Perhaps you’ve been seeing single barrel whiskeys at the grocery store or bar and want to know what it means, or you’re going for a whiskey tasting and want to be well-versed in whiskey, you’ve come to the right place.
Whiskey is aged in barrels for an undefined time, as you may or may not know. Aging whiskey in barrels or casks for long periods eliminates harsh flavors from the raw alcohol and lets the whiskey extract color and flavor from the wood.
Depending on how many barrels were used to make the whiskey, we have the single barrel, double barrel, standard barrel, and small batch whiskeys, and you’ll be learning all about these soon enough.
So what is single barrel whisky?
As the name implies, it’s simply whiskey that was made from one barrel. Although this seems like a no-brainer, it’s not in the whiskey production industry.
Continue reading as we dive into everything you need to know about single barrel whiskey.
Understanding the Barrel Terms
Here are some terms you should know to understand single barrel whiskey.
Most of the whiskeys you see today are from a standard barrel. Although this isn’t a standard definition, it typically means whiskey that was produced from a mix of many barrels, and some distilleries use up to 200.
The thing is, if all whiskeys were single barrels, it’d be difficult for brands to achieve a consistent flavor profile because several factors affect the taste of whiskey in a rickhouse.
Different chemical processes occur in a barrel of whiskey, and temperature, or how high a barrel is in a rickhouse, can also affect its flavor. In essence, no two barrels can taste exactly the same, so brands need to mix different barrels to achieve consistency and add complexity to their whisky.
Single barrel whiskey, on the other hand, goes through the exact production, aging, and barreling process of a standard barrel, but it’s not a mix of multiple barrels. Since all single barrels have different flavor profiles, it’s seen as a premium whiskey and is usually more expensive.
Some single barrel whiskeys can highlight a spicy taste, while others may lean toward the fruity side. You can never know how a single barrel will taste until you taste it, and that’s what makes it so unique.
Whiskey from a single barrel is bottled individually, and each bottle often has a barrel number and aging date.
Although some brands claim their whiskey is a single barrel, they’re actually vattings of multiple barrels of different kinds, with the single barrel referring to the final barrel for maturation. So there’s nuance when it comes to what single barrel whiskey means depending on the distillery, but the general definition is whiskey from a single barrel.
Since single barrel whiskey is whiskey from one barrel, it’s normal to assume double barrel is whiskey mixed from two barrels, well, not exactly.
Double barrel whiskey is simply whiskey that was aged in one barrel and then transferred to another barrel for an additional aging period. Whiskeys get their flavor from the barrel, so this produces an even more complex flavor profile.
In the whiskey world, small batch refers to whiskeys produced by mixing a small number of single barrels. You could say there’s no difference between small batch whiskey and standard barrel whiskey, but there is.
Standard barrel whiskey is a combination of different barrels to produce a voluminous, consistent, nuanced batch of whiskey. Small batch whiskey, on the other hand, is a blend of a few carefully selected barrels.
The barrels are picked because they complement each other well and combine excellently. Hence, the price of small batch whiskey is often on the high side.
Single Barrel Whiskeys You Can Try
Below are some popular single barrel whiskeys you can try out.
Elijah Craig 18-year-old Single Barrel
You’d expect an 18-year-old spirit not to taste drinkable, but this whiskey transcends expectations. It’s released in limited quantities every fall, and even though it has obvious signs of maturation, it still retains an elegant and expensive look.
The long time in the barrel gives it extra flavor and aroma that makes it a truly extraordinary drink. A bottle typically costs $300+.
Four Roses Single Barrel
Four Roses Single Barrel is usually aged in casks for 7-9 years. A bottle of this whiskey typically tastes like a fruit cake mixed with rye spice and vanilla. With all single barrels, you’ll see some variation, but you won’t encounter one you don’t like.
Baker’s 7-year-old Single Barrel Bourbon
Each bottle of this single barrel brand has a unique and balanced taste. A bottle of this fine spirit typically has notes of nuts, rye, and vanilla. When mixed with cocktails, the flavors stand out no matter what.
How To Drink Single Barrel Whiskey
It’s totally up to you, but since each single barrel bottle is different, you may want to savor your bottle. Don’t add ice because you’ll be diluting your whiskey. You can freeze it, but not for too long. Before drinking, try nosing your whiskey to try to pick out the different ingredients.
Now that you know how unique single barrel whiskeys are, the next time you drink one, enjoy it as much as you can, knowing you can’t get the same taste again. Each bottle is literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience.