Last Updated on June 28, 2022 by Lydia Martin
All bourbons are aged in barrels, but there’s just something fancy about single barrel bourbons that sets this category apart. But really, what is single barrel bourbon?
Let’s dig deeper and learn about what makes it stand out among other bourbon types.
About Single Barrel Bourbons
There is no legal definition or law regarding single barrel bourbon, but for distilleries, single-barrel bourbon should be finished in one aged barrel only before bottling. Many distilleries often mix multiple barrels after aging to ensure that each batch of your favorite bourbon tastes the same.
However, a single barrel does not taste the same even if every barrel has the same yeast, key ingredients, and maturation time. Seemingly, there are whiskey lovers more interested in diversification than in consistency, so mainstream single barrel releases have become popular these days.
Single barrel highlights unique characteristics and influence you cannot find in any particular bourbon. Some famous single-barrel bourbon bottles are Jack Daniel’s single barrel, Four Roses single barrel bourbon, Russell’s Reserve single barrel, Knob Creek single barrel, Evan Williams, Eagle Rare, and Willett Pot Still Reserve.
What Makes A Bourbon Single Barrel?
To make a bourbon single barrel, it should come from an aged single cask and bottled unblended. After its production process, it does not need to be mixed with other matured bourbons to achieve its consistent flavor because it is one of a kind.
A bottle of single cask whiskey contains bourbons from only one barrel, and it can be hard to get your hands on it. Here’s the reality: there are more or less 220 bottles per barrel which means single barrel releases can command a higher price tag.
Did You Know?
How It’s Made
Single barrel bourbons are made like any other bourbons, but their bottling should come from the individual aging barrel. The master distiller will first determine the key ingredients of the single cask bourbon, but it should at least contain 51% corn .
The base ingredients will be combined and heated before fermentation. It will then undergo double distillation for increased cask strength and purification before aging and bottling.
Single barrel bourbons contain combinations of grains like corn, rye or wheat, and malted barley. Based on the strict law of bourbon production, any bourbon whiskey should contain at least 51% corn.
There are single casks with rye content on their ingredients, and it lends a more savory, caramel sweet, and spice note to the whiskey. However, brands that use wheat for a sweeter single barrel line.
In new charred oak barrels, bourbons should be aged for at least two years, but most bourbons are aged longer. The new charred barrels’ maturation gives single barrels smoky flavor and hints of vanilla and toffee notes.
Also, bourbons are like a solvent, so it leaches pigment and flavor compounds of the oak it’s aged in. The longer it stays inside a barrel, the darker it becomes.
Where It’s Made
A single barrel should be made anywhere in the United States. There is a common misconception that bourbons should only be made in Kentucky, but various whiskey makers are located in the state.
Single barrel bourbon whiskey bottles are all American, and since Congress declared bourbons as “American’s Native Spirit,” every bottle has to be made in the USA.
Fun Fact: 95% of the bourbon is made in Kentucky because its temperature and geography are conducive to bourbon whiskey making.
Compared to Other Bourbon Types
Standard bourbon whiskey contains 51% corn and other cereal grains like rye, malted barley, and other grains. It is then mashed, fermented, distilled, and aged into new charred oak barrels for at least two years.
Unlike a single barrel, standard bourbon is a mix of various barrels. The bourbons are withdrawn from different casks to produce a consistent flavor.
The location of the wood casks in the warehouse can affect the flavor profile of a standard bourbon, so mixing multiple wood casks will guarantee similarity in flavors.
Small Batch Bourbon
There is no legal definition of small-batch bourbon, but it is produced by mixing a small amount of hand-selected single casks to create a unique and rich flavor of spirits. Some distilleries use hundreds of select barrels and label them as a small batch.
Small-batch bourbons can be complicated compared to single barrel bourbons because few single barrels can complement each other. A small-batch may consist of ten selected single barrels, but that can vary from each distillery because some claim to blend fewer barrels or more than ten.
Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bourbons vary, and to be considered a straight bourbon whiskey, there are limited modifications permitted before bottling. Modifications include batching from different casks, chill filtration or other filtration regimes, and water dilution to reduce but with a minimum of 80 proof.
In addition, Straight bourbon whiskey must be aged for at least two years, just like single barrel bourbons.
Bottled In Bond Bourbon
The bottled-in-Bond act aims to regulate the quality of the alcohol and to ensure you are getting real whiskeys. A bonded bottle of bourbon must be made by one distiller at one American distillery in the same year. It must be aged for four years and packed at 100 proof, unlike a single barrel.
Double Barrel Bourbon
Double Barrel Bourbon has a clear difference from a single barrel because it uses another barrel after maturation. Unlike a single barrel stored in one barrel for a certain period, a double-barrel is more mellow as it is stored in two barrels for another few months.
Why is single barrel bourbon expensive?
Single barrel bourbon is expensive because it has limited bottles produced compared to other types of bourbon. A whiskey barrel may produce an average of 130- 220 bottles which is few at the low end. In fact, there is even a risk of low to no yield for some aged single barrel bourbons. Hence, the premium cost.
What is special about single barrel bourbon?
Single barrel bourbons come from the individual aging barrel, so it does not need to achieve consistency in flavor and taste. Every cask strength bourbon produced by a single barrel has a unique but delicious taste you should try.
There is such thing as a bourbon aged in a single barrel before bottling, and it is known as single barrel bourbon. The single barrel should be pure and not blended with other whiskeys. It can be a marketing strategy for whiskey producers to sell higher grade bourbons, but one thing is for sure, it has to be labeled true.
Now that we know what single barrel bourbon is and how it is different from other bourbon types, we can appreciate more of this premium spirit.
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.