Since being co-opted by mass marketing, the terms “craft” and “artisanal” have become both grossly overused and vastly misunderstood. Which is why we’re going to eschew both terms and explore “small batch” instead.
For the record: Some large producers make great whiskies. The Big Guys have both the time to let whisky mature and the money to house vast storehouses of booze, suitable for hiding the arc of the covenant itself. Big doesn’t mean bad, and small doesn’t mean good by default. So why are people so enthusiastic about small-batch bourbons?
First, because bourbon is uniquely American. All bourbons are by definition, whisky, but not all whiskies are bourbon. They require a mash build that’s at least 51% corn, and they must be aged in new, charred oak barrels. There’s no minimum age requirement, but bourbons aged for less than four years require an age statement on the label.
And what makes small-batch production special? The tiny variations from batch to batch that give a product character; how varieties of heirloom corn change nuance and complexity; the size and shape of barrels; the way unpredictability of the weather affects aging. Remove these tiny fluctuations, and the end result is sterile perfection.
Not all bourbons are created equal, however, and small-batch items tend to be be pricey. To guide your purchasing decisions, we’ve divided up these 10 truly special small-batch bourbons into three categories: sippers, cocktails and gifts. By the way, did you know that drinking whiskey is associated with a longer life? Check out the exclusive report that’s changed thousands of lives: 100 Ways to Live to 100!
Looking for a great occasional bourbon? These are the best craft spirits to enjoy alone, or with friends.
Angel’s Envy Port Barrel Finished Bourbon
Occasion: It’s 5 o’clock on Tuesday. Or any day. $49 at getwineonline.com
High West American Campfire
Occasion: Celebrate the completion of your fire pit with friends and this savory, smoky bourbon. $62 at winefolder.com
So invest in a bottle — drinking great whiskey is only one of these incredibly 40 Things You Should Do in Your 40s!
Hillrock Solera Aged Bourbon Whisky
Occasion: You’ve finally sealed the deal on a major contract or purchase, and damnit, you deserve this! $88 at astorwines.com
Entertaining? Dazzle your guest by making these bourbons the backbone of your libations.
Make an Old Fashioned for friends with this new Chicago standard. $49 at forwhiskeylovers.com
Use it to make one of these 10 Creative Whiskey Cocktails That’ll Impress!
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Corsair Nashville Bourbon
Don’t let your guests get the vapors while watching the Derby; serve Mint Juleps made with this new southern classic. $70
Van Brunt Stillhouse
Hudson Four Grain Bourbon
Made upriver from Manhattan, but perfect in its cocktail namesake. $43 at astorwines.com
Balcones Blue Corn Bourbon
Got a whisky nerd in your life? Get them the original heirloom corn bourbon from the mad scientists in Waco, Texas. $60 at winedelight.com
Even better, give both of you the gift of a whiskey tour. That’s just one of the 25 Adventures Every Man Should Have!
Kings County Peated Bourbon
For when he finally decides to trim that man-bun. $46 at drinkupny.com
LIS Rough Rider Straight Bourbon Whisky
This award winning bourbon made in the heart of Long Island is astoundingly, bafflingly affordable. Pick up a case for the holidays, and keep one for yourself! $35 at forwhiskeylovers.com