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A Whiskey Expert Reveals His 25 Favorite Small Batch Bourbons Ever

A Whiskey Expert Reveals His 25 Favorite Small Batch Bourbons Ever

Christopher Osburn has spent the past fifteen years in search of “the best” — or at least his very favorite — sips of whisk(e)y on earth. He’s enjoyed more drams than his doctor would dare feel comfortable with, traveled to over 20 countries testing local spirits, visited more than 50 distilleries around the globe, and amassed a collection of bottles that occupies his entire basement (and infuriates his wife).

In this series, he cracks open his worn “tasting diary” and shares its contents with the masses.


As you wander the whiskey aisle at your local liquor store, you’ve surely encountered the term “small batch” printed on the labels of various bottles. It seems straightforward enough, but the term itself is a tad mysterious. All it technically means is that the bottle in question came from a “small” bottling run. But parsing what it actually means is where things get a little dicey.

When it comes down to it, there’s no official designation of how many barrels can be produced to maintain the moniker “small batch.” Meaning there’s nothing stopping distilleries from using the term when they make a whiskey using 10 barrels, 25 barrels, or even 300 barrels.

What the term has become instead is a sort of general shorthand for brands to announce “this is more limited than our main expressions.” Exactly how limited simply depends on the distillery. If you grab a bottle from giants like Russell’s Reserve or Elijah Craig, it probably came batched with a lot more barrels than a similarly titled offering from indies like Wyoming Whiskey or Noble Oak.

To celebrate the semi-deceptive but often delicious designation for whiskey, I decided to list 25 of my favorite small batch bourbon expressions ever. Check them out, with tasting notes, below. Prices are linked, in case any of these piques your curiosity.

Smoke Wagon Small Batch

Smoke Wagon

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

This Nevada-based small batch bourbon was first released in 2016. Barrels of high-rye bourbon were hand-picked for their rich, complex flavor. This expression is a blend of older, mellower high-rye bourbons and younger, spicier, high-rye variations. The result is the perfect combination of caramel sweetness and peppery spice.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll be greeted with aromas of dried cherries, charred oak, and toasted vanilla beans. The palate is filled with sweet corn, buttery caramel, raisins, and a nice hit of peppery rye. The finish is long, subtly warming, and exceedingly smooth.

Bottom Line:

This is the perfect sipper for any rye whiskey fan looking to get into bourbon. It offers a great bridge between sweet corn flavor and peppery rye spice.

Iron Smoke Straight Bourbon

Iron Smoke

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $47

The Story:

This award-winning bourbon doesn’t come from Kentucky, it comes from Fairport, New York — a small town situated along the Erie Canal. Every spirit made at the distillery is small-batch, and its bourbon is its best. This four-grain straight bourbon is distilled in small batches using only locally sourced grains. It gets its unique, subtly smoky flavor from the addition of Applewood smoked wheat.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is heavy with the scents of caramel corn, vanilla beans, and wood char. The palate has notable flavors of buttery caramel, molasses, charred oak, and just a hint of sour apple. The finish is dry and filled with notes of dried cherries and subtle, smoky Applewood.

Bottom Line:

If you’re a fan of smoky whiskeys from Islay, this isn’t the whiskey for you. But if you’re on board with a light kiss of smoke, this expression should suit you just fine.

Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond Small Batch

Wilderness Trail

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $54

The Story:

Wilderness Trail’s idea of small-batch means that its bottled in bond bourbon consists of no more than 12 barrels per batch. This high-rye bourbon has a mash bill of 64% corn, 24% rye, and 12% malted barley. It’s aged in toasted and charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

You’re greeted by aromas of caramel apples, almonds, sweet corns, and charred oak. On the palate, look for dried cherries, toasted marshmallows, vanilla beans, and a lingering nutty sweetness. The finish is a lovely mix of caramel sweetness and cinnamon spice.

Bottom Line:

A sip of Wilderness Trail Bottled in Bond is far from one-dimensional. It features a great combination of fruit and spice that will keep your senses on their toes.

Kings County Straight Bourbon

Kings County

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $80

The Story:

Founded in 2010, Kings County was the first whiskey distillery founded in New York City after Prohibition. Its award-winning straight bourbon is made with 80% organically-grown New York State corn and 20% English malted barley. It’s distilled twice using copper pot stills before being aged in new, charred American oak casks.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a proper nosing and you’ll find scents of maraschino cherries, vanilla beans, freshly-brewed coffee, and toffee. On the palate, you’re sure to pick up notes of raisins, maple syrup, spicy cinnamon, and brown sugar. It ends with a warming, final kick of cinnamon sugar and caramel.

