August 5, 2014 – Buffalo Trace’s Single Oak Project of experimental Bourbons is in its final stages, with Batch #14 being released this month. That will leave just two remaining batches to be released over the next six months, with the consumer ratings for all 192 whiskies in the series to be tabulated after that. Buffalo Trace’s plan is to take the highest-rated whiskey of the 192 and replicate its unique characteristics as closely as possible for a whiskey to be bottled under the Single Oak Project brand.
Batch #14 features 12 whiskies with one key constant characteristic. All 12 casks came from the bottom half of 96 oak trees specially selected by the late Ronnie Eddins in 1999. The 12 whiskies also shared the same warehouse and barrel entry proof (125° proof or 62.5% ABV), while the variables include the charring level of the cask, mashbill, stave seasoning time, and wood grain size.
In a Buffalo Trace news release, Independent Stave president Brad Boswell explained the differences that charring levels and stave seasoning can have on the whiskies in this batch. Boswell’s cooperage turned the 96 trees into individual barrels, with one barrel from the top half of each tree and one from the bottom half.
“The lighter char preserves more of the natural oak aroma and flavor. The heavier char provides more color and caramelization. Tannins will vary between these two types of barrels. The heavier char can also provide for more of a sweet smoke note that is often desired. Stave seasoning allows the wood to slowly break down (degrade) whereas charring and toasting breaks down the wood much more quickly. When the wood air seasons, the microbial activity breaks the wood down and the rain leaches out some of the tannins. The freezing and thawing breaks down the wood. Even the UV light breaks down the wood to some extent. The flavor of the wood changes as it breaks down.”
“Barrels with extended air seasoning with charring will provide a slightly different array of flavors as compared to barrels with less air seasoning and then similarly charred. The levels of smokiness, vanillin, caramelization, and tannin will vary between the two types of barrels.”
So far, Cask #82 leads the online voting at the Single Oak Project web site. That cask was a lighter #3 char with the shorter 6-month seasoning time. Cask #83 is the runner-up, and had the heavier #4 char with the same seasoning time. All 192 whiskies were matured for eight years and bottled in early 2011, with a new batch being released every three months.
The Single Oak Project whiskies will be available at whisky specialist retailers in the US this month, with a recommended retail price of $46.35 per 375ml bottle.