Blind Barrels: The ONLY Blind Craft Whiskey Tasting Subscription Box

Label failure has kept many of our country’s best craft whiskey off the shelf, where almost nobody will ever find it. “Prohibition never really ended,” explains Bobby DeMars, the founder of Blind Barrels. “The three-tier system is complicated–[A top shelf worthy distiller will often] be rockstars for 50 miles, but then drown out after that.”

Blind Barrels may not be the only Whiskey subscription box in town (so to speak). However, they are the only ones who cater to the gutsiest and most talented craft distillers who reside in the most humble locations around the country. We’re talking about the small farmer who passes their free time experimenting with great grandpappy’s prized craft whiskey recipe until they reach a perfection that can rarely compare to the big box distillers who have to play by too many rules.

The way it works is that the Blind Barrels team will blind taste upwards of 100 to 250 craft whiskeys from small distillers all over the country. They find these from a combination of word-of-mouth, forum recommendations, and samples sent by these individual crafters. They blind-taste everything they get their hands on, often throwing top-shelf brands in the mix to ensure that these small crafters truly belong in the best of class. Blind Barrels then chooses 16 of the best and brightest and negotiate a deal with those farmers so that four unique 50 ml samples can be shipped to their subscribers every three months for the next year.

And then they do something more: They share the process of how to blind taste each sample pack so that you can experience not only picking out the tasting notes, heat level, and mouth feel but also understanding the history and heritage of the small distillers in your box. As an added bonus you will also develop a sense of what type of whiskey tends to rock your world.

“We always say that you are going to like everything in the lineup,” boasts Bobby. “But you are going to fall in love with one or two of them.”

Yeah, you could say that Blind Barrels is something a bit different, but we’d call it special. Just how special depends on your willingness to open your world to craft whiskey’s complexity and history, and to trust your opinions to guide that journey. It also depends on allowing time with your whiskey to become a means to fortify your friendships and make downtime more enjoyable and ‘in the moment’.

We set aside a Friday evening this winter to experience Blind Barrels for ourselves, and three hours later we were locked into a conversation about flavor, ghosts of whiskey’s past, and new favorites. And the one thing that stood out in our minds is that Blind Barrels has really done its homework, and offered the stage to the craft masters whose top-shelf creations fall short only because of their limitations as small-scale distilleries, which is an exciting opportunity for both makers and tasters alike.

Getting people together to experience a tasting, strengthen friendships, build camaraderie, and remind you to enjoy life ‘in the moment’ may all be left in your court to make happen, but Blind Barrels has made it easy. We challenged Bobby DeMars, the CEO, and founder of Blind Barrels, to back up such a bold statement by us, and he was only so happy to oblige:

Credit: Blind Barrels

Bobby DeMars: We got a box out to you, right?

Urbasm: You sure did.

Bobby DeMars: It is important to get it firsthand so that you can really know what the experience is all about. I know more about whiskey laws than I do about whiskey itself. I have a few guys I call my whiskey wizards or our spirit guides. And they are heavily involved in helping to figure out who is going to be in our lineup. I do a lot of the talking.

Urbasm: What is the story behind the founding of Blind Barrels?

Bobby DeMars: This whole company was founded during quarantine. I had a buddy, and just as we got disconnected, he started setting up blind tastings of whiskey to get everyone to commit to checking in and talking over some awesome whiskey, and it was all done blind. And I instantly fell in love with it. I called him after the first tasting. (laughing) There were like eight samples, and we get through them all, so I was a little inebriated, but I was like, Yeah, this seems like a business. And he was like, Yeah, okay.

I was like, Nobody has ever done this. He was like, But it is probably complicated. And I’m like, Well, maybe it is illegal, maybe there is a reason that you can’t put other people’s whiskey with your branding on it and set it up that way. So, I did the model and called up an ABC attorney, and what I discovered is that you can do a free hour-long consultation with any attorney. So, I did sixteen of those with different attorneys.

Urbasm: (laughs)

Bobby DeMars: The first six were like, You can’t do this, there are like nine things illegal with what you are trying to do. And I went, Okay. So, then I talked to a partner from Beverage Law. She is like a thousand-dollar-an-hour attorney, but she gave us an hour and had some really interesting insight on different ways that we could try and make it work. I went into the next meeting, and we found a way to do it. We then shifted into a different way that we found along the way that was less demanding on the distillery itself. These are smaller craft distilleries. These are not massive operations. They have a limited product, and a limited time; every drop is precious to them.

Urbasm: Right.

Bobby DeMars: We can’t tell you what we figured out, but we did figure it out, and then it literally only took one week to raise the money. Of the fifteen friends I told, fourteen of them said, Hey, if there is a way for me to invest, let me know. And that was very validating. I know every single person that has invested personally, and I put in three times as much money as anyone else, so that is how I compartmentalized the risk that was being taken. And it definitely puts a bigger onus on wanting to be successful, because these are people I know and care about.

Credit: Blind Barrels

So, it took a whole year just to get all the stuff legally in place. And your making custom caps and bottles and labels and packaging, and then the shipper that it goes in, and there are all these elements that have to take place in order to make this happen.

Urbasm: So, you’ve got the business model in place, now where to find the whiskey?

