Last Updated on February 17, 2024 by Lydia Martin
Knowing some of the confusing words in the world of distilled spirits will give you an edge if you want to impress your boss or your favorite group of friends. Thankfully, we made an easy-to-understand article explaining the two most mixed-up whiskey labels in the industry small batch vs single barrel.
This in-depth comparison between small-batch vs single barrel will help you serve the best whiskey bottle to anyone.
Comparing Small Batch & Single Barrel Bourbons
A small-batch bourbon uses a select number of many barrels to complement and combine well, resulting in a unique blended spirit. It has a rounder and fuller flavor than a single barrel bourbon. The single barrels use one barrel chosen by Master Distillers to be their flagship liquor.
Another significant difference between the two bourbon types is their prices. A small batch is cheaper because it can offer a spirit with a consistent flavor profile every time. However, there are only around 200 bottles of that particular single barrel worldwide with the same taste profile.
The small-batch whiskey is a wide variety of barrels mixed and blended to make specific tasting notes. These barrels have different ages of six to nine years or more.
But the single barrel bourbons are limited to the choice of the Master Distiller. And to achieve a premium quality whiskey, some barrels went through at least five years of aging processes or more.
Small-batch whiskey does not have any legal definition, but it has a select number of various barrels that complement and combine well to create specific flavors. Some distilleries claim to use 10 to 15 barrels, but some use around 200 barrels.
On the other hand, the Master Distillers handpicks a single barrel to bottle, and it will be the flagship whiskey of the brand.
Small-batch whiskeys produce more bottles than a single barrel. The American standard barrel can fill 200 to 260 pieces of a 750ml bottle.
But during maturation, part of the whiskey will evaporate at least 2% annually, or what we call Angel’s share . A longer maturation means there will be a limited amount of bottles for a single barrel whiskey because of evaporation.
Every distillery has its specific set of mash bills to create its whiskeys. In this sense, both small-batch whiskey and single barrels of the same brand can have the same mash bill.
However, some brands like the Four Roses use two sets of mash bills to create their blends, altering the taste. Their Master Distiller selects and combines the recipes to produce his desired tasting profile.
The difference in the tasting notes of both whiskeys is that the small-batch whiskeys have a rounder and lighter texture than the single barrels. They have well-balanced flavors of vanilla, sweet pepper, and fruity notes.
The single barrel has harsh tobacco and oaky char notes. There are also hints of spice dancing on your tongue with a bit of wet wood taste in the background.
A small-batch whiskey has a slightly sweeter aroma than a single barrel. It also has a more prominent smell of grapes, with slight hints of char. The single barrel has a stronger smell of cinnamon and dried dark fruits.
A small-batch whiskey usually has an amber appearance, while a single barrel can have dark copper or golden caramel color. Since a single barrel differs depending on the barrel used, the color may vary from one brand to another.
The small-batch whiskey finishes with tobacco notes and a taste of spiciness. The texture is slightly dry towards the end. However, the single barrel has a bitter finish with some hints of dark chocolate in the aftertaste. But what’s the proper way to order bourbon?
Different distilleries label their small-batch whiskey bottles differently. Some indicate the number of barrels mixed, age, and alcohol content. But it is more simple than the single barrel bourbon bottle that needs to show the exact location of the one barrel used.
The bottle label indicates the warehouse number, side of the warehouse (north, east, west, and south), rick, tier, and position numbers.
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Another important difference is their pricing, where the small-batch whiskeys are cheaper than single-barrel whiskeys. The quality and chemical difference between two barrels, even from the same distillery, limits the production of a single barrel bourbon.
No two single barrel whiskeys taste the same because no two barrels have the same quality.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can a bourbon be small batch & single barrel?
No, small-batch bourbon is different from a single barrel. A small-batch uses a variety of barrels, while a Master Distiller will handpick a specific barrel for a single barrel bourbon.
Why do people mix up the terms small batch and single barrel?
People mix up the small batch and single barrel terms because these words do not have legal meanings. There is no law explaining the difference between the two bourbon-making processes.
Is single barrel better than small batch?
The preference between single barrel and small batch whiskies is subjective and depends on individual taste preferences.
Single barrel whiskies are sourced from a single barrel, offering a unique and often more pronounced flavor profile that showcases the characteristics of that particular barrel.
On the other hand, small batch whiskies are blends of a relatively small number of carefully selected barrels, aiming to achieve a balanced and consistent flavor.
Whether one is “better” than the other is a matter of personal preference, as some may appreciate the distinctiveness of single barrels, while others enjoy the balance and complexity of small batch blends.
How many barrels is a small batch?
There is no specific industry standard for the number of barrels that constitute a small batch.
The term “small batch” is somewhat subjective and varies among distilleries.
Generally, it implies a limited quantity of barrels, smaller than what might be used for larger productions, allowing for more attention to detail and a potential for unique flavor characteristics.
The exact number of barrels used in a small batch can vary from distillery to distillery.
Why is small batch better?
