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A Whiskey Writer Shares His Favorite Small Batch Whiskeys

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. In the process, he’s enjoyed more whisk(e)y drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, and visited more than fifty distilleries around the globe.

When it comes to trending whiskey terms, “small batch” is an important phrase to know. Put simply, a bottle receives the “small batch” appellation when it’s made up of a limited number of barrels. The problem is, there are no set rules as to what exactly defines “limited.” Whereas “bottled in bond” is strictly governed, small batch whiskey is up to the distillery’s discretion.

George Dickel considers small batch to be in the 10 barrel range. Elijah Craig pegs it closer to 200 barrels.

Though that’s a pretty massive range, it’s safe to assume that a small batch whiskey is made in more limited quantities than a distillery’s more mainstream offerings. This often makes these expressions more sought after (and expensive). To help you explore the style, I’ve cracked open my tasting notebook and shared six of my favorite small batch whiskeys below.

Four Roses Small Batch Select

ABV: 52%

Price: $63.99

The Story:

Small Batch Select is made up of six of Four Roses’ 10 bourbon recipes, each painstakingly hand-selected by master distiller Brent Elliot. This blend of whiskeys is 104 proof, non-chill filtered, and available only in small batches. It’s a step up from the brand’s original Small Batch and is available all year long.

Tasting Notes:

This whiskey deserves a long nosing before your first sip. You’ll be met with subtle hints of cinnamon, dried cherries, and charred oak. The palate offers up sweet cream, brown sugar, toasted oak, and Christmas spices. The finish is long, warming, and filled with rich vanilla and a subtle kick of cinnamon spice.

Bottom Line:

This is not a mixing bourbon. Drop a single ice cube in your glass, pour the bourbon over it, sit back, and sip slowly while the world goes by.

George Dickel Barrel Select

ABV: 43%

Price: $41.99

The Story:

When it comes to Tennessee whiskey, Jack Daniel’s is king. But if you’re looking for a change of pace, look no further than George Dickel. You can’t go wrong with any of Dickel’s whiskeys, but where the brand truly shines is with its George Dickel Barrel Select. Made using only ten barrels, all hand-selected by the master distiller, this high corn (84%) whiskey is aged between 10 and 12 years to give it a mellow, well-balanced flavor.

Tasting Notes:

To truly get the most out of this small batch whiskey, it needs to be nosed thoroughly. You’ll discover hints of charred oak, sweet cinnamon, and rich vanilla. The first sip is sweeter than you’d expect, due to its high corn content. On the palate, look for flavors of dried cherries, caramelized sugar, and cooking spices. The finish is long, warming, and filled with mellow caramel, and just a whiff of peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

This whiskey works well mixed into your favorite cocktail, but why would you want to waste it by mixing it with other flavors? It should be enjoyed neat or on a single rock to experience the nuanced notes.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

ABV: 47%

Price: $32

The Story:

Elijah Craig Small Batch is made with roughly 70 barrels, a relatively high number to be called small batch. Each is taken from the middle and upper floors of the barrelhouse.

Still, small batch bottles don’t get more classic than this one — as the expression has existed longer than the term itself.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find your nostrils filled with hints of charred oak, sweet cream, almonds, and subtle cinnamon spice. The first sip yields more toasted oak as well as rich vanilla, butterscotch, and mouth-watering caramel. The finish is medium in length, dry, warming, and ends with a pleasing warm kick of peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

While this is a great sipper, Elijah Craig Small Batch really shines in cocktails. Use it as a base for an old fashioned or Manhattan and you have the makings of a great evening.

Col. E. H. Taylor, Jr. Small Batch

ABV: 50%

Price: $125.99

The Story:

One of the most well-known founding fathers of the bourbon industry, Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr. was rewarded by having his name adorn one of the most south-after bottles of bourbon on the market. This small batch bourbon is made up of hand-selected barrels aged in the very warehouse built by E.H. Taylor, Jr., bottled in bond, and designed for slow sipping and nothing else.

Tasting Notes:

Take your time drawing in this bourbon before taking your first sip. You’ll be met with hints of sweet caramel, candied orange peel, vanilla cream, and just a hint of cinnamon. The first sip brings flavors of dried cherries, charred oak, cooking spices, and sweet cream. This extremely well-balanced, complex whiskey ends in a long, warming crescendo of subtle white peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

Doing anything other than sipping this bourbon neat or on the rocks is totally unacceptable.

Noah’s Mill

ABV: 57.1%

Price: $53.99

The Story:

Noah’s Mill is a bit of a mystery. Winner of multiple awards, it’s labeled under the Willett distillery portfolio, but the actual distillery where it was produced is unknown. What we do know is that it’s a small batch blend of bourbons between 4 and 20 years. While that might seem like a ridiculous range, it creates a unique, well-balanced, mellow bourbon perfectly suited for mixing or sipping.

Tasting Notes:

A unique whiskey like Noah’s Mill deserves a nice nosing (all of these picks do!). Right away, your senses will come alive with the aromas of dried fruits, spicy cinnamon, and almonds. The first sip brings forth charred oak, sweet cream, caramelized sugar, and subtle cooking spices. The finish is long, well-balanced, warming, and ends with a kick of cinnamon tempered with smooth, mellow caramel sweetness.

Bottom Line:

If you’re able to get your hands on a bottle of Noah’s Mill, you might not want to waste it by mixing it into cocktails. It makes a great old fashioned, but definitely save some for sipping over a single ice cube.

Booker’s

ABV: 63%

Price: $97.99

The Story:

Booker’s, an unfiltered, uncut, rugged bourbon is the highest alcohol content whiskey in Jim Beam’s “Small Batch Collection.” It’s bottled at cask strength, but the actual alcohol content varies based on each batch. On top of the differing ABVs, the age changes based on each seasonal release.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose you’ll first notice a raw kick of alcohol and the musty, mysterious smell of the rickhouse itself. This is followed by charred oak, sweet vanilla, and warm cinnamon. The first sip drops hints of sweet corn, brown sugar, toasted caramel, and dried fruits. The finish is long and warming, but also filled with Christmas spices, sweet cream, and butterscotch.

Bottom Line:

Some drinkers might not be able to handle the high alcohol content and might want to water it down by adding it to a cocktail. But you really shouldn’t mix with this one. Sip it slowly over gradually melting ice on a chilly fall evening.

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