There are so many regulations in American whiskey, but one frequently used term that has no real legal definition is “single barrel.” The commonly accepted meaning is right there in the name. Most whiskey releases are made in batches by blending together many different barrels, but a single barrel whiskey is bottled from just one individual barrel. The flavor will vary depending on which barrel that is, with factors like placement in the warehouse, the location of that warehouse and the specific temperature and humidity in the location all affecting the character of the whiskey as it matures. Even two barrels filled with the same new make spirit on the same day and placed next to each other will have some variation in flavor.
All of that is what makes whiskey fans so interested in single barrel releases. They allow you to taste a unique component of what goes into a bigger release and ultimately can lead to understanding a particular whiskey better. Some single barrel whiskeys are bottled at barrel strength, while others are proofed down by adding water. There are definitely more bourbon single barrel releases than rye whiskey, but the latter category has a pretty good showing from some of the big distilleries in Kentucky and beyond.
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Below, we pick some of the best single barrel ryes to try now. We included tasting notes, but as mentioned before, each barrel will vary a little bit (and sometimes a lot). If you really want to get into the whiskey weeds, pick up a single barrel release and the corresponding core expression and taste them side by side to see if you can find any thread connecting the two.
If you didn’t realize Michter’s rye whiskey was a single barrel release, you’re probably not alone. But this is low-key one of the best single barrel ryes out there, a Kentucky-style whiskey (meaning the mashbill has somewhere above the legally required 51% rye grain) that is aged for about four years and bottled at 84.8 proof. Michter’s started out by sourcing and contract distilling but has been making its own whiskey for years now, which means there’s a good chance that what’s in these younger expressions was produced in-house.
Wild Turkey’s rye whiskey is a great budget option, but the slightly more expensive version from the Russell’s Reserve brand is better, and there’s a single barrel version of it available as well. This is another Kentucky-style rye, bottled at a hefty 104 proof and non-chill filtered for maximum flavor, most of which comes from the distillery’s use of No. 4 alligator char barrels. The whiskey has a nice balance of sweetness and spice on the palate, and while you should definitely try this neat, it works wonders in a Manhattan as well.
Jack Daniel’s added a rye whiskey to its lineup a few years ago, marking the first time the distillery deviated from its tried and true Old No. 7 mashbill. There’s more rye grain in here than some of the distillery’s Kentucky counterparts — 70%, to be exact, with 18% corn and 12% malted barley. The signature Jack Daniel’s notes of fruit and vanilla mingle with black pepper and dried fruit flavors here. The proof ranges from about 125 to 140, so you may have a hot one on your hands depending on which bottle you find, so adding a little water might be a good move. Overall, this whiskey is further proof that Jack’s recent portfolio extensions have been on the right track.
New Riff has been around for nearly a decade, and bottled-in-bond whiskey has been its singular mission (100 proof, aged for at least four years, produced at one distillery during one distilling season). If you’re looking for a single barrel version of the distillery’s rye whiskey, you can either come in and select your own barrel or have the New Riff team do it for you. Either way, the whiskey is bottled at cask strength with no chill filtration, the labels are customizable and the whiskey is a fantastic 95% rye with a healthy dose of spice that’s balanced by oak, fruit and toasted nut notes.
Knob Creek is part of the Jim Beam Small Batch Collection, along with Booker’s, Baker’s and Basil Hayden. The core Knob Creek rye expression recently got a seven-year-old age statement added to it, proof of a proper maturation period for this fantastic 100-proof whiskey. The single barrel version is bottled at 115 proof, nearing Booker’s higher barrel-proof ABV and selected by various retailers based on the qualities of a particular cask. You can find many of these to purchase online, and it’s well worth tracking down.
Old Forester is a relative newcomer to the rye whiskey world, having released its first expression in 2019. That whiskey is a great affordable option, but the single barrel expression is a more interesting, bolder-tasting version. It’s bottled at barrel proof, which hits the palate with notes of cinnamon, black and white pepper, dried fig and orange zest. Add a splash of water or a large ice cube to this whiskey to really open it up.
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