For many whiskey enthusiasts, the idea of buying their own whole barrel of whiskey is an enticing daydream. Imagine keeping the barrel in the garage, basement or back shed, pulling the bung out, and drawing whiskey straight from the cask for friends and neighbors, as if one were running a premium tour and tasting at a distillery.
Alas, that particular daydream will never become reality, because it’s illegal. Yet for those with the cash, there are hacks for getting close to having your own barrel of whiskey.
The problem for consumers who want to buy a barrel of whiskey and take it home is that doing it legally requires almost as much Federal and state licensing and paperwork as opening your own distillery. “A civilian cannot buy whiskey in a barrel because he would need a bulk permit from the TTB, maybe a state permit, and a bonded warehouse to store [it],” said Joe Beatrice, owner of independent whiskey bottler Barrell Bourbon. Essentially, to buy a whole barrel of whiskey from a distillery and take it home, a consumer would need to set themselves up as either a producer-bottler, like Beatrice, or a wholesale distributor.
The Private Barrel
Until recently, the workaround was to go through a major retailer, thereby accessing a distillery’s private barrel program. Many American distilleries allow restaurants, bars, hotels and retailers to select their own barrels for individualized single barrel whiskey bottlings. Those who had the cash and found a willing retailer could buy the contents of a whole whiskey barrel and personalize them.
One consequence of the “Bourbon Boom,” however, is that the door on this workaround is starting to close. Four Roses Master Distiller Brent Elliot told me in June that they had reached maximum capacity for private barrel customers at the present time. So,if you want a bottling from your own unique barrel of floral OESK recipe Four Roses bourbon anytime soon, you need to find a retailer who is already a Four Roses private barrel buyer and is willing to hand some of their own juice over to you.
Yet down in Lynchburg, Tennessee, Jack Daniel’s has moved in the other direction by opening their private barrel program to the regular consumer, partly cutting out the middleman. Their By The Barrel program promises the regular Joe a VIP experience similar to a prized customer, such as a major liquor store chain.
A patron of By The Barrel is permitted to choose from among a batch of barrels by one of three methods: you can have samples sent to you; you can let Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller Jeff Arnett choose the barrel on your behalf; or you can do what so many big retailers do, and go to Lynchburg to sample the barrels in person. If Arnett or his deputy, Chris Fletcher, are at the distillery when you visit, they’ll probably join you for the barrel sampling.
From there, the experience is much like the old workaround. The chosen barrel is dumped, and its contents bottled as per the regular version of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. These bottles are then shipped to a retailer in your area, along with the barrel itself. The typical barrel is expected to yield about 250 bottles, with a price tag of between $10-12,000.
And there you go: Your own barrel of whiskey.