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Small barrel bourbon trial ditched after just six years

Bourbon maker Buffalo Trace has declared a set of small barrel experiments a “failure”.

Having begun trials with 5, 10, and 15 gallon barrels in 2006, it announced this week that the results were “less than stellar” and that it would not be releasing the whiskies.

Each small barrel was filled with Buffalo Trace Rye Bourbon Mash Number 1 around the same time, and aged side by side in a warehouse for six years.

As expected, the bourbon in the smaller 5-gallon barrel aged faster than the 15-gallon version.

However, as master distiller Harlen Wheatley recorded, it was as though all the bourbons bypassed a step in the ageing process and never gained the desired depth of flavour.

“These barrels were just so smoky and dark, we just confirmed the taste was not going to improve,” explained Wheatley.

“The largest of the three barrels, the 15 gallon, tasted the best, but it still wasn’t what we would deem as meeting our quality standards,” he added.

Each of the three small barrel bourbons were tasted annually to check on their maturation progress, but after six years, the team at Buffalo Trace concluded the barrels were not going to taste any better and decided to end the experiment.

These small barrel experiments are part of the more than 1,500 experimental barrels of whiskey ageing in the warehouses of Buffalo Trace Distillery, including unique mash bills, different types of wood and barrel toasts.

To help with the research, a distillery called The Colonel E H Taylor, Jr OFC Micro Distillery – complete with cookers, fermenting tanks and a state-of-the-art micro-still – has been constructed within Buffalo Trace operation.

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