Why the craze for barrel proof bourbons?

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Take a look on the shelf of your local liquor store, or at the reviews on your favorite whiskey website and you are sure to notice that barrel proof bourbons are a hot trend right now. Is this just people going to the extreme like your friend that has to order the 11 pepper face melter sauce when you go out for wings, or is there actually some merit to these high proof beasts? The real answer is a combination of things. Although they have seen a recent surge in popularity barrel proof bourbons are far from new. Back in the grand old days you would purchase your bourbon by filling up a jug at your pharmacy straight from a barrel they had purchased from the distillery. The modern versions aren’t exactly new either. The well known Booker’s was released in the late 80’s and Wild Turkey Rare Breed in the early 90’s.  With the recent popularity boom in bourbon it has left many looking for the next big thing, and many have landed on barrel proof as being that. I speculate myself that this is due to the legendary status of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, three of which are released at barrel strength. So are these whiskeys actually better than their watered down siblings? To an extent yes. The higher proof comes from evaporation of water while aging in the barrel, as this is happening it allows the bourbon left in the barrel to take on stronger characteristics from the barrel itself. This ultimately leads to a deep complex finished product. With bottling at this high proof the end user also gains the ability to water the bourbon down their liking. There are drawbacks to the high alcohol content however, specifically it can have an anesthetizing effect on your tastebuds leaving you unable to pick up on all those complex flavors. So keep in mind when you are picking up your next bottle that although their are many great barrel proof bottles on the market that being barrel proof in itself is no guarantee of quality. There are plenty of bourbons in the 90-100 proof range that pack huge flavors as well. Ultimately let your tastebuds decide what you like, don’t let trends do it for you.


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