How would you like to own a barrel of bourbon? Or batch two barrels together for your own unique small batch? Once the exclusive domain of bourbon clubs and choice bars, now any whiskey lover with the desire and some determination can buy a barrel of bourbon.
The U.S. three-tier liquor laws require that a wholesaler purchase from the supplier and then sell to the retailer, who sells to you. In other words, you can’t just walk into the warehouse, grab a barrel, and check it in your airport luggage. Fortunately, because you’ll be spending between $5,000 and $12,000 in their store, most retailers will gladly help make your dream come true by cooperating with your chosen distillery.
The goal is to achieve something uniquely suited for your group’s palate. No two barrels taste the same, so this is a true tasting study.
At Four Roses, the barrel selection process provides you the rare opportunity of tasting up to 20 barrels, two of each recipe, and discerning for yourself how each differs. Four Roses will send samples to your retailer and you can taste on your own time, or you can pack your bags and taste at the distillery’s Coxs Creek private selection facility. There, Four Roses master distiller Brent Elliott may join you and assist with your selection.*
In fact, getting to taste and select with the master distiller can be one of the big perks of buying a barrel. For Matthew Landan, owner of the popular Louisville whiskey bar Haymarket, that’s the real joy. Landan loves picking Wild Turkey barrels because master distiller Eddie Russell picks right alongside him. “Eddie has a certain way of making a rickhouse feel like a living room as he opens up barrel after barrel. Even once you’ve picked a barrel with him, he offers to open up more barrels from other product lines just for the fun of it,” Landan says.
Woodford Reserve tried a single barrel program fifteen years ago, until Woodford master distiller Chris Morris determined he was uncomfortable with a single barrel concept. “Woodford Reserve has always been a batched product,” Morris says. “I came up with the concept of letting the customer personally create the smallest batch possible—a two-barrel batch—which would help even out the big differences between individual barrel flavor profiles and allow them to have some fun at the same time.”
Woodford chooses six barrels using the same parameters as for their Woodford Reserve Distiller’s Select, with different ages and warehouses ensuring a variety of flavor profiles. Morris tastes the six barrels with you at barrel strength. Four barrels make it to the batching round, where you create two-barrel batches for four unique flavor profiles. The barrel proof whiskey is cut to 90 proof, as it will be bottled, and you make the final selection.
Most distillers require private selections to use the same proof and other packaging specifications as their standard bottling. But some distilleries, like Four Roses, allow you to bottle it at any proof you choose, which for most means barrel strength and non-chill filtered.
However it’s bottled or batched, your private selection is unlike anything in the world and is uniquely yours.
*Update November 2018: Four Roses currently offers private barrel selections to retailers and bar/restaurant operators only.