View Full Version : Barton Reserve Blended Whiskey
I just got back from a conference in Tucson AZ. On Friday night, a friend took me to a bar called the Meet (sic) Rack. Long on character, short on selection. I asked for the ubiquitous (I thought)Jack Daniel. "This is your first time at the Meet Rack, isn't it?" said the bartender. "No call drinks. We got whiskey."
"Is it bourbon?" I asked.
Feeling adventurous, I ordered "whiskey," which turned out to be Barton's Reserve blended whiskey. Has anyone tried this? I wound up liking it a lot more than I expected. Anyone know details regarding its production? I went to the Barton website, but I didn't find much info.
It was certainly worth the $3 I paid for it, and the atmosphere was priceless.
I don't know anything about this product specifically, but American blends are what they used to call compound whiskey. They take a little bit of bourbon (maybe 25 percent of what's in the bottle) and extend it with green whiskey, GNS, flavorings and colorings. Seagram's Seven Crown is the best-selling American blend.
Dave, I have tried one of the Barton's blended whiskeys, I posted notes here that were complimentary, about a year ago. That brand wasn't even the superior grade. Barton's issues two versions, and the superior grade would taste even better, I am sure. I am not certain which one you tried. As Chuck said in his reply to your question, these products contain only small amounts of straight whiskey and are blendings of that plus GNS, young whiskey, flavoring and other substances to make a palatable drink. As many of the board know I am in favor of intelligent blending. Blending has an old history which goes back almost as far as bourbon and rye history. Some people do not like straight whiskey but enjoy a skilfully blended product. And some bourbon fanciers enjoy both some bourbons and some blends. I find the Barton's blended whiskey to be very good, it is a "house taste" that goes down well on certain occasions. I have said here numerous times that whiskey blending is almost a lost art in North America. Lost because, first, the specific surviving commercial recipes (except for curios found in old handbooks) are locked within the precincts of distillery premises. Knowledge of exactly how blends are made is simply not generally available even in specialist circles. The odd bit of information comes out, e.g., Jim Rutledge of Four Roses said recently that Four Roses, when it was blended (now it is a bourbon again), was made of 25% bourbon and 75% new whiskey - not 75% GNS but new whiskey. Well, new whiskey has flavour, much more than GNS.
Second, blended whiskey has fallen steeply in sales in the last 30 years. In my view, that is because the whiskies generally were made too cheaply and without enough attention to the art of blending; also, the blends were not promoted like vodka, brand name scotches and the big bourbon sellers have been.
But clearly there were and are many perms and combs whereby one could make an extra-fine blended whiskey. Some brands of olden times were nationally or regionally known and well-liked, e.g., Hunter, Wilson, Melrose, Kessler's (still available), Fleischman's (ditto and it is very good). Seven Crown was and is a big seller and gave rise to the quintessential 1970's cocktail, the "7 and 7". Mike Veach has speculated that blends in the old days had more character than today's. Some of these blends were of all-straight whiskeys and those probably fetched the highest prices but that doesn't mean the regular blends, or all of them, were run of the mill. And some of the contemporary blends are pretty good. This includes some examples of Canadian whisky which is a species of blended.
I experiment at home and make my own blends from commercially sold whiskeys and other spirits. I recently added port to mixtures of straight and Canadian whiskies - sometimes with vodka for the GNS effect - and the results were very good. I have done this with a mingling of bourbons, too. Barton's blended whiskey is a fine product and I admire the company's determination to keep its blends going. Fleischmann's blended whiskey (also made by Barton's) is also very good and quite rye-leaning by the way.
Thanks for such an informative post! Below is a link to the webpage which contains a photo of the bottle. I THINK I had the 90 proof, but I'm not completely sure.
Barton Reserve Blended Whiskey (http://www.bartonbrands.com/bartonreserve/largebrsellsheet.jpg)
If producing a good straight whiskey is a little science and a lot of art, it seems that producing a good blended whiskey must be all art and experimentation. The only blended whiskies I have had prior to the Barton were Crown Royal, Seagram's 7 and Canadian Mist, all of which I would probably now decline if offered in most circumstances.
Perhaps if one's expectation is low, one is more easily pleased, but I still found the Barton to be a surprisingly pleasant drink - served neat, about 2 inches in the bottom of a beer glass at the Meet Rack (I guess all their snifters were dirty). Although CLEARLY different, I could easily taste a component of the VOB flavor I enjoy so much. I suppose the critical part is that the "base" whiskey has to be suitable to one's palate or everything else just goes awry.
It sounds like the fun thing about blending, in contrast to distilling, is that you can do it yourself and not run afoul of the law. http://www.straightbourbon.com/forums/images/graemlins/toast.gif
I suspect (although I do not know for sure) that Barton's blended whiskey tasted better than the Canadian whiskies you mentioned because Barton's blends contain more straight whiskey than Canadian whiskies do. The Canadians contain some (certainly Hiram Walker's products do) but I think less than 25%. Even if some contain more, as you said, with blends it is more a question of the art and Barton's has the right "tour de main", to use a culinary term for a change. Taking two bourbons, blending them, adding a measure of Canadian whisky or vodka and then a dash of port or other flavoring is no different than making a cocktail. In fact the ones I build are cocktails because I make them in the glass generally, in small amounts that is. I agree too that the defining flavour should be of straight whiskey but it doesn't have to occupy a large part of the taste profile. Fleishmann's blended whiskey has a noticeable rye edge. Since rye whiskey is pungent the taste comes through clearly even though it is only 25% or so of the liquid in the bottle. I added some Sazerac 18 year old to that Fleischmann's and found it made it just that much better. At that point I stopped, thinking I couldn't further improve it without turning it (a rye-oriented blend) into something different. I like straight whiskey but am intrigued by quality blends, I just wish more were available in the market.
In fact the ones I build are cocktails because I make them in the glass generally, in small amounts that is.
I'm relieved to know that, for no reason in particuliar I pictured bottles and bottles of these vattings piling up like all other bunkered goods and the whole thing seemed untenable.I shall in short order go about a few of these blendings . I do have a "dregs" bottle of bourbon going.
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