Single barrel bourbon whiskey is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds. The style of bourbon is all about the refinement found in a single barrel of whiskey. Finding depth, complexity, and drinkability in a single barrel is kind of a miracle, as the vast majority of whiskey barrels are blended, into various expressions from “small batch” to “barrel proof” to “limited editions.”
The idea that a single barrel of whiskey can hit a perfect flavor profile to be bottled on its own is exceedingly rare, especially when you get into big age statements where a million factors can alter the booze in ways that force it to be blended out. Of course, that makes it even more magical when it happens. All of this is to say, it’s time for a single barrel bourbon blind tasting.
For this tasting, I pulled some brand new single barrel bourbons and put them up against some stone-cold classics. For the most part, I’ve kept this blind tasting in the mid-range of $25 to $75 per bottle. But I couldn’t help myself, so I threw in a ridiculous bottle just to see if it’d really dominate (and to make it more fun for me).
Our lineup today is:
- Evan Williams Single Barrel
- Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel 7 Years Minimum
- Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel
- Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- George Dickel Tennessee Single Barrel Whisky 15 Years
- King of Kentucky Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel
- Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey 5 Years Old
- Jim Beam Single Barrel
Let’s see if that big-hitting King of Kentucky beats out some of these seminal favorites and newbies.
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Part 1: The Tasting
This has a really nice nose full of woody cherry, salted caramel with a tart apple edge, and a soft leatheriness. The palate feels and tastes “classic” with notes of wintry spices (eggnog especially) with a lush creaminess supported by soft vanilla, a hint of orange zest, and plenty of spicy cherry tobacco. The end is supple with a hint of tart apple tobacco with a light caramel candy finish.
This isn’t crazy good but it’s damn fine.
A hint of cellar funkiness is countered by a soft leather with dashes of sourdough rye crust, dry cornmeal, and a hint of anise next to a creamy cherry/vanilla base on the nose. The palate leans into the vanilla with a dusting of cinnamon and allspice (maybe some cardamon too) next to creamy eggnog with a thin line of dried dill and fennel. The end leans woody with soft winter spices and an echo of sour candy spiked with chili pepper.
This felt a little like rye masquerading as a bourbon thanks to that herbal not in the middle and that funk on the nose. Otherwise, this is a pretty solid sipper.
The nose draws you in with classic vibes from top to bottom thanks to rich vanilla smoothness, wintry spices, a hint of cedar, and a mix of sour cherry and tart apple. The palate stays very classic with old boot leather next to dry cedar bark, a layer of marzipan, and a distant hint of orange blossom with a whisper of honey. The end finishes with a good hint of spiced cherry tobacco and old leather next to mild nuttiness.
This is just f*cking great.
The nose on this meanders from sheet cake with vanilla frosting toward chili-laced dark chocolate ice cream to old leather gloves with a hint of potting soil, soft cedar planks, and a twinge of an orange creamsicle. The taste balances a lemon meringue pie with silky cream soda, red peppercorns, and thick toffee sauce with plenty of brown butter. The end has a bit of woody spice next to spiced cherry syrup, a crack of black pepper, and crumb more of that cake from the nose with a counter of those old leather gardening gloves finishing off the taste.
This is a winner right here.
The nose opens with a slice of cherry pie with a vanilla sauce, some apple tobacco, and a good snifter full of Necco Wafer. The palate leans into tart red berries with a Cherry Coke mixed with a Yoo-Hoo vibe next to apple-cider-soaked oak staves with a whisper of smoky old leather tobacco pouches. The chalky wafer comes back at the end with a bit of black licorice countered by sweet/spicy cherry tobacco and a dry firewood finish.
This is a bit all over the place — and definitely a TN whiskey (thanks to that chalkiness). I like it but can’t place it after the last two killer pours.
This opens very tannic-y (and old) with a mix of pitchy firewood, old honey barrels, dried cranberry, nutmeg, old vanilla husks, cornmeal pancake batter, and a hint of chili-laced tobacco. The taste is bold with a hot spice mix of cinnamon and dried anchos that’s tempered by lush vanilla and creamy dark chocolate with a hint of sweet cherry and old wicker rounding things out. The end is woody and full of potting soil with a hint of old chewing tobacco next to orchard wood.
This is very obviously the King of Kentucky as the age is unmistakable here. The thing is, it’s not as easy-going or inviting as some of the other bottles on the list. I’m going to have to think about where to put this.
This opens with a mix of cotton candy next to buttered popcorn with plenty of vanilla, cherry pie, caramel, and old leather rounding out the nose. The palate hints at cinnamon sticks and orange oils as creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg lead to Almond Joy and sweetgrass with a toffee underbelly. The end leans into the dark chocolate with a nutty edge while dried tart berries and sweet wood round out the finish.
This is deep and easy to drink. It also feels pretty classic. This is a good one.