Bottom Line:

Kings County makes a handful of high-quality whiskeys, including its peated bourbon. But if you want a creamy, caramel-filled, corn-centric whiskey, this is your jam.

Black Button Four Grain Bourbon

Black Button

ABV: 42%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

First released in 2014, this award-winning bourbon is made using (you guessed it) four grains. The mash bill consists of 60% corn, 20% wheat, 11% malted barley, and 9% rye. Every grain used in the process was grown in New York State. It’s aged in new, charred American oak barrels.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find bold aromas of pipe tobacco, charred oak, and vanilla beans. The palate swirls with sweet treacle, candied pecans, spicy cinnamon, and butterscotch candy. It all ends with a long, mellow, warming, caramel finish.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a whiskey that’s truly specific to the area it was produced, this is the dram for you. Everything was sourced locally. It’s like New York State in a glass.

Bib & Tucker 6-Year-Old Small Batch

Bib & Tucker

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $45

The Story:

Tennessee is definitely more than simply George Dickel and Jack Daniel’s. Bib & Tucker’s 6-year-old offering is a great example of small-batch bourbons coming out of the Volunteer State. The mash bill is 70% corn, 26% rye, and 4% malted barley. It’s aged in new, charred American oak casks for a minimum of six years.

Tasting Notes:

The nose rolls deep in aromas of a musty barrelhouse, toasted vanilla beans, and maple syrup, accented by a hint of pepper. The palate is all about the candied pecans, dried cherries, buttery caramel, and sweet cream, plus a nice kick of cinnamon sugar. The finish is long, mellow, and filled with a pleasant nutty sweetness.

Bottom Line:

Grab a bottle of Bib & Tucker and branch out from your usual Tennessee whiskeys. This is a spicy, sweet bourbon that will make you forget all about the Jack Daniel’s guy for a little while.

Balcones Texas Pot Still

Balcones

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $30

The Story:

This award-winning whiskey paved the way for a new frontier of bourbon. This pot still distilled whiskey is made using Texas-sourced grains (corn, rye, barley, and wheat). It’s aged for a minimum of two years in new, charred American oak casks to guarantee a rich, robust, flavor experience.

Tasting Notes:

Breathe in the aromas of charred oak, maple syrup, toasted marshmallows, and sweet corn. The palate is filled with buttercream frosting, cracked leather, almond cookies, and buttered caramel. The finish is dry, warming, and ends with a final kick of peppery spice.

Bottom Line:

The Lonestar State is now home to a handful of award-winning, highly-regarded whiskey distilleries. But Balcones is the OG and this is its flagship whiskey — that has to be worth something.

Garrison Brothers Small Batch

Garrison Brothers

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $80

The Story:

The folks at Hye, Texas’ Garrison Brothers refer to the ingredients in this whiskey being “corn-to-cork.” This means that not only is the corn, red winter wheat, and two-row barley sourced locally, but it’s distilled and aged right on site.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a good nosing and you’ll be treated to candy apples, clover honey, spicy cinnamon, and charred oak. The palate is filled with the flavors of orange zest, buttery caramel, vanilla beans, and almond cookies dusted with cinnamon sugar. The finish is dotted with caramel, dried leather, and subtle spice.

Bottom Line:

This bold, brash, flavorful whiskey tastes the way you’d expect an outlaw whiskey to taste. Best enjoyed while wearing a ten-gallon hat and a pair of wrangler jeans.

Heaven’s Door 10 Year

Heaven

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $130

The Story:

Heaven’s Door might be a collaboration with famed folk singer Bob Dylan, but it’s much more than a celebrity cash grab. Its Tennessee Bourbon is made using the charcoal filtering process known as the “Lincoln County Process” that Jack Daniel’s is known for. After filtration, this low rye, high corn bourbon was aged to perfection in charred oak barrels for a decade.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find rich toffee, spicy cinnamon sugar, charred oak, and a hint of melted Snickers bars. Take a sip to bask in buttery pecan sandies, caramelized sugar, dried fruits, and sweet corn. It all ends in a cacophony of pipe tobacco, fresh leather, and vanilla beans.

Bottom Line:

Don’t think twice, it’s alright. The best way to enjoy a sip of this small-batch bourbon is to make like a rolling stone and sip on it slowly, because it’s not dark yet.

