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Whiskey Taste Test: A Small Batch, Blind Bourbon Bottle Battle

Small batch bourbon is a confusing designation. In the simplest terms, “small batch” is used to notate that a whiskey is made using a smaller number of barrels than the same brand’s regular expression. These barrels are picked by the master distiller or master blender(s) to complement each other and create the desired flavor profile, just like every other bourbon. In this case, there are just fewer of them picked.

The tricky thing is that “small” means something different to every brand. To some, this means five barrels. To others, it means 50. And for some, this means 200, 300, or even more.

While the definition for small batch is confusing, it doesn’t stop brands from slapping the phrase on their expressions. It’s become a statement that denotes quality — even if it doesn’t have strict parameters. So, in an effort to finally determine “small batch” bourbon supremacy, I completed another blind taste test.

Our contenders today are:

Big Brands:

  • Elijah Craig Small Batch
  • Four Roses Small Batch
  • Evan Williams Small Batch
  • Larceny Small Batch

Smaller Brands:

  • Bowman Brothers Small Batch
  • Smoke Wagon Small Batch
  • Garrison Brothers Small Batch
  • Bib & Tucker Small Batch

Let’s get our drink on!

Part 1: The Taste

Taste #1:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey’s nose isn’t very complicated. There are aromas of brown sugar, vanilla, and dried fruits. On the palate, I found hints of clover honey, toffee, and slight cinnamon. The finish is long, warming, and exceedingly mellow.

This might not be the most exciting whiskey, but it’s highly sippable.

Taste #2:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

A lot is going on with this whiskey’s nose. I first noticed hints of dried cherries, raisins, toasted vanilla beans, and spicy charred oak. Sipping it revealed notes of cinnamon, cloves, buttery caramel, wood char, and sweet cream. It all ends with a warming, slightly smoky, sweet finish.

Taste #3:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a little lighter than I’d prefer. There are notes of vanilla, wood char, and maybe light corn, but not much else. The palate is very sweet with hints of caramel corn, buttercream frosting, and just a hint of spice at the very end.

Overall, not a bad bourbon. Just not very memorable.

Taste #4:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is loaded with aromas like caramel apples, dry hay, pipe tobacco, clover honey, and spicy cinnamon sugar. The palate is filled with flavors like candied orange peels, candied pecans, buttery caramel, and more cinnamon. The ending is long, filled with warming heat, and finishes with a nice nutty sweetness.

Taste #5:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose isn’t as exciting as I like. It’s highlighted by aromas of vanilla beans, dried fruits, and just a hint of cinnamon. There isn’t much else going on with the nose, though. The palate is also fairly one-dimensional with notes of dried cherries, wood spice, and some caramelized sugar at the finish.

Taste #6:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey’s nose was surprisingly herbal with heavy mint paired with caramel, vanilla beans, and slight peppery spice. When I took a sip, I found flavors of dried cherries, raisins, toasted oak, vanilla, chocolate fudge, and a finish of buttery caramel sweetness.

Taste #7:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is heavy on spicy rye, but it’s mellowed with toffee, vanilla beans, and sweet honey aromas. Drinking it brings forth flavors of charred oak, buttery caramel, vanilla beans, and a nice kick of cracked black pepper. The finish is spicy, sweet, and pleasantly dry.

Taste #8:

Christopher Osburn

Tasting Notes:

The nose is littered with aromas of freshly cut grass, vanilla beans, and peppery rye. Sipping it brought me more vanilla, buttery caramel, and raisins. The finish was highlighted by slight peppery spice and sweet corn.

Overall, a pretty decent bourbon — though it features a little more rye spice than I’d prefer.

Part 2: The Ranking

8) Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch (Taste #3)

Evan Williams

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $20

The Whiskey:

Re-introduced with a new label and bottle, Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch was named to pay homage to the aforementioned Evan Williams and his founding of the first distillery in Kentucky. Made up of less than 200 barrels, it carries no age statement (but it’s believed to be between six and eight years old).

