Proof's current private-selection inventory | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel
Proof’s current private-selection inventory | Courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel

This summer, Insider shared the news that 21c Museum Hotel was getting in on the private selection/single barrel action. While several bars, restaurants and liquor stores in town offer one-of-a-kind, staff-selected spirits, this program is unique because not only can you taste the product at Proof on Main or Garage Bar, you also can purchase a bottle — while they last — from 21c’s gift shop.

Just last week, Proof’s beverage director, Chea Beckley, added four more rare selections to the bar’s shelves. He tells Insider the program has been well received, and, in fact, he’s sold out of the Eagle Rare and Blanton’s from the first release, although he still has some of the Copper & Kings Private Cask Brandy.

Joining the inventory this time are an Old Forester Single Barrel, Buffalo Trace Single Barrel, New Riff Distilling‘s O.K.I. Private Barrel, and WhistlePig Single Barrel. Beckley and his team visited each distillery (except for WhistlePig, since it’s in Vermont) to personally select the barrel with the guidance of the master distillers, and he believes the products are some of the best they’ve chosen.

Beckley invited us to try the new selections, and we can attest to the quality and tastiness of the team’s recent round of bourbons and whiskies. We met up with Beckley at Proof Monday afternoon while he was training bartender Yara Buchanan, who recently relocated to Louisville from New York City, on the nuances of bourbon.

Chea Beckley (right) talks bourbon with new bartender Yara Buchanan. | Photo by Sara Havens
Chea Beckley (right) talks bourbon with new bartender Yara Buchanan. | Photo by Sara Havens

First up was the 90-proof Old Forester, one of the first to be offered in a new Single Barrel bottle. The bourbon came from a four-year-old barrel and offered those familiar flavors of bourbon — vanilla and caramel — but also had rich and creamy texture with a hint of baking spice. Beckley says he’s always been a fan of Old Forester.

Old Forester Single Barrel now comes in this new bottle. | Photo by Sara Havens
Old Forester Single Barrel now comes in this new bottle. | Photo by Sara Havens

“It’s Louisville’s bourbon,” he declares.

A drink of this at Proof is $12, while the bottle in the gift shop is $55.

Next up was Buffalo Trace, which doesn’t sell its bourbon as a single barrel unless its done through a private selection. This barrel was aged eight years and produced a product so soft and velvety, it was a favorite of both mine and Beckley’s out of the four.

Buffalo Trace’s traditional sweet notes were present, but there also was underlying hints of clove, dried fruit and toasted nuts in the 90-proof bourbon. This is the perfect sipping whiskey for the cold, winter months ahead, notes Beckley.

It will sell for $10 by the drink, or $48 in the gift shop.

After that sample quickly disappeared, we moved on to the O.K.I. — which stands for Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana, the only states it’s sold in — from Newport, Ky.’s New Riff Distilling. It’s pretty rare to get the chance to do a private barrel selection at this distillery, says Beckley, as the bourbon supply is extremely limited and expected to run out by late 2018.

The 10-year bourbon is bottled at 110 proof and not chill filtered, like the previous two. The high-rye mashbill expressed the spiciness you would expect, and we also detected some oaky wood notes due to it’s age. After the first few sips, we added water to open it up a bit, and found those familiar, sweet flavors of toasted marshmallow and caramel. The finish was full of spicy character, most likely a testament to the rye.

Each bottle, which can be purchased at the 21c gift shop, has a special sticker. | Photo by Sara Havens
Each bottle, which can be purchased at the 21c gift shop, has a special sticker. | Photo by Sara Havens

O.K.I. will sell for $15 for the drink, $75 for the bottle.

Finally, we tried the WhistlePig Rye Whiskey, a distillery that is located in Vermont but has Kentucky connections. It was opened by Dave Pickerell, formerly the master distiller of Maker’s Mark, and grows a lot of its own ingredients, including even the oak trees for the barrels.

Beckley explains the distillery’s unique process. Apparently they get their rye distillate from Canada, age it in new oak barrels for five years, and then move it to used bourbon barrels for another five years. So you can technically call it bourbon-barrel-finished rye whiskey.

This spirit also is 10 years old and proofed at 110.9. For a rye-based whiskey, it offered up some sweet notes, perhaps from the time spent in the second barrel. But those soon gave way to the warming flavors of spice and nutmeg. Beckley enjoyed how the barrel notes — common for a 10-year whiskey — played second fiddle to the rye. Unlike the previous three bourbons, this whiskey had an earthiness quality.

This one will sell for $22 a drink, $120 a bottle.

These four new private selections are available at the 21c’s in Louisville and Lexington, and also by the drink at Garage Bar while supplies last. More barrel selections have been planned, and we hear Four Roses and Maker’s Mark might be on the list.

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville. She's known around town as the Bar Belle and updates her blog (barbelleblog.com) daily. She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."


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