Review: Buffalo Trace Single Oak Project Release 10 / by Jason Hambrey

Buffalo Trace does a remarkable number of experiments and study - likely the most of any distillery that releases such experiments. The most significant project to date is that of the Single Oak Project- a series of single tree bourbons, each slightly different - to study the impacts of a number of effects on the aging of bourbon. 96 different trees were selected from a forest in the missouri ozarks, with the trees evenly divided between "fine", "medium", or "coarse" growth ring densities. Each of these trees were then cut in half, with a barrel coming from the top of the tree, and another barrel coming from the bottom of the tree - yielding 192 barrels.

In addition to the trees themselves, a fair number of other variables were studied:

  • 6 month vs 12 month air drying of staves before barrel coopering
  • number 3 vs. number 4 char on the wood inside the barrel
  • recipe: a wheated or rye bourbon
  • the barrels were filled at either 105 or 125 proof (52.5% or 62.5%)
  • the barrels were either aged in a wooden rick warehouse or a concrete floor warehouse

They were all aged for 8 years, and bottled at 45%. What is more, Buffalo Trace created a website where consumers could upload tasting notes for a given barrel, and -  after the tasting note submission - the consumers were told what was in each barrel. It is all on a quest for the "perfect" bourbon - and the best performer was selected and will be released subsequently under the single oak name. Quite the experiment! Each quarter, 12 bottles were released for 4 years, each studying a few different barrels in particular. The release that I obtained, release 10, had the following:

  • 6 wheated bourbons and 6 rye bourbons
  • 2 bottles of fine grain, 2 bottles of average grain, and 2 bottles of coarse grain wood for each recipe
  • 3 bottles barreled at 125 proof and 3 bottles barreled at 105 proof for each recipe
  • all from the top of the tree, matured in a rick warehouse

Below I will present brief tasting notes and ratings for each bourbon. This was a lot of fun - though, I must say, it is really more money than it is worth. Based on my small sample size of 11 (I got a repeat bottle, unfortunately), the following was broadly true:

  • The bottles which were put into the barrel at 125 proof showed more oiliness, nuttiness and spice while the bottles which were put into the barrel at 105 proof were more fruity and complex.
  • Clear differences didn't emerge regarding wood type in this release, except that for this release the coarse grain bourbons were better than their tight and average grain bourbons in every single case, with an average rating of 85.5 compared to 83.3 and 81.8, respectively.

All the barrels below, as said above, are from the top of the tree with 12 month stave seasoning and rick warehouses.


Barrel 25

  • Recipe: Rye
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Tight

Takes a bit to open up. A bit creamy and lightly fruity – but lots of tannic, spicy, and earthy structure.  Tannic, spicy, earthy….good fruitiness. Unripe pear, grape, yeast (like kombucha), caramel, oak, prominent corn…on the palate, oily corn comes forward in force leading to a bit of honey and mulberry restraining the spice and tannins and light earth. The finish develops slowly and has a very nice feel, becoming creamy and nutty with cinnamon over time. The tannins here seem a bit too much (slightly over-bitter). But the complexity is good, and the fruit is integrated very well.

Score: 85/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 73

  • Recipe: Rye
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 125
  • Grain: Average

Oily/nutty, earthy on the nose – but not overly so. On the palate, slightly sour and a bit flat, though the honey and caramel does play in quite nicely along with some molasses. Some good spice – brown cardamom, clove, nutmeg, and lightly bitter - perhaps a bit too tannic on the end, but fairly good. A bit of coconut and fruit grows on the finish which also has a touch of odd bitterness. Very nice feel to this bourbon. The tannins seem felt more than the oak is tasted.

Score: 81/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 89

  • Recipe: Rye
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Average

A great nose: lightly fruity and creamy, with some unripe pear playing in nicely. On the palate, fairly bright and fruity without having quite as much tannic oak influence as some of these. A nice tingling, slightly dry finish. Reasonably balanced, but not exuding complexity. Lots of cinnamon, oak, dried fruit, and rosehips there. Brilliant spice. On the edge of tannic influence, seemingly, but it is ok.

Score: 82/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 137

  • Recipe: Rye
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 125
  • Grain: Coarse

The rye grain itself seems to come out quite nicely here. Buttery, nutty, oily, and complex. Very nicely constrained – some dried mushrooms, pineapple juice - the tannins held very well in balance here and showing a fair bit of complexity. Some beautiful oils here. Lightly spicy.

Score: 86/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 153

  • Recipe: Rye
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Coarse

Rich and fruity, showing some beautiful corn here – interesting, as 137 seemed to show the rye a bit better. Nicely integrated caramel, toffee, tannins, oak, along with some marshy corn. Nice mix of light yet spicy, and some nice zest! Ends quite sweet, apple finish which fades quickly.

Score: 85/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 41

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 125
  • Grain: Tight

White raisin, grape, cherry, pineapple juice, and some really rich dried corn and smells a bit sour. A few off notes. The palate has corn, toffee, maple, and quite the interplay of sour/sweet. The tannins are not quite worked in well enough and, it would appear, too much tannin for too little oak. A bit spicy and dense too, and a tad bitter. After a promising nose the taste does disappoint and collapses a bit on the finish.

Score: 81/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 57

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Tight

Oak, spice, roasted peppercorns, and a few light barnyard aromas. Grape juice as well, and maybe even a bit of those grape candies. Opens up well on the palate, with rich fruitiness and cereal, a nice touch of charred oak in the middle, and a dense, spicy finish, in which the spice fades and the fruit wins out. Almost candy-like in its sweetness.

Score: 84/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 105

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 125
  • Grain: Average

Complex &  creamy -  oak, cherry, rosehip, coconut, spices, with some bubblegum-like fruit to it as well. A bit nutty. The palate follow nicely from the nose with dried cherry, dried corn husks, and nice wood spice. A great nutty/maple interplay. Honey, and dried blueberry on the finish.

Score: 84/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 121

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Average

Some oak, milk chocolate, corn…with some light berry like fruitiness on the palate. Nicely restrained and buttery on the palate too with apple juice and apple seeds.  A decent, developing, sugary finish which fades quickly to nothing other than a touch of oak, but a bit ordinary in places. Very sweet on the nose, but the oil and sweet don’t quite match up. Some odd low vegetal notes at places on the palate (like boiled celery).

Score: 80/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 169

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 125
  • Grain: Coarse

Very fruity, not overly tannic, and a bit sweet and candy-like, perhaps, but very good. Nut chocolate, caramels, fresh and ashy oak. Delicate and elegant, lightly spicy, with a long, nice finish. The finish has a fair bit of grain, spice, and coconut. 

Score: 86/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)


Barrel 185

  • Recipe: Wheat
  • Barrel Entry Proof: 105
  • Grain: Coarse

Rich grain, lightly oily, and dry oak on the nose. Dried mango, confectioner's sugar, dried cherries, cinnamon -very nicely balanced between the spices, dried fruit, and sugar. Almost a bit of rancio here!

Score: 85/100

Value: 0/100 (based on $187/750ml)