Jefferson’s Very Small Batch

Jefferson

ABV: 41.2%

Average Price: $40

The Story:

With a name like Very Small Batch, you know this is a limited-edition whiskey and a highly coveted bottle. The bourbon itself is a blend that begins with a base of the brand’s award-winning Jefferson’s Bourbon. Three more hand-picked bourbons with different mash bills and ages are blended to complete this mellow, highly sippable expression.

Tasting Notes:

Breathe in the aromas of candied orange peels, spicy cinnamon, wood char, and butterscotch candy. When you sip it you’ll find flavors of toasted vanilla beans, caramel apples, and subtle spice. The finish is tremendously sweet, smooth, and warming.

Bottom Line:

The “Very Small Batch” name might be a bit silly, but that doesn’t stop this from being masterfully blended, extremely indulgent, and oh so easy to drink bourbon.

Widow Jane 10 Year

Widow Jane

ABV: 45.5%

Average Price: $70

The Story:

Widow Jane is well known for its sourcing and masterful blending of aged whiskeys. Its ten-year-old expression is its signature bourbon. It’s made up of rare, bold, delicious bourbons in 5 -barrel batches. It’s non-chill filtered and proofed down using locally sourced mineral water.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find scents of buttercream frosting, caramelized sugar, spicy cinnamon, and rich oak. The palate swirls with notes of candied walnuts, citrus zest, toasted marshmallows, and maple syrup. It all ends in a nice combination of subtle spice and warming caramel.

Bottom Line:

Widow Jane doesn’t hide the fact that it sources its small-batch whiskeys. It doesn’t need to. They’re blended so well you won’t even care that they were matured somewhere else.

Kentucky Owl Confiscated

Kentucky Owl

ABV: 48.2%

Average Price: $135

The Story:

Kentucky Owl is shrouded in mystery. A brand with origins in the 1800s, it was revived in 2014. This particular release was first launched in 2019. The mash bill and origins of the whiskey are unknown, but the name is a reference to the government seizure of whiskey from the current owner’s great-grandfather right before Prohibition began.

Tasting Notes:

Take a moment to give this whiskey an indulgent nosing and you’re gonna get big notes of freshly baked bread, stewed apples, sweet cinnamon, and pure caramel. On the sip, you’ll find hints of candied orange peels, nougat, toasted marshmallow, and a spicy backbone. The ending is complex, rich, and ends with a nice bit of spicy cinnamon heat.

FEW

FEW

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

This award-winning three-grain bourbon is made with sweet corn, northern rye, and malted barley. It’s aged for less than four years (although the age statement isn’t disclosed). Rye as the second ingredient in the mash bill gives this whiskey a nice combination of sweet corn, mellow malts, and peppery rye spice.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a nice, long nosing and you’ll find aromatic cooking spices, caramel apples, toasted vanilla beans, and rich, charred oak. On the palate, you’ll be greeted by a nice kick of spice from cloves and nutmeg as well as buttery caramel, sugar cookies, and an overall nutty sweetness. The finish is medium, filled with warmth, and ends with a soli hit of cracked black pepper.

Bottom Line:

This is an extremely well-balanced whisky. The mix of rye and corn makes this a highly sippable, nuanced, memorable dram.

Koval

Koval

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $46

The Story:

To be considered a bourbon, the mash bill must be made up of a minimum of 50% corn. The rest of the ingredients are open to interpretation. Most distilleries use rye, wheat, or barley. But, FEW’s award-winning bourbon has a mash bill of 51% corn and 49% millet (a quick-growing cereal plant popular in Africa and Asia).

Tasting Notes:

The addition of millet gives this bourbon a truly unique flavor and aroma. On the nose, it imparts notes of fruity sweetness that work well with the hints of toasted vanilla beans and sweet treacle. On the palate, you’ll find notable flavors of buttercream, brown sugar, tropical fruits, and subtle peppery spice at the finish.

Bottom Line:

If you’re looking for a unique flavor profile that still fits the bill of bourbon, this expression from Koval is for you. When else will you find a bourbon with millet in it? (Not many places– trust me, I’ve checked!)

Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch

Wyoming Whiskey

ABV: 44%

Average Price: $40

The Story:

We’ve written often about the wealth of bourbons from places outside of Kentucky, but you still might not immediately think of Wyoming when it comes to high-quality, flavorful bourbon. I’m here to tell you that maybe you should. Wyoming Whiskey’s small batch bourbon’s ingredients are sourced from nearby farms and it’s distilled and aged right there in Kirby, Wyoming. It’s

Tasting Notes:

Breathe in the aromas of wildflowers, toasted vanilla beans, honey, and spicy cinnamon before taking your first sip. On the palate, you’ll be treated to buttery almond cookies, buttercream frosting, caramel, and just a wisp of cinnamon. It all ends with a mouthful of brown sugar and spice.

