Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve-An Affordable Oak Forward Bourbon

After last week’s review of Jim Beam Single Barrel, which is a great $30 bottle of bourbon, I decided to try a bottle first released last year by Brown Forman, Cooper’s Craft Barrel Reserve, which is also in the $30 range at a healthy 100 proof.

What makes this bourbon unique is that the inside of the barrel is chiseled, increasing the surface area of the char that interacts with the bourbon.

What is also unique is that, unlike most bourbon producers who now use General Stave for their barrels, Brown Forman still has their own cooperage and makes their own barrels.

The color is a lovely deep amber, so this non-age stated bourbon is probably in the six to eight year range. Thick film with slow moving legs on the swirl. On the nose is traditional bourbon with oak and wood sugars that are often characteristic of Brown Forman. On the palate, this is very Old Forester, with lovely caramel and vanilla notes, some slight dark fruit notes, and a ton of oak tannin-more so than typical Old Forester. The mouthfeel on this is nice and slightly syrupy. The oak really comes to the fore on the finish, and then there is some crafty bitterness on the end which is disappointing.

That craft bitterness indicates to me that the barrel chiseling is being used to more quickly age the bourbon, and so I think this is probably younger than I first thought. I am betting five yearsThe problem with the gimmicky things bourbon producers try to do to age bourbon more quickly, there really is no substitute for time. You may be able to impart aged bourbon flavors but there will still be the youthful bitterness. However, I let the bottle breathe for 24 hours, and the craft bitterness is greatly lessened, and now presents as an oaken anise note. But, it could also be that I smoked a pipe of Balkan Sasieni this afternoon after a delightful lunch of gumbo and Tres leches cake and my palate is different this evening.

It’s a solid 100 proof bourbon with good flavors that is drinkable neat and would go great in an Old Fashioned where the bitterness would end up complimenting the cocktail. It also really shows barrel influence on bourbon other than cinnamon notes, so I would be tempted to put this bottle in an educational tasting which I do from time to time just to show off the oak notes.

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