For many, their first reaction to that question would be to say something with the Van Winkle name on it, a bottle from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, or perhaps one of the yearly limited edition releases from Four Roses. Truth is, every major and many craft distilleries put out limited edition whiskeys on a regular basis and the consuming public goes into a frenzy to snatch them up at continually elevating prices. This practice has even spawned a huge underground secondary market for buying, selling, and trading these bottles. In most cases however, these bottles are not as rare as you may think with production levels in the thousands.
If you want something rare, you should be going after single barrel bourbons. And if you want something truly unique, you should be going for private selection single barrel bourbons. The difference between commercially released single barrel bourbon and private selection single barrel bourbon can be very dramatic. When a distillery decides to commercially release single barrel bourbon, they usually try to make sure they have enough barrels of a similar taste profile to do so with the goal being to provide a consistent product to consumers. But, when a group is given the opportunity to make a private selection single barrel the result can be a one-off bottling of something truly special and unique.
Depending on the program offered by a distillery, the age of the bourbon being selected, and the proof at which the bourbon will be bottled, you can expect anywhere from 150 to 250 bottles of bourbon from a particular barrel. This low yield certainly makes these private selections more rare than those mentioned previously and almost always at a more affordable price. Additionally, there may be an opportunity for you to participate in the selection process with your favorite store, bar, or bourbon group. And some of these programs offer very unique experiences. Who would not want to share a bottle of bourbon with their friends and be able to say they were responsible for what was put into that bottle?
When you are on your hunt for something rare, be sure to ask your local shop about any private selections they have taken part in. You may be very pleasantly surprised with the bottles they are able to offer!
Until next time, Cheers!!