Bottom Line:

To many of us, places like Wyoming still seem like the untamed, wild frontier. This small-batch bourbon gives you a taste of that life — conjuring fresh air and wide-open spaces.

Noble Oak Double Oak

Noble Oak

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $35

The Story:

Like many small-batch brands, Noble Oak sources its whiskey from MGP in Indiana. That whiskey has been matured in charred, American white oak casks for at least a year (likely longer) before it arrives at Noble Oak. It then gets finished using a proprietary technique referred to as “Compression Finishing,” which involves finishing with sherry oak staves selected by Edrington’s Master of Wood.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’re greeted with scents of dried apricots, toffee candy, charred oak, and just a hint of sherry sweetness. The sip features buttery caramel, sugar cookies, maraschino cherries, and cooking spices. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a great one-two punch of spice and vanilla.

Bottom Line:

Not only is this bourbon a great choice for fans of sherry-centric whiskeys, but it also helps the environment. Noble Oak plants a tree for every bottle sold.

Pinhook Bohemian Bourbon

Pinhook

ABV: 57.25%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

Pinhook Bohemian Bourbon was the first whiskey to be distilled, aged, and bottled in 50 years at the former Old Taylor Distillery (now Castle & Key) in Kentucky. Using a mash bill of 70% corn, 15% rye, and 10% malted barley, this limited expression whiskey is drawn from 100 barrels that are aged over 34 months in charred, American oak casks.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey the nosing it deserves, and you’ll find notes of lemon zest, freshly baked bread, toasted vanilla, and wood char. The palate is heavy on almond cookies, sticky toffee pudding, dried fruits, and spicy cinnamon. It all ends in a nice, warming wave of dark chocolate and caramel.

Bottom Line:

Every year, the distillery drops a new release of their flagship expression. The vintages and corn to rye to barley ratios are different in each one. That way, you’re guaranteed a new flavor experience every time you crack open a bottle.

Hillrock Estate Solera Aged Bourbon

Hillrock Estate

ABV: 46.3%

Average Price: $90

The Story:

This small-batch whiskey is touted as the world’s first solera-aged bourbon. If you’re unaware of that term, it means this whiskey is aged using a technique that revolves around stacking barrels and removing small amounts at various levels and stages in the process and adding new whiskey at others.

Tasting Notes:

The nose is a symphony of ripe fruit, charred oak, sweet cinnamon sugar, and vanilla beans. The palate is complex and begins with notes of sweet raisins and candied pecans before moving on to baking spices touched with a nice hint of sherry. The last few sips will leave you with memorable flavors of brown sugar and caramel and the finish is pleasant, longish, and warming.

Bottom Line:

The solera method is used to mature sherry. Using it to age bourbon (for six years) creates a very unique, multi-dimensional flavor profile.

Clyde May’s Straight Bourbon

Clyde May

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $40

The Story:

First released in 2016, this award-winning bourbon comes from Alabama. The corn-centric mash bill is made up of 78% corn, 12% rye, and 10% barley. It’s matured in 53-gallon, new, charred American oak barrels for 4 to 5 years.

Tasting Notes:

Your nostrils will fill with the scents of baking spices, caramelized sugar, dried fruits, and cinnamon. On the palate, you’ll find flavors of pipe tobacco, dried cherries, wood char, and toffee. The finish is long, filled with pleasing heat, and ends with a mix of cinnamon and sugar.

Bottom Line:

If you’re a bourbon purist, you might be averse to the idea of drinking a bourbon made in Alabama. But this corn-centric whiskey tastes like juice from the Bluegrass State through and through.

Town Branch Bourbon

Town Branch

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $30

The Story:

Named after the Town Branch Waterway, which Lexington (KY) was founded along, this heavily awarded bourbon begins with a mash bill of 72% corn, 15% malted barley, and 13% rye. It’s aged for a minimum of seven years in new, charred American oak casks.

Tasting Notes:

Give this whiskey a nice, long nosing and you’ll find aromas of sweet corn, charred oak, and toasted marshmallows. The flavors are those of buttery caramel, fresh leather, wood spice, and toffee candy — all accented by just a hint of peppery spice. The ending is mellow, warming, and dry.

Bottom Line:

Town Branch’s flagship whiskey has a complex flavor profile. It’s well suited to be enjoyed slowly with a single ice cube to allow the various flavors to expand and reveal themselves.

