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Issue 10 - Small wonders

Whisky Magazine Issue 10
June 2000


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Small wonders

What does smal batch whiskey actually mean? The explanation is far from simple Gary Regan and Mardee Haidin Regan discovered.

n 1989 Booker's, the first small-batch bourbon, hit the American market place and, rightly so, it was a great success. But it also created a mystery.

Issued at cask strength (usually over 60 per cent abv) and completely unfiltered, it's a giant of a whiskey. The Jim Beam Brands Company, which makes Booker's, followed up quickly with Knob Creek, Baker's, and Basil Hayden – all small-batch bottlings and all of good quality. The press, critics, and the public were suitably impressed. But what, they all asked, does ‘small batch' mean?

Early reports in newspapers and magazines suggested the obvious, that the whiskey was distilled in small batches. Untrue, says Beam Brands, and here is their official explanation, “Small-batch bourbons are rare and exceptional bourbons married from select barrels from a cross section of barrels in the rackhouse [warehouse]. This ensures quality and consistency of flavour and character. Each small-batch bourbon has a unique aroma and taste which is credited to its unique recipe, ageing, and proof. We do not rotate because the small-batch process is based on marrying barrels from select levels where they can pick up distinct characteristics depending on location in the rackhouse.”

So what does that mean? Any bourbon distiller will tell you that because their warehouses are so tall – some as high as 12 storeys – the temperature variations from floor to floor will alter the way in which whiskeys sleeping on various levels mature. A...

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