Many whiskey aficionado's probably haven't heard of the newly announced brand Hidden Barn, much less seen a bottle...that is unless you happen to live in Colorado or Kentucky where their first small-batch expression is available. In a time when bourbon is expanding and brands are growing, its not surprising to find upstarts here and there vying for space in an ever-more-crowded market. Many of these young brands have some work to do in order to get legs under them and develop their product into something that's competitive and resonates with consumers. Hidden Barn however has a not-so-hidden ace up it's sleeve which will undoubtedly help propel it a bit further, faster, than other upstarts in this space...enter Jackie Zykan, stage right. Who is Jackie Zykan? Just the now former Master Taster at Old Forester (insert pause for dramatic effect)...no sooner than the report of her departure from Old Forester, she was announcing her next venture, starting her own brand of whiskey: Hidden Barn.
Maybe one of my favorite things about this brand is the name which interestingly enough has a tie in to fungus. If you've ever been to or seen a distillery you may or may not have noticed a black, crusty growth on some of the rickhouses and other structures around the distillery. The fungus responsible for this is called Baudoinia compniacensis and is unique to distilleries (and, interestingly, bakeries) worldwide. Often this fungus is called distillery fungus, distilleries' shadow, whiskey fungus, angels' share fungus, and warehouse staining fungus, to name a few. As we know, some bourbon is lost during the maturation process to evaporation which is referred to as the Angel's Share, equating to roughly two percent of the volume per barrel, per year on average. As ethanol escapes this fungus is able to capture those vapors and use for its own survival. Back in the day, this black fungus served as a tale-tale sign that nefarious activity was occurring in barns tipping off local law enforcement to the location of bootleggers. To help disguise the distilling that was occurring inside, folks would paint their barns black and in a sign of solidarity, many neighbors would do the same, these "hidden barns" where distilling was occurring serve as the namesake for the brand. Interestingly, this wasn't the first time barns were painted black. Historically, barns were also painted black to help increase the heat inside the barn to help dry tobacco.
Distillery Fungus on the Side of a Rickhouse
The seven barrels used in the brands initial small batch series (Batch #001) represent some of the first to mature and have a low proof point of 106 - not a terrible spot to be at given the age of this particular whiskey at a youthful two years old. These barrels are from distillate produced "the hard way" at the Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta Kentucky and utilize a 70/20/10 Corn, Rye, Malted Barley mash bill. The hard way references some of the above and beyond measures the distillery employs that make their whiskey somewhat unique, be that utilizing wild caught yeast strains from Kentucky, or their use of cypress fermenters.
Nerdy aside: Cypresssene is a preservative oil found in cypress which allows the opportunity for the yeast to survive in the porous cypress wood yielding a consistent flavor. Generally, many others in the business use stainless given added efficiency and given the fact they're seen as less work as cypress can be a difficult and labor intensive task to keep clean.
Moving Forward, Hidden Barn's small batch will remain just as small as the initial offering, with a ceiling of seven...eight...barrels at a time. Zykan recently noted in an interview that she doesn't want to make any core products and the brands ethos lend to exploration of different barrels and bottlings. Beyond the small batch, a single barrel offering of hand picked lots as well as limited edition offerings are anticipated, so expect a range of interesting things to come in the future.
Getting my hands on a bottle of Hidden Barn's inaugural Small Batch bottling wasn't exactly easy given the narrow distribution, but, I managed to acquire one and promptly had it popped open! You won't be surprised that this youthful first run from Hidden Barn will not knock your socks off. That said, it does have some good things going for it, including that it's not anything like Old Forester (not that being like Old Forester is a bad thing). It definitely tastes uniquely it's own, with a immature flavor profile that at times hints at a more mature spirit given the richness of the pour.
The front end of this is earthy and sweet with an interesting mix of caramel, tobacco and rye.
At times a bit malty, with toasted grain and sweetness pouring through.
This is an interesting hint at what's yet to come from this brand, and it's enough for me to definitely look forward to future bottlings and will certainly pick them up when and if I see them on a shelf!
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