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Widely considered as the most unadulterated expression of bourbon, the single barrel, also known as single cask, is highly sought-after. While the standard bottle of bourbon is typically made with a blend of whiskeys from multiple casks, single barrel indicates the liquor has spent its life in just one — and because the unique flavor profiles that can develop in a single barrel make these bourbons coveted products for whiskey lovers, that often means they command higher price tags.
That’s why VinePair asked bartenders around the country to share which single-barrel bourbon bottles they’re reaching for that meet both their budget and quality needs. As fall approaches and sipping spirits beckon, there are plenty of single-barrel bourbon options that won’t break the bank.
“Four Roses Single Barrel is my favorite for the price. The whiskey has a nice burnt sugar quality and has a balance with an almost rye-like spiciness, which I personally am fond of. It’s also not too expensive to make a delicious Old Fashioned with, so it’s a mainstay in my bar for sure.” — Gavin Humes, Bartender, Scratch Bar & Kitchen, Los Angeles
“Probably Knob Creek Single Barrel (which also happens to be cask-strength). It’s a go-to for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, and is also great on its own! I like it because it packs a little more punch than some other bourbons out there, [and] balances the sweetness with some rich spice.” — Hannah Brunner, Bartender, Lost Lake, Chicago
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“Jim Beam was one of the first bourbons in the game to offer a single-barrel expression, and they’ve continued to make it super accessible in price point (under $40) and taste. It’s mixing-friendly and lovely on its own. Roasted corn caramel and vanilla hit first, along with the backbone of oak char. There’s smoky notes, some orange peel, and honey sweetness during the mid-sip, followed by a subtle, peppery spice and dark cocoa bitterness. Finally, that corn caramel sweetness comes back on the palate, finishing with some sharp spice. My dad actually turned me on to this, as it became his go-to for Manhattans.” — Maureen Shannon, Head Bartender, In the Valley, Philadelphia
“When you want a single-barrel bourbon, you’re specifically looking for unique elements of flavor, so I love Black Dirt Distillery Single Barrel Bourbon. Made in the Black Dirt Region of New York, heavily featuring locally grown corn in the mash bill, this special bottle always packs a punch. Rich, and unrelentingly deep flavors like black cherry, cacao, and toasted almond give way to a more delicate finish of honey and sweet potato. For a price tag [of] around $70, you really can’t beat the price-to-quality ratio on this one.” — Jeremy Fowler, Wine and Beverage Director, Zuma, NYC
“From the first time I tasted it, I knew the Henry McKenna Single Barrel bourbon was my favorite, and I couldn’t believe how affordable it was. This bourbon is the longest-aged bottled-in-bond bourbon available today, and although it is high-proof, it is perfectly balanced with flavors of vanilla, caramel, oak, spice, and herbaceous notes. Because it is so perfectly balanced between spicy and sweet, it is just as good on the rocks or neat as it is in a cocktail.” — Kristel Poole, General Manager, Corpse Reviver Cocktail Bar, Durham, N.C.
“Russell’s Reserve Bourbon: This is a bold, punchy bourbon with obvious char flavors that are extremely cocktail-friendly, so much so we purchased two barrels of our own. Its value as a sipper cannot be understated; it’s a great play for someone who is looking for intensity with a decent integration of oak spice flavors.” — Pete Stanton, Head Bartender, Ai Fiori at The Langham, NYC
“Henry Mckenna Single Barrel. I recently had it from a plastic cup in a park, and it couldn’t have been more enjoyable.” — Tim Wiggins, Co-owner/Bar Manager, Yellowbelly and Retreat Gastropub, St. Louis
“Evan Williams Single Barrel is nearly unbeatable for the price. It’s got all the classic hallmarks of good bourbon: oak, spice, vanilla, and marshmallow. It’s one of the best sipping whiskeys that can regularly be found for less than $30. It’s fairly low-proof, so neat is the way I take it.” — Sean Umstead, Owner, Kingfisher/QueenBurger, Durham, N.C.
“My top pick would be American Prairie Bourbon from High West Distillery. There is always a story and a creative aspect in its whiskey production that I relate to and appreciate as a cocktail creator. The American Prairie Bourbon is warm and inviting enough, with its bright caramel notes, to sip leisurely on its own, and as a bold base for a classic bourbon cocktail. I recommend it in an Old Fashioned with Demerara syrup (raw brown sugar syrup), orange, and Angostura bitters.” — Antoine Hodge, Bar & Spirits Director, Baccarat Hotel New York, NYC
“Henry McKenna 10 Year Single Barrel Bottled-in-Bond is a fantastic offering for the price. The flavor profile is long and complex. The wood flavors can become slightly overbearing depending on the barrel, but this release consistently provides good density and depth of flavor — especially given the price point.” — Andrew Nichols, Head of Mixology, Atlas Restaurant Group, Baltimore
Published: September 16, 2020