Walk into a liquor store or chat with the founder of a local whiskey club and you’ll likely come to learn about some type of private barrel whiskey program they’ve taken part in. Most of the larger American whiskey brands, such as Jack Daniel’s, Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark, are doing these types of undertakings. While the experience varies a little bit from brand to brand, in essence what you are doing is buying a barrel’s contents from the distillery in question through a more expensive and personalized experience and then bottling up that valuable whiskey for sale to your customers or perhaps as gifts for your very lucky friends.
Now suppose you are a craft whiskey nerd not interested in doing a whole barrel of bourbon from one of the larger distilleries. You instead desire to own a cask of whiskey from a fine Texas distillery, for example. A growing number of medium and small sized distilleries recognize your desire for this, and have started their own private barrel programs for you to partake in.
What follows is a list of some of the craft distilleries across the United States doing these types of programs. Where possible we’ve indicated as much information as is immediately available to help you in making an informed decision as to which one to choose from. With some programs you may be able to take home the empty whiskey barrel, so make sure to inquire if you want that souvenir.
It should be noted in all cases you need to make sure understand your state’s particular liquor laws – in some situations it may be difficult to get that barrel and its contents you buy inside state lines legally. Your partner distillery will hopefully know this information beforehand though and can guide you accordingly.
Garrison Brothers is a distillery of the Lone Star State well known for their solid tasting, high octane bourbons. Those participating in this program can either let the distiller select the barrel for them, or can arrange for an onsite visit to tour and taste from a range of barrels until the one is found that suits your palate. You are able to partake in the bottling itself if you wish, and each bottle comes with personalized labels and pewter Texas stars. A variation of this program lets you have a “single barrel case,” which is a selection of six unique bottles from six unique barrels. The estimated yield for the primary private barrel portion is 50 to 80 bottles, each pricing around $110.
Freeland Spirits is a women-owned distillery in Portland, Oregon that’s focused on crafting quality whiskey, and this is reflected in their barrel program. At the time of this writing rye whiskey is what’s being made available here, with an aging period of two to four years projected before your barrel is ready and the whiskey within is bottled. You get to do your own bottling, keep the empty barrel and, while your whiskey is at rest, you can attend a yearly workshop where you learn some of the distilling trade. An investment of $1,500 nets you 24 bottles.
Barrell Craft Spirits is perhaps best known for being one of the top American whiskey sourcing brands today. They have quite a nose for pulling together award winning releases of bourbon and rye whiskey, among other categories. Their single barrel selection program allows one to choose an expression out of a single barrel that’s then bottled at cask strength, yielding somewhere between 120 to 200 bottles. They recently added Canadian rye whiskey to the program as well.
WhistlePig, much like Barrell Craft, is considered one of the top American sourcing brands today, though the Vermont distillery is also in the process of moving towards more of their own in house spirits. Their Reserve Barrels program, which focuses exclusively on rye whiskey, includes two options at the moment you can choose from. An option to visit is available, but primary choosing looks to be done through the sending of a sample kit for you to taste through. You are able to customize your label as well. Estimated prices range from $11,000 to $19,000 per barrel, and everything is bottled at barrel strength.
Corsair is a distillery out of Kentucky and Tennessee well known for their expansive selection of whiskey bottlings. If there is a style out there allowed under American liquor regulations, they’ve likely produced it at one point or another. Such variety allows for an interesting potential range of choices in their single barrel program. You head down to the distillery for this one, tasting through up to four barrels before choosing your whiskey to be bottled up. Yield range is 75 t0 150 bottles at cask strength, and you get a custom logo that you can add to the bottles as well.
Virginia Distilling Company has positioned itself as an American single malt specialist, so that’s what the focus will be for anyone who partakes in their Cask Society single barrel program. The process here has you answering some pre-defined questions as to the type of barrel you are seeking, and then the distilling team puts your barrel together for you. This is more of a buy it now, bottle it later type of program, meaning you’ll need to wait a number of years before it is time to visit the distillery to bottle it up. You’ll be kept in the loop along the way though as to how your barrel is aging, including tasting samples sent to you annually. Custom bottle labels are available, and the yield is projected to be at least 250 bottles. Price point starts at $9,900.
Catoctin Creek is another Virginia based distillery offering up a single cask whiskey program. The standard structure of such an outing is the focus here, including distillery tour, choosing from barrel samples to help you pick your cask and the option to partake in the bottling. You also get to pick the proof you want your whiskey bottled at, which in turn becomes a factor in the final price. 180 bottles is the projected yield.
Foundry Distilling is a young distillery out of Iowa that has one of the most technical and detailed private barrel programs on this list. You begin by working them with to determine your mash bill from a range of grain types, yeast, fermentation style, barreling proof, type of barrel (including level of char) and a bit more. From there you schedule a visit for a few days to work side by side with the distilling team to produce your whiskey, followed by developing a custom logo for your bottles. Quarterly updates keep you in the loop as to how your whiskey is maturing, including tasting samples (this includes a grouping of bottles after a year from a smaller “pilot barrel” that acts as a sort of preview of the final product), and at the end of all of this (i.e. three years or so) you get the contents of the larger barrel, which yields around 175 bottles of your custom whiskey.
Missouri’s Still 630 has its own take on the private barrel whiskey process. You go to the distillery for the private tour, learning how distillation works. At the end you are presented with some barrels you taste from to determine which one you want to make yours. You can then either have it bottled up and take the contents home at that moment, or you can continue to allow it to age at the distillery for a pre-determined amount of additional time. Customized labels are available, and price points for a barrel start at $7,000, yielding 225 bottles or so of whiskey.
Mississippi River Distilling, much like Foundry above, is very customized in how you choose your whiskey, offering options from the start for grain type, yeast, aging time and bottle proof. Custom labeling is offered, and when it is determined your whiskey is ready you can visit this Iowa distillery to pull it from the barrel and bottle it. It is around $6,000 per barrel, with a yield of around 160 bottles of finished whiskey.
New Riff Distilling offers something most of the others on this list don’t – the chance to own your own private barrel of Kentucky Straight Bourbon. The craft distillery scene in Kentucky is still coming of age in the shadow of the bigger brands, so the options in state for a private craft whiskey barrel are a bit more limited to choose from at the moment. All the standard offerings for such a program exist here, including distillery tour, barrel tastings and leaving with a sample from your chosen cask. Single barrels are projected to price under $10,000, with an option to choose just a quarter or half barrel if that’s all you want. Full yield is 216 bottles.
Nino Kilgore-Marchetti is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Whiskey Wash, an award winning whiskey lifestyle website dedicated to informing and entertaining consumers about whisk(e)y on a global level. As a whisk(e)y journalist, expert and judge he has written about the subject extensively, been interviewed in various media outlets and...