Costco’s whiskey selection is riveting. Their Scotch, Tennessee whiskey, Irish whiskey, and bourbon are beloved and pretty goddamn cheap. On a recent Costco run, I poked my head into the liquor store (in Kentucky, all booze is sold in its own section of the store with its own entrance and exit) and found about three bottles of Kirkland Signature Single Barrel Bourbon left on the shelf. I really liked their Small Batch version — also from the Barton 1792 Distillery — so I knew I had to try this one, especially in a blind taste test.
For this blind taste test, I’m pitting Costco’s new single barrel bourbon against some similarly-priced and stellar single barrel bourbons. I wanted to see (and taste) how this bourbon stood up to every weight class of brown juice. Frankly, I was shocked. Bottles I adore didn’t rank nearly as high as I would have guessed. I won’t spoil anymore, but this was a very hard and wild ranking of eight pretty great bourbons.
Our lineup today is:
- Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Baker’s Single Barrel Aged 8 Years 1 Month
- Lost Lantern 2022 Single Cask #13 Cedar Ridge Iowa 5-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Kirkland Signature Single Barrel by Barton 1792 Master Distillers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel
- Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Years Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
- Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Aged 9 Years
Okay, let’s get into and see how Costco’s new single barrel bourbon stands up to the (heavy) competition.
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Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a nice and sweet sense of vanilla pound cake with a hint of dried chili and dark chocolate next to leather, black dirt, and cedar bark with a hint of an orange creamsicle. The palate has a Key lime pie vibe next to cream soda, peppercorn, and rich toffee. The end leans into woody winter spices with a nice cherry sweetness next to vanilla smoothness and a hint of old leather gloves from an old wooden gardening shed.
Damn this is tasty and deep. I really like this.
Sourdough rye crusts and star anise with a fleeting hint of caraway counter cellar funk and cherry/vanilla tobacco on the nose. The palate lets that vanilla get super lush with a sense of cinnamon bark and allspice berries next to hints of dill and fennel. The end has an eggnog softness with a bit of Red Hot and chili-laced tobacco.
This is another winner with a bit of funk. It kind of reads more rye to me though with those green herbal notes.
The nose on this one is luxurious with salted caramel drizzled over apple pies full of walnuts, cinnamon, and nutmeg with plenty of brown sugar and butter next to oily vanilla pods and a hint of bruised peach and sun-kissed wicker lawn furniture. The palate simmers those old peaches in winter spice with a woody edge and plenty of brown sugar with a hint of cardamom and mace next to supple vanilla cream sauce with poppy seed and a hint of warmth from those woody spices. The end levels off toward rich toffee next to very creamy eggnog with a hint of cream soda before old cedar bark and sweetgrass are braided together and wrapped up in an old cinnamon/apple tobacco leaf and put into a leather pouch.
Wow. This is great.
The nose on this one is pure classic bourbon with rich vanilla, salted caramels, sweet oak staves, winter spices, and a hint of Almond Joy. The palate leans into sour red wine spiced with woody winter spices and cut with brown sugar before a sense of corn husks, creamy eggnog with plenty of nutmeg, and cherry/chocolate tobacco leaves kick in. The end has a nice warmth, kind of like a spicy ancho-dark hot chocolate flaked with salt and rolling around next to cherry tobacco.
This is really goddamn good. (This is also where the wheels come off in my mind, as I don’t know how to rank these first four.)
The nose is as bold as it is classic with a spice matrix brimming with cinnamon, clove, star anise, cardamom, and nutmeg next to dry cedar kindling, black-tea-soaked dates, rum-raisin, and tart dried cranberry tobacco. The vanilla creates a lush underbelly as old boot leather mingles with marzipan, orange blossoms, and creamy dark chocolate flaked with salt. The end is softly warm with a sense of that marzipan covered in lightly spiced dark chocolate next to old tobacco braided with old wicker and dry cedar bark.
Yup, freakin’ delicious. The only thing that pinged in my mind is that the proof was a little lower.
The nose opens with classic notes of vanilla, caramel, winter spice, and cherry pie next to a hint of dried corn husk. The palate layers in floral honey and orange zest next to winter spices, old leather, and cherry tobacco. The finish leans into more woody winter spices (especially cinnamon bark) with salted caramel, cherry tobacco, and soft cedar rounding things out.
This was the thinnest pour by far but still had great depth.
This has a big nose full of sweet cedar, tart red berries, burnt orange, salted caramel, and sticky toffee pudding. The palate has a hint of sourdough pancake off a buttered griddle next to vanilla tobacco, dark chocolate, marzipan, brandy-soaked cherry, and a touch of bitter espresso beans. The end arrives with a hint of black peppercorn next to cinnamon-spiced tobacco with a hint of blackberry and minced meat pie next to wicker and cedar with this faint whisper of singed marshmallow on the very back end.
Another winner. Though, there was a lightness here that pinged on the finish (it’s certainly lower proof).
This is bold on the nose too with plenty of lush vanilla next to salted caramel, a touch of barrel char, brandy-soaked cherries, and a hint of dark chocolate-covered espresso beans with a little date/prune action. The palate pops with dark chocolate Almond Joys next to cherry root beer and old oak with a hint of potting soil. The end softens toward a mocha espresso with a dash of nutmeg next to dry cedar and cherry tobacco wrapped around a box of Red Hots.