Bobby DeMars: We taste everything blind. We want to remove what we call label failure and the bias that we have with any brand because we already associate a brand a certain way because we’ve heard about it. If you spend a lot of money on something, or you’ve heard something good about it, you kind of will yourself into thinking that it’s your favorite brand.

Urbasm: Yeah, we’re guilty of that.

Bobby DeMars: Some people think that we are just putting any craft whiskey in the box, or that somebody has bought their way into the lineup, but it is just the opposite. We’ll talk to probably almost 100 distillers just to figure out the first 16 brands for our first four lineups because there are four per lineup.

Urbasm: Where do you find these distilleries? Or do they find you?

Bobby DeMars: A lot are finding us now since we’ve launched. Initially, some of my guys had their ears on the track looking for brands that were really cool and up-and-coming that not a lot of people knew about but should. Prohibition never really ended. Because the three-tier system is complicated. You have to have a producer, which is a distillery distributor before it gets to a retailer and then the consumer. You can be the distributor’s catalog, but if they are massive, and all the big ones are, you get lost in that catalog. So, what happens is they will be rockstars for 50 miles, but then drown out after that.

One element is discovering something you like, but we also get to support these small craft distillers that you would not be able to buy or try any other way. Access is probably one of the coolest things about what we do. So, if you want to buy a bottle of something, it is the same price as if you were at the distillery or cheaper. We don’t do this markup. There are some bottles in our lineup that have doubled or tripled in value because they are so hard to get and the demand has crept up. But in the end, we think that great whiskey is meant to be shared.

Urbasm: Absolutely. And one of the big things about Blind Barrels is the difference between tasting and drinking. Talk to us a bit about that.

Bobby DeMars: I do this every Friday when I come home, and as the sun is setting. I sit on my back porch and watch my kids play. I sit out there for an hour and a half with the same glass of whiskey. I’ll smell the aroma, try to pull out flavor notes and think about what the mash bill is, what the heat level is, and the viscosity. Then obviously the flavor again, but then even just the mouthfeel, that warm blanket when you are doing it the right way. For me, it is this great portal that reminds me to be connected at the moment, so when I am out there, I may be connecting with my whiskey but also my kids. I am really enjoying that mindful component.

Urbasm: The perfect end to the day.

Bobby DeMars: I always like to try something, especially something that is high-proof, just as it is, so that I am getting that sensation that the distiller intended that experience to be. But then I proof it down a little bit, and by doing that, you actually open up more flavors.

Urbasm: Really?

Bobby DeMars: Yeah, the whiskey itself can evolve in the glass. Just like with wine. Someone in the craft world is taking all these unique chances so that we can experience something that is different. Some of them are on the 4th generation of their Grandpappy’s recipe, and they are tweaking it, and some of them are like, We’re going to distill it like Gin. And sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And that is why we blind taste everything.

Urbasm: Who makes up the majority of your subscribers?

Credit: Blind Barrels

Bobby DeMars: Whiskey nerds, as they are called, are probably the hardest sell. What happens is that they are going to sit there and go, Wait, so it is $200 for four shipments that each has 50ml of four samples. They will start to do that math. I’m paying $10 for a double. And I’m like, Well, you just spent $40 on a double of something that is way more pricey than what it is when you are getting allocated bottles. But when people get the box and they see, just like you saw; the packaging and the notes… We want people to associate these small brands with top shelf.

The whiskey nerds that have joined our club have stayed in the club, just like everyone else. A lot of people who are foodies seem to be the majority of a lot of the newer people who are signing up. We always say that you are going to like everything in the lineup, but you are going to fall in love with one or two of them.

We don’t really make money from bottle sales because of the way we price them. So you can have a $50 bottle that wholesales at $36. But then we are giving shipping discounts, and the shipping is expensive. And our fulfilling partners get a percentage of the sales, so most of the time we break even on that. We really want to embrace the whiskey community and showcase the small American farmers that are making delicious products because they are handmaking everything with love.

Urbasm: And each box gets its own video and guides on the tasting notes, mash bill, distillery history, etc.?

Bobby DeMars: When you go to the QR code there is going to be a unique video that walks you through the tasting. Yeah, if you want to go further down the education route, or learn even more about these distillers themselves, that is on every single release. Every lineup is not like a Keto subscription, where a bunch of snacks is thrown in a box. That lineup never happens again. And it is really cool, because we have friends, families, and co-workers getting these boxes at the same time, and it is a great way for them to check in every three months over some awesome whiskey.

Urbasm: Do you have anything big coming up that you can share with us?

Bobby DeMars: We are giving away some rare, hard-to-find bottles every month to current members and new members who have joined up. And we have a code that we have just added that is a free box. So, if somebody uses the free box code, what happens is, they are going to get a box with their subscription, but then we are going to send them an additional free box from a different lineup. That way they can share it with more people, or give it as a gift. We’re looking at all sorts of ways for people to discover our brand.

Urbasm: This has been another method to help spread the word, and we hope that this message goes far. Thank you, Bobby. We’re excited to see what you have coming for future lineups.

And this is where you should check out Blind Barrels for yourself.

About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.

About Dr. Eric J. Leech

Eric has written for over a decade. Then one day he created, a site for every guy.