Wednesday, February 19, 2014

What Are Store Barrel Selections Anyway?



I received this question today via email: "I purchased a bottle of Eagle Rare 10 yesterday and noticed that this particular batch was selected specifically for that store. It made me wonder if there are any significant differences between a standard bottle of Eagle Rare 10 and one especially bottled for the retailer?"

With some brands, and Eagle Rare is one of them, stores are given the opportunity to buy all of the contents of one barrel and they get to choose the barrel. The producer will also make and apply the labels that say as much. Many stores do this a lot and at any given moment will have several of their barrel selections available for different brands.

Bars can do it too.

The barrels they are offered, however, have all been pre-selected for that brand. Not all of the brands that offer this type of program are single barrel but Eagle Rare 10 is, so if that particular barrel had not been the barrel selection for that store, it would have been bottled anyway, single barrel, and gone into the general Eagle Rare 10 population. Since all Eagle Rare 10s are single barrel, the only thing special about a store selection is that it reflects the tastes of the person or person who did the selecting. If you like it better than an Eagle Rare 10 from the general population, you may like other barrel selections from that store.

In cases where this program is offered and the product is not normally single barrel, the store selection is single barrel, but the barrels made available are still pre-selected for that brand. In that case, the barrels that aren't selected go into the general dump batch for that brand. Since a product produced by mixing many barrels together tends to be more homogenized, a store selection is more likely to be noticeably different, though it will still be very close to the standard.

So while store barrel selections will always be a little different from the standard, they aren't necessarily better. That depends on your taste and the taste of the person(s) doing the picking.

11 comments:

Mike said...

How do the logistics for bottling single barrel bourbon work? Do they dump the barrel, proof it down for bottling then run a small bottling line to bottle the 200 to 270 bottles that come from each barrel? Then repeat that for every barrel in the release? Seems very time consuming for a large brand like Eagle Rare 10 or Four Roses.

Chuck Cowdery said...

You've got it and it is much slower than conventional production, but now that almost everyone does it they have it down pretty well.

Ryan Dallape said...

Mike, they are not always proofed down... I just received my barrel of Four Roses that I hand selected with master distiller Jim Rutledge and had it bottled at barrel proof!

Alex said...

Thanks for clarifying this issue, Chuck. Like you say, not only are the chosen barrels dependent on the taste of the person picking, but they are also dependent on the goals of the distillery who chooses to make them available for the single barrel program from all the other barrels available. So the private single barrel chosen by a retailer is unlikely to be far from the distillery's target flavor profile for that brand/product to avoid disappointing consumers and tarnishing the brand's reputation. It also means that the best barrels in a warehouse are likely to be reserved by the distillery for their own uses instead of being made available for a retailer's single barrel selection.

It's not like the retailer's representative just goes into the warehouse and starts tasting barrels to pick one. For example, the retailer may be mailed samples of 5-10 barrels, or 5 barrels may be lined up in a warehouse for tasting on-site. Then the retailer can taste them and choose one or more to barrel. But their options are limited.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Your statement, Alex, that "It also means that the best barrels in a warehouse are likely to be reserved by the distillery for their own uses" assumes that there is some objective way of determining the 'best' barrels and, also, that the distillery has some purpose other than selling its products to the public.

Gary said...

You've shown great restraint in not drinking the bottle in the picture Chuck. Quite possibly the best store selection ever!

Alex said...

Thanks for the reply, Chuck. Yes, I agree that "best" is subjective. I agree the bourbon is made for eventual sale to the public, but I assume that barrels that show signs of potentially being usable for a super-premium release (whether as-is, at a higher bottling proof, or with additional aging) are not made available for a less expensive single barrel bottling. It would make business sense to segment the market to extract the most profit from the variation in barrels. Don't Beam, Buffalo Trace, and Four Roses do that with Knob Creek, Van Winkle, and the Four Roses Limited Editions, for example? And I assume that some of the "best" barrels, however that is determined, are held back for the distiller to potentially release as a one-off special bottling in the future.

Am I missing something?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Well, sure, since you put it that way.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Certainly one of the most legendary, Gary. I threw that in for the folks who know what it is.

Anonymous said...

I have seen this with Buffalo Trace's standard expression at one of my local booze emporiums. I bought once. Problem was that, apparently, the flavor profile this particular retailer preferred was of rotten bananas. I'll stick with the standard expressions and avoid the gimmicks, thank you.

Ben said...

It's a little gimmicky, but if you get lucky, you can get some really nice deals on the stuff that isn't usually single barrel. My local store had a Buffalo Trace barrel last summer that was just exquisite--if it had been some new brand I had tried at 35 bucks a bottle, I wouldn't have balked, but I got it for like 17 because it was Buffalo Trace on sale. Went back the next day and bought a handle. They've also had some Trace barrels that were just sorta meh over the last few years, but for the price, I've found it to be a good gamble to buy the stuff my local store picks. Interestingly, right now the same store has a couple single-barrel big-brand tequilas they picked out (Herradura and something else), so I guess other spirits are getting into the game as well.