The perception of small batch whiskies being “better” often stems from the attention to detail and quality control that can be afforded with a smaller quantity of barrels.
Smaller batches allow distillers to focus on the selection of high-quality barrels and achieve a more hands-on approach to crafting the final product.
The result is often a whisky that is carefully curated, with a balance of flavors and characteristics that the distiller intended.
Is single barrel better than double barrel?
Again, the comparison between single barrel and double barrel whiskies is subjective.
Single barrel whiskies come from a single source, emphasizing the unique characteristics of that specific barrel.
In contrast, double barrel whiskies involve transferring the liquid from one barrel to another, often imparting additional flavors from the second barrel.
Whether single barrel is “better” than double barrel depends on individual preferences.
Single barrel enthusiasts may appreciate the purity and distinctiveness, while others may enjoy the complexity and added nuances that double barrel aging can bring.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal taste and the desired flavor experience.
Does single barrel taste better?
Whether a single barrel tastes “better” is subjective and depends on individual preferences.
Single barrel whiskies are sourced from a specific barrel, showcasing the unique characteristics of that particular cask.
This often results in a more pronounced and individual flavor profile.
Some enthusiasts appreciate the distinctiveness and purity of single barrels, while others may prefer the complexity and balance achieved through blending in small batches.
Taste preferences play a significant role in determining whether one perceives single barrel whiskies as superior.
What is special about single barrel?
Single barrel whiskies are special because they are sourced from a single, carefully selected barrel.
This exclusivity allows each bottle to represent the unique qualities of that particular cask, providing a one-of-a-kind tasting experience.
The flavors, aromas, and characteristics of a single barrel can be more pronounced, making it a special choice for those seeking a distinct and individualized whisky.
Is 4 Roses single barrel better than small batch?
The comparison between Four Roses Single Barrel and Small Batch is subjective and depends on personal taste preferences.
Four Roses is known for producing high-quality whiskies, and both expressions have their unique qualities.
Four Roses Single Barrel offers the distinctiveness of being sourced from a specific barrel, providing pronounced flavors.
On the other hand, Four Roses Small Batch involves a blend of select barrels, aiming for a balanced and nuanced profile.
Some may prefer the robust character of the Single Barrel, while others appreciate the complexity achieved through the blending process in Small Batch.
What qualifies as small batch?
The term “small batch” lacks a standardized definition in the whisky industry, and its interpretation can vary among distilleries.
Generally, it implies a limited quantity of barrels smaller than those used in larger productions.
The use of the term suggests that more attention and care can be given to the selection and blending of barrels, resulting in a whisky with a balanced and unique flavor profile.
The exact number of barrels that qualify as a small batch can vary, with some distilleries providing specific details on their labels or marketing materials.
How long is small batch whiskey aged?
The aging duration of small batch whiskey varies and is not specifically tied to the term “small batch.” Aging is determined by factors such as the type of whiskey, distillery practices, and desired flavor profile.
Generally, small batch whiskey, like other types of whiskey, is aged for a minimum period mandated by regulations, which can vary by region.
For example, in the United States, straight whiskey must be aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels.
However, many small batch whiskey producers age their products longer to develop more complex flavors.
Is a small batch size bad?
The size of a batch in whiskey production, whether large or small, is not inherently bad.
Small batch production offers advantages such as increased attention to detail, greater control over quality, and the potential for unique flavor profiles.
However, some distilleries may argue that larger batch sizes provide economies of scale and consistency across batches.
Ultimately, the quality of the final product depends on the distillery’s craftsmanship, ingredients, and production processes rather than batch size alone.
Is smaller batch size slower?
The production timeline for smaller batch whiskey can vary depending on the distillery’s production capacity, equipment, and efficiency.
While smaller batches may require more manual labor and attention to detail, they may not necessarily result in a slower production process.
Distilleries may adjust their production schedules and processes to accommodate smaller batch sizes while maintaining efficiency and quality.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of small batch production?
Advantages of small batch production include:
Quality Control: Smaller batches allow for greater control over the production process, resulting in consistent quality and attention to detail.
Unique Flavor Profiles: Small batch production can lead to unique and nuanced flavor profiles, as each batch may vary slightly based on the specific barrels used.
Craftsmanship: Small batch production often involves more hands-on craftsmanship and artisanal techniques, appealing to connoisseurs seeking high-quality spirits.
Disadvantages of small batch production may include:
Limited Availability: Smaller batches may lead to limited availability of the product, making it harder to find in stores or bars.
Higher Cost: Small batch production may incur higher costs due to the use of premium ingredients, specialized equipment, and manual labor.
Potential Variability: While variability can contribute to unique flavor profiles, it may also result in inconsistencies between batches, which some consumers may find undesirable.
Final Thoughts: Small Batch Vs Single Barrel
A small-batch whiskey is better than a single barrel in terms of quality and availability. The taste profile of this spirit is more elaborate, and it is also the cheaper choice between the two whiskeys.
However, you can sometimes find an exceptional bottle of single-barrel whiskey. But then, you will have to pay a little more for that.