The new Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve is aged in a chiseled barrel. | Photo by Sara Havens

When Coopers’ Craft bourbon was launched in 2016, it was both a nod to the hard-working individuals in Brown-Forman’s Cooperage and a subtle, light spirit (82.2 proof) geared toward those newer to bourbon.

Now, four years later, another expression of the brand is being launched, and it’s definitely more complex, more robust and packs more punch than the original, although both share the same mash bill. In other words, the new Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve is Superman to Cooper’s Craft’s Clark Kent.

There are a few key differences between the two products, the main ones being proof — Barrel Reserve is bottled at 100 proof — and the type of barrel used. Since Brown-Forman owns its own cooperage and has since 1945, it can experiment on barrels using different toasts, chars and even carving into the barrel once it’s been lit up.

Master Distiller Chris Morris shows off the two products. | Photo by Sara Havens

And that’s exactly what they did with Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve.

Master Distiller Chris Morris and Greg Roshkowski, VP director of wood planning/procurement and processing, explained the process to a small group of media on Friday.

While the regular Coopers’ Craft is aged four to six years in a traditional white oak barrel, this new expression is aged for the same amount but in a one-of-a-kind chiseled white oak barrel.

This barrel also has been toasted and charred differently than the regular.

The chiseling, done by a machine at the cooperage, allows the bourbon to penetrate further into the barrel as it ages. Also, any remnants from the chiseling process remain in the barrel but obviously are filtered out when the bourbon is dumped.

Brown-Forman uses the chiseling process in one other product, Jack Daniel’s premium Sinatra Select, although the barrel sizes are different, as are the toast and char levels.

One last difference between the two Coopers is the regular expression is run through a special beech and birch charcoal filter finishing process for a more smooth and mellow bourbon, and the new one is not. Ask a bourbon aficionado what kind of filtration she prefers, and she’ll answer nothing at all. Heck, if it were up to them, there’d be char floating in the bottle.

So how much does switching up a barrel change a product? Well, one Brown-Forman motto says it all: “The barrels make the bourbon, that’s why we make the barrels.”

Situated side by side, the mere color of the Barrel Reserve is much darker. And when it comes to taste, the Barrel Reserve couldn’t be more different. Coopers’ Craft is light, featuring notes of baked apple and caramel, with not much of a finish. Barrel Reserve, on the other hand, is robust, thicker and more textured, featuring flavors like burnt marshmallow, darker caramel and a touch of cinnamon.

The Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve sample on the right is much darker than the regular expression on the left. | Photo by Sara Havens

The nice thing about bourbon is there’s no wrong way to drink it. If you prefer a lighter spirit that goes down easy, the regular Coopers’ Craft is the one you would go to. And if you like a more complex sip, if you like to chew your bourbon and taste the magical flavors of a campfire, then the Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve would be your choice.

The regular Coopers’ Craft bottle has gotten a slight makeover, and it still retails for $21.99-$24.99. The new Coopers’ Craft Barrel Reserve retails for a slightly more $29.99-$32.99 and has a more premium look to its bottle.

And speaking of the Brown-Forman Cooperage, which is located near the airport, for the first time in its 74 years, the facility is open for public tours exclusively through Mint Julep Experiences.

The Coopers’ Craft home base also now is located next to the cooperage and will serve as the starting and ending place for tours. The cozy room features informational displays on the intricacies of what they do to the Barrel Reserve barrel and also has a tasting area and a spot where you can try and raise your own barrel.

Below is a further look at the cooperage and the new Coopers’ Craft welcoming center.

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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). 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."