Elijah Craig Small Batch

Heaven Hill

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $32

The Story:

This award-winning bourbon comes from the acclaimed Heaven Hill Distillery. It’s the flagship expression from Elijah Craig and has a mash bill of 78% Corn, 12% Malted Barley, and 10% Rye. It’s aged in level 3 charred American oak barrels (that’s a medium char). The result is a spicy, sweet, subtly smoky bourbon that retails for way less than it should.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find aromas of toasted vanilla beans, charred oak, caramelized sugar, and subtle herbs. The palate is heavy on the char, pipe tobacco, dried fruit, and buttery caramel. It all ends with a nice combo of subtle wood smoke and cinnamon.

Bottom Line:

There’s a reason this is a go-to small batch bourbon from bartenders and whiskey fans. It’s rich, decadent, and bargain-priced.

Michter’s US 1 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

Michter

ABV: 45.7%

Average Price: $50

The Story:

Michter’s is a big name in the bourbon world. But it’s independently owned and will use any opportunity to point out that its flagship bourbon is made in small batches. The mash bill isn’t listed, but it’s assumed that the corn content is around 80% (with rye and malted barley making up the rest of the ingredients). It’s aged in new, charred oak barrels for more than eight years.

Tasting Notes:

The nose offers up a whirlwind of raisins, caramelized sugar, toasted marshmallows, and charred oak. The palate is filled with flavors of vanilla, toffee, spicy cinnamon, and fresh leather. It all ends with a mellow hit of lingering cherries and spicy white pepper.

Bottom Line:

This is a sublime sip of bourbon heaven. It’s filled with corn sweetness, char, and mouth-watering vanilla flavors.

Baker’s Single Barrel 7 Year

Jim Beam

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $60

The Story:

Baker’s is the unsung hero in Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. It doesn’t get the press of the likes of Basil Hayden’s, Bookers, and Knob Creek, but it might be the best of the bunch. Named for Baker Beam, the great-grandson of Jim Beam, each release is a different and unique flavor experience.

That’s because there is no batching or blending with Baker’s. Every bottle comes from literally one single barrel.

Tasting Notes:

These are all going to vary, but, generally speaking, expect a nose filled with rich, dark oak, heady holiday spices, vanilla beans, and toffee. Sipping this whiskey will take you on a journey of butterscotch, fresh leather, spicy cinnamon, and buttery caramel. The finish is pleasingly hot with a nice brown sugar and cinnamon finish.

Bottom Line:

Take a tour around Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection and you’ll want to stop at Baker’s again and again. This bottle should find a permanent spot on your home bar cart. Seriously.

Four Roses Small Batch

Four Roses

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $40

The Story:

This award-winning, 90 proof bourbon is a blend of four different recipes. Four Roses uses two mash bills when making its bourbon. The first is 75% Corn, 20% Rye, 5% Malted Barley, and the second is 60% Corn, 35% Rye, 5% Malted Barley. They also employ five separate strains of yeast. This creates 10 recipes, in total. Small batch uses four of those.

Confused yet? Well, all you need to know is that this whiskey is smooth, rich, and filled with caramel and toffee flavors.

Tasting Notes:

On the nose, you’ll find candied orange peels, caramel, toasted vanilla beans, and subtle dried wood. The palate gaudy with buttercream, sticky toffee, cinnamon sugar, and wood char. The finish is long, warming, and tremendously mellow.

Bottom Line:

The recipe to create this whiskey might seem complex, but drinking it isn’t. Pour some in a glass over a single ice cube and enjoy.

Blanton’s Single Barrel

Buffalo Trace

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $100

The Story:

Blanton’s is one of the most coveted small-batch bourbons on the market. Depending on where you live, you might never spot it in the store. It’s the first-ever single barrel bourbon ever created and while the mash bill hasn’t been made public, we know that it’s a high-rye bourbon known for its mix of spice, heat, and caramel sweetness.

Tasting Notes:

This highly sought-after bottle deserves a proper nosing. You’ll be greeted with scents of toasted vanilla beans, charred wood, cloves, and spicy cinnamon. Take a drink and you’ll find notes of clover honey, caramel apples, nutmeg, and subtle, peppery rye. It all ends in a gentle cacophony of caramel and cracked black pepper — odd bedfellows that work beautifully here.

Bottom Line:

This is a bottle to be cherished. Crack it open and share it with only your closest friends. You might not be able to find another bottle (for as reasonable a price) for quite some time.


As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.



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