have a benchmark on which to compare.  Only then can you begin to develop your own preferences based on your own likes.  In the end, that's what its all about.

Lindsey Brown