Spirit Spotlight: Ranger Creek’s Bourbon Barrel Experiment

San Antonio’s Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling has just launched an intriguing experimental series allowing whiskey fans to do a side-by-side comparison based on the effects of barrel size and maturation time.

The Ranger Creek Bourbon Barrel Experiment showcases two dueling bourbons which each began life as the same fresh distillate. One is their .36 Small Caliber Series Bourbon, bottled in a small 375ml bottle to indicate it was aged in small barrels. Its new big brother is the .36 Texas Bourbon, matured in full-size barrels and bottled in standard 750ml bottles.

How do the two bourbons stack up? Which is better? Let’s dive in.

.36 Small Caliber Series Bourbon

Bottled at 48% ABV, the Small Caliber was aged for 11 months in small casks. The nose was relatively light, with fruits and apples, along with green wood. It was drier than expected at the start of the palate, with doughy biscuits and oak. That dry, tannic oak continues throughout the finish with sprinkled hints of baking spices and light vanilla.

Score: 82/100

.36 Texas Bourbon

Bottled at the same strength, the Texas Bourbon was aged for a minimum of two years in full-size barrels. The nose offers spicy oak and biscuit, as well as vanilla and toffee, shifting to toast, baking spices, and oak on the palate. A somewhat hot but overall smooth finish offers brown sugar and cinnamon. This one is much more robust, there’s a layered complexity and richness that the Small Caliber didn’t showcase, which came off flat.

Score: 87/100

The winner for me was clear. Fine, I’ll say it—size matters— and that reflects the traditionalist’s view of whiskey maturation.

But hey, you might feel differently about the two above. The point of the side-by-side release is to allow you to discover your taste preference while learning more about the maturation process and how it affects the final product.

“The goal is to allow you to compare the two and make up your own mind about which you prefer,” said co-founder Mark McDavid.

Six years after the distillery began making bourbon, that goal has been reached. And if the new .36 Texas Bourbon indicates what the future holds for Ranger Creek, there’s going to be some excellent whiskey on the way in the years ahead.

Author: Jake Emen

I’m Jake, and I’m your host on this journey. I'm the man doing the eating and the talking around here. I’m a writer based outside of Washington, D.C., and I'm also talking whiskey, local events, travel, and other assorted misadventures. Follow me on the Tweet Machine - @ManTalkFood, or send an email to jake [at] mantalkfood.com.

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