February 7, 2014 – 12 down, just four to go…as Buffalo Trace releases the latest batch in the Single Oak Project series of experimental Bourbons. The project started back in 1999 when the late Ronnie Eddins picked 96 oak trees from a Missouri forest, and will be completed in 2015 with the release of the final batch and the verdict from whiskey lovers on the best of the 192 different variations.
Batch #12 focuses primarily on the differences between wood from the top of a tree and the bottom. Each of the 96 trees produced a barrel from the top and bottom halves, and while the size of the wood grain and the choice of wheat or rye-dominant recipes also varied, all other variables in the 12-bottle batch remained the same. In a news release, Buffalo Trace Master Distiller Harlen Wheatley noted the ongoing debate over whether staves cut from the top or bottom of a tree really make a difference in the final whiskey.
“From top to bottom, the tree chemistry is quite different. The chemicals most affected by the tree structure are oak lignins and tannins. Oak lignins are composed of two building blocks, vanillin and syringaldehyde. Generally there is a higher composition of oak lignins in the bottom part of the tree which in turn delivers more vanilla. Tannins are generally higher in concentration in the top section of the tree versus the bottom; however, they also vary from inside out. The outer heartwood is generally higher in tannin concentration. As far as taste, most people know how the vanilla contributes to the flavor, but tannins are important for the development of esters, which sometimes deliver fruitiness or complexity to the overall composition.”
This is one of the few times where tree location has been tested, since most barrels are made out of staves from several trees to ensure consistent flavor development during maturation — and because producing mass quantities of barrels using wood from a single tree would be economically unfeasible.
So far, the leading barrel in online voting is #82, with more than 4,000 online reviews of the 132 bottles released so far in the first 11 batches. Buffalo Trace plans to replicate the variables of the winning barrel to produce a permanent expression under the Single Oak Project label once the final batch is released next year.
Selected US retailers will receive cases later this month with one 375ml bottle of each of the 12 different barrels in the batch. The suggested retail price is $46.35 per bottle.