The nose is a little thin but does come with vanilla, caramel corn balls, and a good dose of spiced cherry pie. The palate largely follows the same path while layering in floral honey, orange zest, and mild cherry tobacco with a leather edge. The end is a little thin but has plenty of wintry spices, caramel, and cherry that lead to a lingering sense of cherry tobacco in an old cedar box.
This was pretty good but the lightest sip of the bunch by a fair bit.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Jim Beam Single Barrel — Taste 8
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this juice is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
This is a pretty solid whiskey and it’s in last place — there are some killers on this list, folks. I like this as an easy everyday sipper on a rock or two. It’s also a great cocktail base, especially for a simple old fashioned.
7. George Dickel Tennessee Single Barrel Whisky 15 Years — Taste 5
Average Price: $69
The whiskey showcases Dickel’s vast warehouses and the gems they have hidden deep on those ricks. This is a very old whiskey, all things considered. The juice is from single barrels — aged 15 years or more — and the proof varies accordingly (sometimes it’s cut with water, too).
This feels like the biggest outlier thanks to that clear Tennessee whiskey vibe. Overall, this is still a solid pour of whiskey at an outrageously affordable price (relative to the cost of double-digit aged single barrels on the market these days).
6. Baker’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel 7 Years Minimum — Taste 2
Average Price: $59
Baker’s is pulled from single barrels in specific warehouses and ricks across the Beam facility in Clermont, Kentucky. The juice is always at least seven years old. In this case, it was aged eight years and one month before bottling as-is.
This is another outlier. The taste is a bit all over the place but does work. I tend to use this more for unique cocktails (Sazerac is a good choice).
5. Evan Williams Single Barrel — Taste 1
Average Price: $32
This is Heaven Hill’s hand-selected single barrel Evan Williams expression. The juice is from a single barrel, labeled with its distillation year, proofed just above 86, and bottled as is.
This is always a pleasant surprise. It’s also amazingly affordable for a single barrel whiskey. I tend to use this for great cocktails more than anything else though.
4. King of Kentucky Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel (5th Edition) — Taste 6
Average Price: $249 MSRP ($2,814)
This year’s King of Kentucky is a 15-year-old bourbon made from a mash of 79% corn, 11% rye, and 10% malted barley. The spirit — made at the Brown-Forman Distillery in West Louisville (Shively) — went into the barrel on December 18, 2009, at 125% entry-proof. After 15 long years, only about 35% of the whiskey was left in the barrel. 43 single barrels were then chosen for this release and individually bottled as-is, yielding about 3,500 bottles of King of Kentucky.
This was a wood and spice bomb compared to the other whiskeys on this list. I would also argue this is the most “acquired taste” whiskey on this list, hence it ended up right in the middle. Maybe it’s for you. Maybe it’s not. Read the tasting notes again to decide before you pay the big bucks for it (or try it at a high-end whiskey bar).
3. Nashville Barrel Company Single Barrel Straight Bourbon Whiskey 5 Years Old — Taste 7
Average Price: $90
Nashville Barrel Co. is doing some of the best work in the bottling game, full stop. They’re sourcing incredible barrels (a lot from MGP) and bottling them as-is without any cutting, filtering, or fussing — they let the whiskey speak for itself and it’s kind of magical. This expression tends to be five to eight-year-old barrels that will vary slightly in the flavor profile while always leaning into bold and distinct flavors.
This is the “just delicious” part of the ranking. These top three are all classic yet deep and rewarding sips. This was a little warmer, so it’s third instead of second of first, but that’s splitting the thinnest of hairs.
2. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel — Taste 3
Average Price: $79
Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.
Seriously, the top three are pretty much interchangeable. That said, this was that tiny bit more refined with a tad less heat that the NBC bottle above. Some would call it “smoother” and I would tend to agree.
1. Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $55
These single barrel releases from Huber Winery’s Starlight Distillery are starting to light up the craft bourbon scene. The Indiana juice is real craft from a family tradition going back to the mid-1800s on the same farm (this isn’t MGP). Depending on the barrel, the mash here is a unique one with 58% corn, 27% rye, and 15% malted barley. That whiskey is aged for at least four years before it’s considered ready for single barrel bottling as-is.
This was the best bottle of the day. It has that perfect balance of warmth, lushness, and classic bourbon vibes. It’s super easy to drink while offering a great palate that takes you on a journey. This is a winner.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Well, there you go, the most expensive and elite bottle didn’t win. In fact, it didn’t really come close. The wild thing is, I loved that King of Kentucky pour on its own when I first tasted it. But when perched next to seven other pours, different — read: bigger — flavor profiles get highlighted on the palate. And that’s the big problem with blind taste tests, the subtleties get lost in favor of the big notes that differentiate pour after pour. It is what it is.
Overall, the top three picks on this list are all bottles you should be drinking. They’re stellar whiskeys on their own or in a blind taste test. Still, if you do buy only one bottle, make it that Starlight Bourbon — it’s a truly great bottle of whiskey.