I had a conversation the other day with a friend about the nuances within different barrels of bourbon. We were specifically talking about one of my favorite distilleries, Four Roses. The Evansville Bourbon Society, which I wrote about a little here, did a private barrel pick last year. As they tasted through various barrels they narrowed down their favorites to two barrels. One barrel was slightly sweeter than the other. All but one person agreed on the barrel they ended up selecting.
Now, the interesting piece of information is that both of the final two barrels were aged right next to each other, for the same amount of time, in barrels with the same char level, and had the same exact mashbill. Yet, they had very distinct nose and taste differences.
So, one can only conclude, as my friend shared with me, that the wood is the only variable factor. The only thing different between the two barrels was the wood used for each barrel.
So, the wood used in a barrel has a major impact on the final flavor of the bourbon exiting said barrel into the bottles which get placed on the shelf and consumed by the public.
Case in point: My bottle of 2014 Four Roses Private Selection Single Barrel and the 2014 Four Roses Limited Edition Single Barrel.
My bottle is an OESF. It was bottled in 2014. It was aged for 11 years and 8 months in Warehouse H on the Westside (HW) on rack 47, tier 2, in barrel I (47-2I).
The Limited Edition came from various barrels but all very close in statistics to the barrel from which my bottle came. They were all OESF. They were all bottled in 2014. They all varied in age around the 11 year mark. They all came from the West side of Warehouse H (HW). They all came from rack 47. And, they were all either on tier 1 or 2.
So, one can reasonably say that while they all sat at slightly different levels and aged for slightly different amounts of time, these differences are very slim. The biggest difference between the barrel my bottle came from (review soon) which was not a honey barrel (still delicious) and the barrels the Limited Edition came from was the wood that made the barrels and how the wood responded to the charring and then interacted with the bourbon.
The science which separates two equal bourbons is found in the trees which became the barrels. I love the science of bourbon!