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Issue 139 - Single Barrel Bourbons

Whisky Magazine Issue 139
October 2016


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Single Barrel Bourbons

A brand's true DNA

Bourbon has a strict set of laws designed to distinguish it from other whiskeys. Known as the 'Standards of Identity', these laws were shaped over the years and reflect the history of America's Native Spirit. One of these standards states Bourbon must be stored in 'charred new oak containers'. The reason for this is simple – before the invention of modern machine blown bottle-making equipment, Bourbon was sold by the barrel and distillers did not expect to get that barrel back. In other words, every Bourbon was originally a single barrel Bourbon.

Today's single barrel Bourbons are a little different. Many distilleries offer single barrel products as a part of their regular lineup, but this has only happened fairly recently in Bourbon history. Blanton's is recognised by most as being the first widely-available commercial single barrel Bourbon, launched by then master distiller Elmer T Lee in 1984. The entire category has only been around for three decades and it has only become popular in the last ten years.

The idea for bottling a single barrel of Bourbon under a special label and marketing it as such came about after Elmer T Lee would bottle select barrels to give as gifts. “Elmer T Lee did not invent the idea of single barrel Bourbon,” says Bourbon Historian Michael R Veach, “but he was the one who made it a selling point for a brand. Brown-Forman and National Distillers both had single barrel products with Old Forester and Old Overholt, but they did not make the ...

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