Just like “cask strength,” you’ve likely seen the phrase “small batch” scrolled on the label of your favorite bottle of bourbon. But even if you’ve seen it often, you might not have ever stopped to think about what the phrase means. Well, like with many terms in the whiskey world, it’s complicated. While on one hand, it means exactly what it seems, it’s really not that simple.
In the basic terms, small batch refers to a whiskey that was created by mixing together a fairly small number of hand-picked barrels. But here’s where things get a little more complex. What exactly constitutes a “small” number of barrels is up for debate. Many distillers believe this means between 10 and 50 barrels, but some whiskey makers are melding three hundred or more. Regardless of the number of barrels used, it’s clear that if you see the term “small batch” the whiskey in the bottle was made using a much smaller number of casks than other bottlings from the same distillery.
Now, you might be wondering why this is important. Well, when you see the phrase “small batch,” you can bet you’ll be cracking open a special bottle of whiskey. Since the sample size is so much smaller, the nuanced flavors and aromas will be slightly different depending on the batch.
If you’re a fan of a small batch bourbon that’s released at various times of the year, like the offering from Elijah Craig, you’ll find memorable notes of caramel, vanilla beans, oak, and dried fruits, but the other slightly less dominant (but equally important) flavors and aromas will vary from batch to batch. This means that every time you buy it, you’re in for a new, exciting bourbon adventure.
The best part? You don’t have to spend a mortgage payment to enjoy a well-made, easy-sipping bottle of small batch bourbon. In fact, many quality options can be found for under $100.
Average price comes from the brand or wine-searcher.com, though may be different than what you see in your local shop.
Michter’s US-1 Small Batch
While the bourbon world is dominated by big names that are owned by large corporations (not that there’s anything wrong with that as long as they keep cranking out great juice), it’s nice when an independent company like Michter’s receives acclaim for its myriad high-quality whiskeys. One of its best is Michter’s US-1 Small Batch Bourbon. This 91.4-proof bourbon was matured in fire-charred, new, American oak casks. The result is a complex, easy-drinking, well-priced whiskey with notes of rich oak, stone fruits, buttery caramel, and toasted vanilla beans.
Jefferson’s Very Small Batch
Jefferson’s gained attention for what originally seemed like a gimmick. Its Ocean Aged bourbon that traverses the globe in a ship while it ages. Well, the brand also makes a surprisingly great small batch bourbon called Jefferson’s Very Small Batch. This small batch blend begins with a base of Jefferson’s Bourbon. It’s blended with three other hand-selected bourbons with different mash bills and flavor profiles. The result is a nuanced, well-balanced sipping whiskey with hints of candied orange peels, dried cherries, butterscotch, vanilla, and oak.
Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch
If you’re new to bourbon (or a purist), you might believe that great bourbon can only come from Kentucky. Brands like Wyoming Whiskey with its award-winning Small Batch Bourbon are trying their best to change that perception. Wyoming’s flagship expression, its Small Batch is distilled, matured, and bottled in Kirby, Wyoming. Great neat, on the rocks, or mixed into your favorite whiskey-based cocktail, it’s beloved for its flavor profile of crème brulee, toffee, vanilla, cinnamon candy, and wintry spices.
Evan Williams 1783
This 90-proof, small batch bourbon gets its name because 1783 was the year in which Evan Williams founded the first distillery in Kentucky, starting a bourbon revolution. It’s a blend of hand-selected barrels that consists of less than 200 casks. It’s made using a traditional sour mash recipe and matured in charred American oak barrels. It’s highlighted by a nose of caramel corn and vanilla beans and a palate of rich oak, honey, dried fruits, toffee, and light spices. It’s a great neat sipper on an unseasonably cold evening.
Bowman Brothers Small Batch
This Virginia straight bourbon was crafted to pay homage to the Bowman Brothers (John J., Abraham, Joseph, and Isaac). The four brothers were in the Virginia militia during the American Revolutionary War. Distilled three times, this small batch bourbon is a remembrance of the heroism of the brothers and the countless others who bravely fought for our independence. It’s well-known for its value price as well as its palate of cinnamon, toffee, vanilla, dried fruits, and bold, charred oak.
Iron Smoke Straight Bourbon
If you haven’t yet tried Iron Smoke Straight Bourbon, what are you waiting for? This award-winning, highly-rated small batch bourbon is distilled and matured in Fairport, New York, a picturesque town located along the historic Erie Canal in Western New York. This four grain bourbon gets its unique, memorable lightly smoky, brown sugar, vanilla, caramel apple, oaky flavor profile from the use of Applewood smoked wheat.
Elijah Craig Small Batch
There are few small batch bourbons as beloved and eagerly awaited as Elijah Craig Small Batch. Named for the former Baptist minister that some people believe (although it’s up for debate) invented bourbon when he decided to mature his corn whiskey in charred barrels in 1789. This small batch bourbon that carries its name varies in aroma and flavor from batch to batch, but you can bet that when you crack open a bottle you’ll be immersed in a world of honey, oak, caramel, and toasted marshmallows.
Knob Creek 9 Year Small Batch
Knob Creek is one of Jim Beam’s small batch brands (like Booker’s, Baker’s, and Basil Hayden). Its flagship expression is its 100-proof small batch bourbon that spends a minimum of nine years aging in new, charred American oak barrels. It’s known for its flavors of dried fruits, sticky toffee, vanilla beans, wintry spices, and rich oak. It’s the kind of bottle you buy once and come back to again and again.
Four Roses Small Batch
Another big name in the bourbon world, Four Roses makes one of the most popular small batch bourbons on the market. Known for its smooth, mellow flavor profile of ripe berries, raisins, oak, vanilla, and toffee, it’s a blend of hand-selected barrels that carry a minimum age of six or seven years. For such a high-quality, memorable whiskey, it’s remarkably well-priced. This is yet another expression that will find a permanent place on your home bar cart or in your liquor cabinet.
Garrison Brothers Small Batch
If there’s one state that’s really carrying the banner for why drinkers should step out of Kentucky to try a great bourbon, it’s Texas. Balcones, Firestone & Robertson, and of course Garrison Brothers are doing big things in the Lone Star State. The latter makes a small batch bourbon made with a mash bill of corn, two-row barley, and Red Winter wheat that’s it’s well-known for its notes of candied apples, toffee, vanilla, honey, fresh leather, cinnamon, and oak. Admittedly, only the 375 ml bottle is under $50, but Garrison Brothers calls this size the Boot Flask, and if you’re looking for a quality small batch to carry around with you on your travels, this is the bottle to turn to.