small batch whiskey distillery visualisation

What Is Small Batch Bourbon? A Guide for Whiskey & Bourbon Enthusiasts

American Whiskey

Jan 2, 2024

As a whiskey enthusiast, you appreciate the nuanced flavors and aromas of a well-crafted bourbon. You’ve likely come across the term “small batch whiskey” or “small batch bourbon” and wondered what exactly it means.

This guide will walk you through what defines a small batch bourbon, how it differs from mass market brands, and other types of bourbon plus, as a bonus, a few recommendations to get you started. Savor and enjoy.

small batch whiskey distillery visualisation

What Is Small Batch Bourbon? A Guide for Whiskey & Bourbon Enthusiasts

American Whiskey

Jan 2, 2024

As a whiskey enthusiast, you appreciate the nuanced flavors and aromas of a well-crafted bourbon. You’ve likely come across the term “small batch whiskey” or “small batch bourbon” and wondered what exactly it means.

This guide will walk you through what defines a small batch bourbon, how it differs from mass market brands, and other types of bourbon plus, as a bonus, a few recommendations to get you started. Savor and enjoy.

small batch whiskey distillery visualisation

What Is Small Batch Bourbon? A Guide for Whiskey & Bourbon Enthusiasts

American Whiskey

Jan 2, 2024

As a whiskey enthusiast, you appreciate the nuanced flavors and aromas of a well-crafted bourbon. You’ve likely come across the term “small batch whiskey” or “small batch bourbon” and wondered what exactly it means.

This guide will walk you through what defines a small batch bourbon, how it differs from mass market brands, and other types of bourbon plus, as a bonus, a few recommendations to get you started. Savor and enjoy.

Key Takeaways

  • Small batch bourbon is defined by its limited production scale, typically involving 10 to 50 barrels. This relatively small number may vary based on the distillery, its production scale and individual approach.

  • Small batch bourbon has no strict legal definition.

  • Blending is crucial in small batch bourbon production, requiring skill and experience.

  • The choice and treatment of barrels significantly influence the flavor profile of small batch bourbon.

  • Each distillery has its personalised approach to creating small batch bourbon, contributing to a diverse range of flavors and styles.

What Is Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey?

Small batch bourbon generally refers to bourbon that is produced by blending a selected small number of barrels (usually between 10 and 50) and as a result it  is available in limited quantities.

What is considered a small batch bourbon?

To be considered a small batch of bourbon, the whiskey will meet generally recognised criteria regarding its production process and quantity. The main qualifier is that it is made in a limited number of barrels (which may vary depending on the distillery and its production-scale.

The criteria and practices associated with small batch bourbon are more about the distillers’ methods and marketing than legally enforced standards.

  • Benchmark Small Batch Bourbon 750ml
  • Horse Soldier Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  • Four Roses Small Batch Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

What is special about small batch bourbon?

This limited quantity production allows for greater control and consistency in crafting a desired flavor profile of a small batch bourbon. Small batch bourbon may be made using a modernized or traditional hands-on production process.

If you’re looking to expand your bourbon palate and experience some of the finest American whiskeys, exploring small batch options is a great place to start.

What is the difference between small batch and regular bourbon?

Regular, more mass market bourbons usually rely on thousands of barrels to create a consistent product from batch to batch.

While some whiskey drinkers prefer the uniformity of these larger scale bourbons, small batch bourbons provide an opportunity to experience the craft and skill of an boutique distilling process. For bourbon connoisseurs, the opportunity to sample these limited release small batch bourbons is a real treat.

bar-shelf-with-bourbons
bar-shelf-with-bourbons
bar-shelf-with-bourbons

What is the difference between single barrel and small batch bourbon?

Small batch bourbon and single barrel bourbon are two distinct categories of American whiskey, differentiated by their production and bottling processes.

Single barrel bourbon is comes from one individual barrel of bourbon, offering a unique flavor that reflects the specific conditions of that barrel’s aging process. Each bottle of single barrel bourbon is typically labeled with information about the particular barrel it came from.

As a result, single barrel whiskeys can vary significantly in taste from one barrel to another, offering a more exclusive and potentially variable tasting experience compared to the more consistent profile of small batch bourbons.

How Small Batch Bourbons Are Made

To make small batch bourbons, master distillers follow time-honored traditions with a few modern twists.

The general steps include:

  • Fermenting the mash: This is the initial step where a mixture of grains (including at least 51% corn in the) is combined with water and yeast.

  • Distillation in copper pot stills or column stills: The wash is then distilled to separate the alcohol from the water and other components. Copper pot stills are traditionally used for their ability to add complexity and remove sulfides, while column stills are efficient for continuous distillation.

  • Barrel selection: Barrels play a crucial role in the flavor profile of small batch bourbon. New, charred oak barrels must be used. Along with the mash bill, the char level of the barrels and aging process (including time and temperature) are key influences in tailoring the taste of a bourbon whiskey.

  • Barrel Storage: Barrel aging & environmental controls: Typically, small batch bourbons are aged for a period of anywhere from 4 to 12 years (the usual industry standard). However, there are small batch bourbons that are aged for longer periods (sometimes between 15 – 20+ years or longer. The storage temperature is also important usually 59°F to 68°F (15°C – 20°C).

