The weather is turning. The outdoors are slowly opening up. But that doesn’t mean that we’re putting down our whiskey and opting for lighter spirits like vodka, tequila, or rum instead (though we’re drinking those, too!). The fact is, we drink whiskey all year long around these parts. In hot weather, there are few simple cocktails we enjoy more than a highball with soda water, whiskey, and a lime wedge.
When it comes to picking whiskeys, we definitely try not to leave anyone out. We’ll mix (and sip) bourbons, ryes, Japanese whiskies, and pretty much every other variety of the spirit from all over the world. But the fact is, we get especially amped when we get our hands on a bottle of small batch whiskey.
You may have seen this term written on a bottle of whiskey before, maybe you even know have a sense for it denotes. While there’s technically no specific guidelines, “small batch” generally means the juice inside was made by using the contents of only a specific number of selected barrels. Which also means it typically costs a little more.
Since you’re likely to spend a little more cash to grab one of these bottles, we decided to ask the pros what they prefer when it comes to these much-loved expressions. A handful of our favorite bartenders told us their go-to small batch whiskeys for spring (and summer) drinking.
Barrell American Vatted Malt Whiskey
Pete Stanton, head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham in New York City
American Vatted Malt from Barrell Bourbon, I love the rich nutty Tennessee whiskey barrels with a bit of age. It’s perfect for sipping or a bold stirred cocktail. They can hit that sweet spot of rich ranch flavors without being too over-extracted with wood.
Angel’s Envy Bourbon
Jim Richard, chef at Stinky’s Fish Camp in South Walton, Florida
I don’t know anyone that that can deny the flavor and character of Rip Van Winkle, however, that is usually reserved for very special occasions so my more accessible go-to is Angel’s Envy because it’s smooth layered character yields complex flavor profiles.
Glenfiddich Winter Storm
Gord Hannah, head bartender at The Drake Hotel in Toronto
Small batch always translates to a sippin’ whiskey for me. When I sit down to a sip on a whisky, it is usually from Scotland. My favorite scotch whisky of late is the Winter Storm from the Glenfiddich Experimental Series. It is a small batch of 21-year-old scotch that is finished in Canadian ice wine barrels. This is a rare bottle and has gained notoriety among collectors. I was lucky enough to try it a few times and I have been on the hunt for this elusive bottle ever since.
Widow Jane 10-Year-Old Bourbon
Ian Clark, bar supervisor at Topside in Baltimore
Widow Jane 10-Year Bourbon out of New York City is my favorite small batch bourbon that is readily available. It’s extremely rich in flavor while being quite well-balanced; very complex flavors while retaining a solid smoothness.
Old Bardstown Estate Bourbon
Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Yellowbelly in St. Louis
Right now, I am super into the small batch Old Bardstown Estate bourbon. It’s not the most flashy or sexy, but it’s damn good. It is 10 years old and a little over 100 proof and in my opinion has an amazing balance of sweetness and heat. It’s versatile in stirred cocktails and also tastes great neat.
1792 Small Batch Bourbon
Brandi Carter, beverage manager at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi
When I go for small batch whiskey, I always go for bourbon. Specifically, I like 1792 Small Batch because its fruity notes lend itself to a nice, creamy duck fat washed whiskey.
Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old Bourbon
Brooke Baker, general manager at Underdog in New York City
When I think of small batch whiskey, one immediately comes to mind. I love Jefferson’s Reserve Very Old. It has a lovely spice with subtle banana notes. It works beautifully in a boulevardier.
Catalina Borer, bartender at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia
So many to choose from. I’ll compromise and give you my top three and point out my favorite. Angel’s Envy, Blanton’s, and Whistle Pig. They are all outstanding. If I had to take my pick with all three bottles in front of me I (think) would have to go with Blanton’s. Only because I would be crazy not to have a go at it when it’s available. It has an unmistakable toasted chocolate-butterscotch overnote that is so powerful both in nose and palate with the perfect touch of smooth cherry and peppercorn hints.
Four Roses Small Batch Select
Piero Procida, bartender at The London West Hollywood in Los Angeles
Four Roses Small Batch Select. It’s aged a minimum of 6-7 years and very well balanced. It’s very smooth and easy to drink with a wonderful long-lasting aftertaste. Drink it with some dark chocolate and watch it come roaring back with even more flavor. It does not overpower you with spice and pepper typical of so many bourbons, yet instead has wonderful hints of sweet caramel and oak. It has won many accolades for a small batch whiskey and is one of the faster-moving bourbons at our hotel.
Wright & Brown Distilling Rye
H. Joseph Erhmann, proprietor of ELIXIR in San Francisco
Oakland’s Wright & Brown Distilling is making some great whiskey. Their rye whiskey is a go-to for me and my staff. It’s an excellent representation of where California whiskey distillers are today in the rye world in particular. Sonoma County Distilling, Spirit Works, Old World Spirits, and Corbin Cash round out a great list of small batch California rye distillers that continue to grow.
Noah’s Mill Bourbon
Kyle Harlan, beverage director of Mission Taco Joint in Kansas City
Noah’s Mill or the Rowan’s Creek. I like to make things like Manhattans, old fashioneds, and lion’s tails with the Rowan’s Creek. The Noah’s Mill is my celebration bottle. It is hands down my favorite all-around whiskey that I have ever tried. (I have tried a LOT of whiskey). Smooth, rich, and well worth the price.