In search of the best small batch and single barrel spirits
One of the most popular distilled spirits in the world is bourbon, a barrel-aged distilled spirit made primarily from corn. And while the name bourbon is derived from the French Bourbon dynasty, most aficionados believe the name for the spirit comes from Bourbon County in Kentucky (though some argue it comes from Bourbon Street in New Orleans). Bourbon itself has been distilled since the 18th century, with the first use of name in the 1820s; the name itself has been used consistently in Kentucky since the 1870s.
Small batch bourbon is exactly what it sounds like: bourbon made in limited quantities. But what constitutes a small batch? There are no federal regulations, and some distilleries won’t provide a clear indication of what “small batch” really means. Distilleries will differ on the number of barrels used in their small batch bourbons—Maker’s Mark, for example, will never use more than twenty barrels for a small batch bourbon, while Willet’s Distillery will use, at most, only twelve. Bernheim Original plays it especially fast and loose with the definition, stating a small batch would contain “no more than 100 barrels.”
Numbers aside, the limited quantities of small batch bourbons give creators the opportunity to focus on unique flavor profiles, making them a rare and unforgettable treat. As amazing as that sounds, I must confess I know nothing about bourbon. Luckily, Imbibe has me covered.
I spoke with spirits specialist Toni Zabloki from Imbibe to get some recommendations on the best small batch bourbons Chattanooga has to offer.
Zabloki’s staple for an affordable small batch bourbon is Four Roses, coming out of a Kentucky distillery and priced at a very reasonable $33.99. Zabloki describes Four Roses as having a “soft, kind of mouth-watering” taste with a “fair amount of complexity for the price.”
Two other suggestions from Zabloki were Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, both from Willet’s Distillery, also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. “These are going to be harder to find,” Zabloki warned, “But they’re all delicious and good for their price.”
Even smaller than small batch is single barrel bourbon, where, you guessed it, the bourbon is distilled in a single barrel. Naturally, due to the size, single barrel bourbons are often hard to find and sell out quickly.
Having said that, Chattanooga Whiskey is currently doing a single-barrel program where you can sample different barrels in different locations, and select one unique whiskey from a single barrel. And yes, there’s a barrel for Imbibe.
For single barrel suggestions, Zabloki pointed me towards Blanton’s Bourbon, from the Buffalo Trace Distillery. Because of its small quantities, Zabloki said, it’s even more sought after than Noah’s Mill.
But the holiest of holy grails goes to Blood Oath, a single barrel bourbon made by “this one guy out of Kentucky,” Zabloki says. Indeed, on their website they warn visitors that “This Whiskey Shall Never Be Made Again.” Price-wise, it’s at the top of the list at $115, but for a unique handcrafted product you might never taste again, you’ll get exactly what you pay for.
Small batch bourbons offer an opportunity to savor extraordinary craftsmanship and skill in sizes that make every bottle a masterpiece.