LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - If you ever have a problem finding just the right flavors in a bourbon, how about just going to the warehouse and picking your own? It's a new multi-million dollar facet of the booming bourbon business called private barrel selection.
For several years, distilleries have offered the opportunity to taste from several barrels and pick the one you like. First, you have to do it through a licensed liquor retailer such as a liquor store or restaurant. And you have to be able to pay the price. But as I found at Four Roses, with Bourbons Bistro buying half the barrel, five couples shared the price of the other half.
Those couples will get about 12 to 16 bottles each, depending upon barrel evaporation. Most barrels go for around $8,000, which works out to about $50 a bottle, less expensive than many single barrel bourbons on the shelves.
This little side business for distilleries has grown so much it even surprised the experts. Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge said, "Last year we sold four hundred four private barrels and this year we've already sold four hundred." And just a few years ago, Four Roses only sold 100 private barrels.
Ten barrels sit at the distillery ready when the prospective buyers arrive. Each one gets uncorked after a brief description on how to smell and taste and no one is wrong. "Look at this as a taste test. Everybody here is correct 100 percent of the time because you're basing it on your own sense of smell and taste. What I like doesn't matter relative to what you like."
On this day, the novices liked the same barrel as the expert, but Rutledge didn't tell them that until they made their choice. A spicier bourbon lost out to one with a smoother finish. In about four weeks, the bottles will be delivered with labels created by each buyer.
Lisa Lutz and her husband Joe moved to Louisville six months ago from Seattle. "Bourbon converts," she said. Her husband talked of sharing. "We're going to bring all our bottles to friends in the Northwest and give them as gifts, so we're all set for Christmas!"
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