Bottom Line:

It’s clear this is an inexpensive bottle. It tastes very light and lacks the complexity I look for in a sipping bourbon. As a mixer, it’s one of our favorites!

7) Four Roses Small Batch (Taste #5)

Four Roses

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $38

The Whiskey:

Four Roses is known for its complex bourbons and its Small Batch is no different. It’s made up of a blend of four different bourbon recipes each hand-picked by the master distiller after maturing between six and seven years. The result is a 90 proof rich, smooth, slow-sipping whiskey.

Bottom Line:

It should be noted that this isn’t a bad whiskey. It’s not harsh, it’s well-balanced. It’s just more of a one-trick pony with caramel taking center stage.

6) Bib & Tucker Small Batch (Taste #8)

Bib & Tucker

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $53

The Whiskey:

This highly regarded small-batch bourbon has a mash bill of 70 percent corn, 26 percent rye, and four percent barley. It’s distilled two times (the first time in a column still and the second time in a copper pot still). It’s aged in charred, American oak casks for at least six years. The result is a sweet, rich, slightly spicy whiskey.

Bottom Line:

This is a great sipping bourbon. Especially if you enjoy whiskeys that have a sweet corn flavor that ramps up to peppery rye on the finish.

5) Larceny Small Batch (Taste #1)

Larceny

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $28

The Whiskey:

This award-winning small-batch bourbon has garnered countless fans since its launch in 2012. Instead of spicy rye, this whiskey’s second grain (after corn) is wheat. The result is a softer, more mellow whiskey that deserves to be sipped neat or with a single ice cube.

Bottom Line:

Sometimes less is more. While this whiskey leans heavily on the caramel and vanilla notes, it’s soft, velvety, and perfect for slow sipping.

4) Elijah Craig Small Batch (Taste #2)

Elijah Craig

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $32

The Whiskey:

Many people believe that Elijah Craig invented bourbon when he decided to age his whiskey in charred barrels. This small-batch expression is one of many that pays tribute to the whiskey innovator. This 94 proof small batch bourbon is the brand’s flagship expression. It’s aged in Level 3 charred oak barrels to guarantee a smooth, rich, robust flavor profile.

Bottom Line:

This is a really complex expression. It’s loaded with fruity, caramel, and slightly spicy flavors that are well-suited for late summer, early fall sipping.

3) Bowman Brothers Small Batch (Taste #6)

Bowman

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $36

The Story:

This 90 proof, award-winning whiskey is named for John J., Abraham, Joseph, and Isaac Bowman who were all American Revolutionary war soldiers. This small-batch bourbon carries a mash bill of corn, rye, and malted barley and is distilled three times before being aged in new, charred American oak barrels.

Bottom Line:

This is one of the most well-rounded whiskeys I’ve tasted today. It has nice flavors of mint leaves, toffee, vanilla, and slight spices that make it highly sippable.

2) Garrison Brothers Small Batch (Taste #4)

Garrison Brothers

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $85

The Whiskey:

Garrison Brothers is a big name in the whiskey world. This Texas-based distillery has made it its goal to change people’s minds about where bourbon can be made. Its Small Batch is made using corn, red winter wheat, and two-row barley, all sourced from area farms. It’s distilled, aged, and bottled proudly in Hye, Texas.

Bottom Line:

Caramel, tobacco, pecans, vanilla, this whiskey ticks all the bourbon boxes I’m looking for in a great, after-dinner sipper.

1) Smoke Wagon Small Batch (Taste #7)

Smoke Wagon

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $55

The Story:

First released in 2016, this award-winning whiskey is blended in a state that really doesn’t have a lot of clout in the bourbon world: Nevada. That shouldn’t dissuade you from trying this high-rye bourbon. This non-chill-filtered bourbon is created by blending more mature sourced whiskeys with younger expressions from the distillery. The result is a complex, spicy, surprisingly mellow bourbon.

Bottom Line:

If you enjoy your bourbon to have a gently spicy, peppery kick, this is the dram for you. It’s mellow, sweet, and has a nice final flourish of spice that demands to be enjoyed slowly.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.

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