In Episode 59 of The Charlie Tonic Hour featured an interview with Noah Brown, an employee of Barrel House Distilling Company in Lexington Kentucky. I say “an employee” but perhaps “the employee” would be more appropriate. Barrel House is the very definition of a micro-distillery and although I had done the tours of several of the big guys on the bourbon trial, Maker’s Mark, Woodford, Four Roses and Alltech, I can now tell you that a tour of a small operation gives you a different and fascinating look at the world of distilling spirits.
Barrel House got it’s start during a poker game with a couple of guys making crazy plans to start a small-batch distillery in Lexington and it officially opened in 2008. The two owners have kept their day jobs through out the process of applying for permits, finding space, getting the still running, bottling, and selling their first products as well as navigating all the highs and lows of running a small business. Noah also has a fulltime job he works in addition to running much of the day-to-day operations at the distillery. This distillery itself is even smaller than you would expect. They have one still and the whole operation takes place in an area that is only just a bit bigger than my garage. The “tour” really consists of standing in front of the still and looking around at the large animal water tub that serves as the mash tank, the small barrels of bourbon aging against the wall, and the quickly disappearing barrels of oak aged rum that constitute the sum total of what’s left of the batch they started four years ago. Noah’s talk was informational but informal. I felt like we were getting to see the real personality behind the product rather than a polished pitch. This is clearly a labor of love for everyone involved and it shows.
Love is wonderful of course, but if your product doesn’t taste good you won’t get very far. Barrel House has three products currently for sale, Pure Blue Vodka, Oak Rum, and Devil John Moonshine. Pure Blue is an 80 proof corn vodka that has a little more flavor than other vodkas. It was slightly sweeter and while it wasn’t very hot I found the acetone taste to be a little strong for me. But I don’t usually drink vodka straight so I won’t hold that against it. Devil John is 90 proof and made from corn and sugar. I found it very drinkable, especially since all of the other shine I’ve tried has been the real-deal and there for probably over 100 proof and less sweet. I am eager to get my hands on a bottle and to try mixing some drinks with the Devil. The last product we tried was the Oak Rum and that was phenomenal. This is a barrel strength rum that has been aged for four years in oak bourbon barrels. This makes it much more reminiscent of a bourbon than a rum and I could easily see myself enjoying this over rocks or taking Noah’s advice and using it to replace bourbon in an Old Fashioned. If you are in the Cincinnati area and want to try any of these products you can get them at The Party Source but if you want the rum I would hurry. Supply has not been able to keep up with demand and bottles are going fast.
Barrel House is one distillery I will be sure to follow in the years to come. The products currently available are solid and from the discussion we had with Noah after we stopped recording it seems that they are planning on using their small size to experiment with new products and flavors. I look forward to seeing how Barrel House continues to put a Kentucky spin on classic spirits.