Private barrel select programs — or, shall we say, buying bourbon by the barrel — typically take place inside rickhouses, set among hundreds of barrels that all contain that beautiful brown high-proof nectar we call bourbon. Most distillery tours include a peek inside a rickhouse, but can you imagine spending a few hours here, sampling through barrels with a master distiller to guide you every step of the way?
That’s exactly what a private barrel select experience includes, plus all the amenities like a private tour and — at the end of the day — about 200 bottles of the very bourbon you and your group choose.
A bourbon distillery’s rickhouse is an amazing place to be, and I’d go so far as to call it the 8th Wonder of the World. Every single sense in your body becomes stimulated as soon as you step foot inside the massive structures filled with aging bourbon barrels.
The smell is the first enticing feature that welcomes the soul, followed by the wonderful sight of rows upon rows of barrels, the touch of smooth oak, the talk of bourbon traditions and, finally, the anticipatory, delicious taste of whiskey that has been resting inside the barrel for years. It’s an intoxicating experience before you even take that first sip.
So, the answer to how you buy a barrel bourbon — book a private barrel select experience. That then raises the question of how can you partake in one of these exclusive distillery experiences and buy a bourbon barrel for yourself? There’s a few options to buying a barrel of bourbon via a barrel select — let’s take a look.
Book a Private Barrel Selection with Mint Julep Experiences
This might be the easiest route for most people, as the professional team at Mint Julep has done most of the work for you so that your barrel select experience is hassle-free — plus, VIP transportation to and from the distillery is a bonus.
At the moment, Mint Julep is offering barrel select experiences in Kentucky and barrel selects in Tennessee with a variety of distilleries. The ideal group size is six to eight people, and typically the experience includes a private barrel house tour, thieving bourbon or whiskey straight from the barrel, choosing your favorite sample from various barrels, and, of course, bottling the bourbon you selected.
Join A Bourbon Club
Many bourbon and whiskey clubs often release special single-barrel bottles to its members, and sometimes members might be chosen to go on the barrel select picks with the group’s founders. Most clubs don’t charge for memberships, so it’s never a bad idea to join one or two in your area and meet other like-minded individuals.
Check out a few of these bourbon clubs:
Stave and Thief
Bourbon Capital Guild
The Bourbon Society
Try Your Luck at the Distillery
Some distilleries open up their private barrel select experiences to consumers, but these often are sold out well in advance. In fact, Buffalo Trace Distillery offers up barrel select dates once a year, and they usually sell out within five minutes. If you have a favorite distillery, you might want to sign up for its newsletter so you can stay informed on all the latest offerings.
The Logistics of Buying a Bourbon Barrel:
So you’ve decided that buying a barrel of bourbon is on your bucket list. Here’s everything you need to know before booking this once-in-a-lifetime purchase and experience.
How Much Does a Bourbon Barrel Cost?
Depending on the distillery, the age of the bourbon and several other factors, the average cost of a barrel of bourbon or whiskey ranges between $8,000-$15,000. They can even go up to $20,000 or higher.
How Do You Get Your Bourbon Bottled?
The distillery will take care of dumping and bottling the barrel you select, and most full barrels will yield around 150-200 bottles. Of course the older the bourbon is, the less of it there will be when the barrel is emptied, so keep that in mind when choosing. You can also select a half-barrel in some cases for bottling.
How Do You Get Your Bottles Home?
Because of the government’s three-tier system of alcohol distribution in the United States, sometimes it’s not as simple as dumping a barrel, bottling it and giving it to the consumer right then and there. The three tiers consist of producers (the distillery), distributors and retailers (the liquor stores). Typically, the producer can’t sell directly to the retailer, and definitely not to the consumer, who isn’t even mentioned in this three-tier rule.
Some distilleries will help you with this process, but it might be something you will have to complete before going on the barrel select experience. It involves partnering with your local liquor store, which will agree to receive your bottles and then charge you for your agreed-upon price. Again, distilleries often help out groups with this part of the logistics and can usually recommend a retailer that is happy to broker a purchase — so it’s not as complicated as it sounds.
Bottle turnaround time can range from about a month to even six months or more depending on how busy the distillery is. In rare cases, groups might be able to leave with their bottles the same day as their pick — especially if the distillery has a retail outlet onsite and has already worked out the three-tier system details.
If you’re looking to leave with your bottles the day-of your barrel select, Mint Julep Experiences has partners and experiences that offer this. Contact them for a private barrel select in Kentucky or a private barrel select in Tennessee.
Want to Select Your Own Barrel?
If you’re interested in your own single barrel select, Mint Julep offers Single Barrel Picks in Kentucky and Single Barrel Selects in Nashville. On this custom tour, you’ll be touring the barrel house, sampling four barrels you select, nosing, tasting and blind tasting until you find the winning barrel. Upon your group’s barrel selection, you can be apart of the hand labeling of your bottles, making them extra special. One perk of booking a single barrel select through Mint Julep is the fact you can take the bottles home with you that day if you want to! *There is a shipping option if you prefer as well.
Work with a Mint Julep Experience Coordinator to begin planning your one-of-a-kind elevated experience.
About The Author
Sara Havens has been a bourbon enthusiast and educator long before the boom began. As a Louisville-based writer, her work has appeared in various national and regional publications, including Bourbon+ Magazine, The Bourbon Review, Alcohol Professor and Food & Dining Magazine. In 2020, Havens was one of 10 finalists in the World’s Top Whiskey Taster competition held by the Bardstown Bourbon Co., beating out more than 400 contenders to represent the Kentucky region. She maintains her own website, barbellelou.com, covering the bourbon industry and local nightlife scene, and in her down time, you can find her leading tours along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail® for Mint Julep Experiences.