  • Bottling: the normal ABV for bourbon applies in the production of small batch bourbon – 80 proof (40% ABV or higher).

In a related guide we compare bourbon vs scotch vs whisky vs whiskey in terms of region, production methods, mash bill, flavor profile and more.

Here are some of the best small-batch bourbons to sip and savor:

The best small batch bourbon is subjective, and whiskey enthusiasts will spend time finding their favourite limited bourbons to savour. Here are some of our top choices if you are new to small batch bourbons:

elijah-craig-bottle
elijah-craig-bottle

Elijah Craig Small Batch Bourbon

Elijah Craig Small Batch is renowned for its balance of sweetness and spice, a characteristic that stands out among its peers. Distilled at the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky, it’s typically aged for around 8 to 12 years. Elijah Craig Small Batch is bottled at 94 proof, offering a rich bouquet of vanilla, caramel, and oak, with a hint of orchard fruits.

makers-mark-bottle
makers-mark-bottle

Maker’s Mark Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Maker’s Mark is a classic wheated bourbon, meaning wheat is used instead of rye as the secondary grain. It’s produced at the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. Maker’s Mark is aged for around 6 years and bottled at 90 proof. It has notes of caramel, vanilla, and oak.

knob-creek-bottle
knob-creek-bottle

Knob Creek Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey

Knob Creek is a full-flavored bourbon aged for 9 years. It’s produced by Jim Beam at their distillery in Clermont, Kentucky. Knob Creek has robust flavors of maple sugar, nuts, and spice. It’s bottled at 100 proof, so it packs a punch.

four-roses-bottle
four-roses-bottle

Four Roses Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon is a blend of four bourbon recipes, each aged separately for around 6-7 years. It’s produced at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Smooth and mellow, Four Roses Small Batch offers aromas of honey, citrus, and oak. It’s bottled at 90 proof.

woodford-reserve-bottle
woodford-reserve-bottle

Woodford Reserve Small Batch Straight Bourbon Whiskey

Woodford Reserve is a premium small batch bourbon produced at the historic Woodford Reserve Distillery in Versailles, Kentucky. Aged for at least 6 years, Woodford Reserve is a balanced, complex bourbon with notes of cinnamon, citrus, chocolate, and tobacco. It’s bottled at 90.4 proof.

bourbon-barrel-side-view
bourbon-barrel-side-view
bourbon-barrel-side-view

Final thoughts on small batch bourbon whiskey

In summary, small batch bourbons are premium, carefully crafted whiskeys made in limited quantities. They showcase a distillery’s distinctive mash bills and barrel selections. For bourbon aficionados seeking exceptional flavor and quality, small batch bourbons are a great place to start.

Share on social media:

Share on X
Share on Facebook
Share on LinkedIn

Is small batch bourbon better?

The quality of small batch bourbon is subjective and depends on personal preference. Small batch bourbons are appreciated for their limited quantities in production, and uniquely crafted flavor profiles.



What is the difference between whisky and whiskey?

The answer is quite simple – whiskey refers to a when this fermented grain mash distilled alcohol is made in the United States or Ireland. While whisky refers to when it is made in Scotland, Canada or Japan.

Whiskey made in different regions follow varying production methods and standards. Our related guide compares the difference between Scotch Whisky & Irish Whiskey.

What casks are used for small batch bourbon?

Casks must be legally matured in virgin American white oak barrels – the same as in the production of all bourbons. Kentucky Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey are two types of American whiskey that rely on American white oak barrels.

futuristic whiskey distillery with potstills and blenders

Join the craft cask whiskey community!

Become a member of our whiskey community for free to get access to an exclusive range of curated content - from reviews of top drams, to unique whiskey tasting experiences, and insights into the latest industry trends—our mailing list content is a valuable source for whiskey enthusiasts looking to stay in tune with the world of whiskey. 

Don't miss out, join our community today.

Whiskey by region

Ireland

Japan

Resources

History

Production

Experiences

Events

Reviews

Recommendations

News

Latest news

New releases

Market insights

Distillery news

Copyright © 2024 Craft Cask

Join the craft cask whiskey community!

Become a member of our whiskey community for free to get access to an exclusive range of curated content - from reviews of top drams, to unique whiskey tasting experiences, and insights into the latest industry trends—our mailing list content is a valuable source for whiskey enthusiasts looking to stay in tune with the world of whiskey. 

Don't miss out, join our community today.

Whiskey by region

Ireland

Japan

Resources

History

Production

Experiences

Events

Reviews

Recommendations

News

Latest news

New releases

Market insights

Distillery news

Copyright © 2024 Craft Cask

Join the craft cask whiskey community!

Become a member of our whiskey community for free to get access to an exclusive range of curated content - from reviews of top drams, to unique whiskey tasting experiences, and insights into the latest industry trends—our mailing list content is a valuable source for whiskey enthusiasts looking to stay in tune with the world of whiskey. 

Don't miss out, join our community today.

Copyright © 2024 Craft Cask

Home

About

Whiskey by region

United States

Scotland

Ireland

Japan

Resources

History

Production

Experiences

Whiskey products

Events

Reviews

Recommendations

News

New releases

Market insights

Distillery news