The term “single barrel” has been thrown around quite frequently in modern whiskey times. It became a huge craze over the past decade and shows no signs of declining in popularity. You may know it by its other monikers such as, “store pick” or “private barrel”. But what does it mean for a whiskey to be a barrel pick?
Defining a Single Barrel
In its simplest terms, it means just what the name implies. Somebody picked that particular barrel out of all the others. People love whiskey and the process of picking a barrel adds a whole new aspect of personalization to the experience. The process of selecting a barrel varies from distillery to distillery. Some have you come into their tasting room and have an elegant display of already poured glasses in a row ready for your tasting. Others take you into the rickhouse, drill a hole in the barrel, hold a glass up to that stream of golden goodness and sample it straight out of the barrel.
To fully realize and express the possibilities and uniqueness of a barrel pick, let’s first take a brief look at the aging process whiskey undergoes.
How Whiskey Changes as It Ages
Aging whiskey is equal parts science and art. It’s something that can be regulated and measured until you’re blue in the face. Even after all that effort you often end up with two completely different finished products. No two barrels of whiskey are identical.
Quite simply, it’s all the small variations that take place during the journey a single barrel of whiskey goes through. A barrel may have been charred for just a moment longer, resulting in more carbonized wood. And, fire isn’t uniform, so the heat distribution is different. The barrel could have a different chemical makeup, even if it’s from the same tree since their growth isn’t symmetrical.
When the whiskey is in the barrel, where it’s placed in a rickhouse can drastically change the finished product.
If you’re closer to a window, there’s more fluctuation in the temperature, and wind, rain, and pressure can more readily alter the way the whiskey breathes in the barrel.
As you can see in the picture in this section, these two barrels are from the same warehouse, the same age, and the same kind of whiskey. However, the barrels look very different due to their placement in the warehouse. These changes compound the whiskey’s changes over the years, leading to very different end products.
These differences lead to nearly endless possibilities when selecting one particular barrel. Many brands you’re familiar with may blend hundreds of barrels together to try and mitigate these differences to make their product more consistent. However, whiskey enthusiasts around the world will forego that consistency in search of something truly unique. This is why the single barrel has become so popular as of late, and why most distilleries now offer robust single barrel programs.
One of our partners, Rabbit Hole Distillery is jumping into the mix with their very own barrel pick program.
Rabbit Hole Distillery has just recently launched a very limited single barrel program. Their first release featured the palate of Fred Minnick, one of the most well-known names in whiskey today.
They featured incredible labels with art inspired by “Alice In Wonderland.” A perfect selection as they yet again travel down another rabbit hole, this time in the form of a single barrel program.
These labels were designed by renown watercolorist and fashion illustrator Kasiq Jungwoo Lee. And the labels turned out absolutely amazing.
One of the other amazing things is that these single barrels are at cask strength in all of their high-proof glory.
We absolutely love cask strength expressions here at Whiskey Culture because you get to see exactly what happened to that whiskey right at the end of its journey. You get to see how nature shaped the whiskey without water altering it’s content.
That isn’t to say that proofed-down whiskey isn’t amazing, but there’s just something about cask-strength that we really appreciate.
And, we’ve had some of Rabbit Hole’s expressions right out of the barrel, and they are absolutely phenomenal! One of the things that people may not realize is that some higher-proof expressions can actually be sweeter and easier to drink. Sometimes even more than when they’re watered down (provided you can stomach a more punchy product). Sometimes high proof whiskey can be just as accessible as lower proof entries, and Rabbit Hole’s barrel strength expressions don’t disappoint!
If you find one, run, don’t walk, to the register because you are going to WANT to try these.