Last Updated on December 29, 2022 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.
This in-depth comparison between small-batch vs single barrel will help you serve the best whiskey bottle to anyone.
Comparing Single Barrel & Small Batch 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.
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.
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.
Lydia Martin hails from Redmond, Washington, where you’ll find some of the best cocktail bars and distilleries that offer a great mix of local drinks. She used to work as a bar manager in Paris and is a self-taught mixologist whose passion for crafting unique cocktails led her to create Liquor Laboratory. Lydia can whip up a mean Margarita in seconds! Contact at [email protected] or learn more about us here.