Sure you can spend time and money hunting for trophy bottles of single malt at auction, but the biggest prize—literally—in the spirits is to buy an entire barrel. Taking the cask for yourself is the way to ensure exclusivity and bragging rights: there’s no bottle out there exactly like it and no one else can taste it unless you share some.
Ironically, a ready source for your unique whiskey may be one of the world’s best-known distilleries: Jack Daniel’s. Whole-barrel programs, which used to be fairly common, have evaporated in Scotland and dwindled to a few in the United States (mainly small craft distillers, although Bourbon giant Heaven Hill also offers some of its choicest stock by the barrel). The vast Jack Daniel’s empire, which first bottled single-barrel versions in 1997, has been selling entire barrels full almost as long.
The full-on experience is enjoyed by visiting the site in Lynchburg, Tennessee, where buying the barrel is one of the ways around the hamlet’s famous no-drinking edict. Announce your intention and you’ll sit down and sample a range of barrels with someone like master taster Jeff Norman (pictured). The casks are selected from the one in 100 that have been chosen for Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel. (Those casks come from the upper reaches of the warehouses where serendipity created the marque; when the company expanded into the rafters for more storage space, it found the location rendered tasty whiskey.)
Typically, you’ll sip from a spectrum of flavor profiles—from sugary to oaky to caramelized—to see where your tastes lie. However, if you know your tastes you can stick to samples from any one category. (If you can’t make it to Lynchburg, you can sample at home.)
You won’t drive away with a barrel of Jack. (Liquor laws prohibit that.) Rather, the distillery dumps the barrel for you and bottles it at 94 proof (14 points higher than the regular Old No. 7) in decanters that bear your personalized labels. The bottles and the empty barrel (also tricked out for you with a brass plaque) are delivered to you. For a price ranging from $9,000 to $12,000 you are guaranteed at least 240 bottles, but due to the inconsistency of evaporation you may get as many as 280.
Another reason to go to the tourist attraction (with its over 225,000 visitors a year) is to see the whiskey being made by charcoal-filtering. And, oh yeah, you might want to visit the Single Barrel Society room, where another plaque bearing your name is displayed with the thousands of others who have made the same decision to buy by the barrel.
Visit jackdaniels.com and heavenhill.com.