Homemade Unicorn: Attempting to Recreate Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish
This is not a review for the Belle Meade Honey Cask Finish.
That said, it’s delicious.
The 2020 iteration of the Belle Meade Honey saw 4 unique barrels get this finish. After driving to Nashville and waiting in line, I was one of the lucky few that were able to taste all four of these barrels and choose which one I wanted to bring home. The 116 proof checked every box for me, so that’s the one I ended up with. Not saying there was a wrong answer here, but the that barrel was most definitely the right one with the honey sweetness balancing very well with the bourbon notes. I also realize that a lot of people in that line did not walk away with a bottle. I do sincerely hope that Nelson’s Green Briar can come up with a fair and equitable way of distributing in 2021, God willing we ever get to that point again.
For this bottle in the Belle Meade Craftsman series, Nelson’s Green Briar partners with Trubee Honey, giving them freshly-dumped barrels which allows Trubee to produce their barrel aged honey, and then taking them back to allow their bourbon to age in these now literal “honey” barrels. The Belle Meade website is correct when they say this tastes like no other whiskey on the market, and I’ll attest to that statement first hand. The (drunken) question I had in mind is what could I do to attempt to reproduce this unique flavor. The problem being this extremely limited release, and while I put in the work this year, spending 30 consecutive hours, 16 of which in a car, with Cory Welch seems like it could encroach on my sanity if attempted every year.
I was inspired by a Reddit post on r/bourbon by none other than Bourbon Culture (unfortunately you can no longer upvote), who attempted to replicate this finish without actually obtaining a bottle. You can read the Bourbon Culture in depth review of the 2020 release here (The 111 proof, my second favorite). He used two methods and judged which was better; the first was literally just adding Trubee honey to a bottle of Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve (didn’t have a 12 year single barrel on hand), with the second, more complex, utilizing oak spirals to submerge in Trubee honey before transferring to the bourbon. Both were allowed to marry, and ultimately the straight honey addition was judged to be the better combination.
This is good for me, as I don’t possess oak spirals. I prepped four mason jars. Utilizing the Bourbon Culture method, I measured and poured four different 5 oz samples of Belle Meade Cask Strength Reserve (I also did not have any single barrel lying around). I decided to mix up some Trubee with the honey that I had on hand, good ole Kirkland brand. In two of the jars I combined 1/8 teaspoons of honey, one from Trubee and one from Costco. In the remaining two I used 1/4 teaspoon of each, just to see what would happen.
I let these marry for about 10 days, then I invited Cory and Lauren over for a tasting of these abominations to go along with the real thing.
Let’s just go ahead and throw Kirkland out of the window here. Good honey in a silo, but tasting these we all agreed that this is a lower quality honey than Trubee and it showed. Proportions didn’t matter here. Either one of the Trubee combinations wins on quality.
Now to separate the amount of honey. The 1/8 add, just like Bourbon Culture randomly chose, was the winner between all three of us. For me, the sample with more honey added viscosity and began to dominate the flavor profile, losing all of the bourbon complexity. Disappointing but not terrible. However, the addition of 1/8 teaspoon blew me away. There was nothing present on the nose so I initially thought there wouldn’t be much on the palate. Wrong. The honey is just enough to bring out all the flavors present in the bourbon and while I can definitely taste it, there are other oak, cinnamon, and caramel notes that don’t get drowned out.
I mean…I’m not going to recreate this honey cask finish no matter how hard I try. From nose to finish this Belle Meade product brings out a really unique taste. I could complain about my efforts to obtain this limited release, but between this bottle and the hot chicken we got, I have to admit I’ll probably do it again.
If you are one of the unlucky ones that did not get a chance to try this bottle, or if it’s one of those things that you’ve sought after but haven’t had an opportunity, then I’d encourage you to pull some Dr. Frankenstein experiment like this. It’s not the same on the nose and the finish is not as sweet, but a bottle of Belle Meade Cask Strength and some Trubee honey can get you 75% of the way there. For a bottle that is produced in the 100’s every year, that may be as close as some people can get.