This was damn tasting and had a big palate.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Jim Beam Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $24
Each of these Jim Beam bottlings is pulled from single barrels that hit just the right spot of taste, texture, and drinkability, according to the master distillers at Beam. That means this juice is pulled from less than 1% of all barrels in Beam’s warehouses, making this a very special bottle at a bafflingly affordable price.
Okay, this makes sense here in that it felt the thinnest compared to the others on this list. That said, this had a solid palate and definitely can work as a sipper.
7. Baker’s Single Barrel Aged 8 Years 1 Month — Taste 2
Average Price: $59
Baker’s is pulled from single barrels in specific warehouses and ricks across the Beam facility in Clermont, Kentucky. The juice is always at least seven years old. In this case, it was aged eight years and one month before bottling as-is.
This ranked a little lower to me today because it felt a little herbal-heavy and like a high-rye, which it is not. It’s still really good, it just stood out today in a way that didn’t quite hit right for me.
6. Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit Single Barrel — Taste 5
Average Price: $59
Bourbon legend Jimmy Russell hand selects eight to nine-year-old barrels from his warehouses for their individual taste and quality. Those barrels are then cut down ever-so-slightly to 101 proof and bottled with their barrel number and warehouse location.
I’m shocked at where this bottle landed. I love this stuff. I guess today it just had a little too much proofing to pop against this particular set of pours.
5. Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Aged 9 Years — Taste 8
Average Price: $72
This single barrel bourbon is from Beam’s private barrel pick program for retailers and at the distillery. That means your local retailer goes out to Clermont, Kentucky, and picks a single barrel for their store only. Beam then cuts the bourbon to 120 proof (if needed), bottles it, and delivers it to the store. That also means these will vary from store to store ever so slightly.
This did pop on the palate. It’s bold and spicy with a nice edge. I can see ordering this on a single rock and being very happy about it.
4. Michter’s Single Barrel 10 Years Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $512
The juice in this bottle is a little under wraps. Michter’s is currently distilling and aging its own whiskey, but this is still sourced. The actual barrels sourced for these single barrel expressions tend to be at least ten years old with some rumored to be closer to 15 years old (depending on the barrel’s quality, naturally). Either way, the juice goes through Michter’s bespoke filtration process before a touch of Kentucky’s iconic soft limestone water is added, bringing the bourbon down to a very crushable 94.4 proof.
Again, I’m shocked. I would have put money on my blindly picking this as my number one. Well, here we are. Again, I pinged this for having a little lower proof on the finish. That said, I was looking for anything to try and rank these. So take that as the grain of salt it is.
3. Kirkland Signature Single Barrel by Barton 1792 Master Distillers Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 4
Average Price: $32
This Costco release is sourced from Sazerac’s other Kentucky distillery, Barton 1792 Distillery down in Bardstown, Kentucky. The whiskey in the bottle is very likely the same distillate/barrels as 1792 Full Proof. However, this is proofed down a tiny bit below that at 120 proof instead of 125 proof, adding some nuance to this release.
Well, well, well… This was really f*cking good. It finished nicely. It was well-rounded. The only reason it’s third instead of first is that it was slightly less refined than the next two, but only if you put a microscope on it. If you’re passively drinking this (as you should be), it’s truly a great pour.
2. Starlight Distillery Single Barrel Huber’s Rickhouse Select Indiana Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $55
These single barrel releases from Huber Winery’s Starlight Distillery are starting to light up the craft bourbon scene. The Indiana juice is real craft from a family tradition going back to the mid-1800s on the same farm (this isn’t MGP). Depending on the barrel, the mash here is a unique one with 58 percent corn, 27 percent rye, and 15 percent malted barley. That whiskey is aged for at least four years before it’s considered ready for single barrel bottling as-is.
This is stellar. Find it, buy two, and give one to a friend (it’ll make their day).
1. Lost Lantern 2022 Single Cask #13 Cedar Ridge Iowa 5-Year-Old Straight Bourbon Whiskey — Taste 3
Average Price: $100
This single barrel from Lost Lantern’s latest 2022 barrel release is a special one. The juice is from Iowa’s famed Cedar Ridge and is made with 74 percent corn against 14 percent rye and 12 percent malted barley. The barrel they picked was aged for five years before they found it. It turned out to be a “short cask,” meaning that the standard 53-gallon oak barrel only yielded 100 bottles (a little less than half of what’s normal at that age). What was left from the angel’s share was bottled as-is.
This was beautiful. That crafty edge that Cedar Ridge often has is gone and, instead, there’s this deep sense of classic bourbon. Yet … it’s still unique and engaging with a hint of freshness.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
Time to cut to the chase, if you’re near a Costco and they have this single barrel in stock, go buy a case. This is an excellent, award-winning single barrel bourbon from one of the most respected distilleries in Kentucky that costs $32 for a goddamn liter bottle. It might just be the absolute best deal in all of bourbon whiskey right now. F*ck it, I’m calling it.
Costco’s Barton 1792 Single Barrel is the best deal, best value per dollar, and best single barrel buy in bourbon in the year of our lord 2022.
Look, the rest of these bottles are all truly good sips. You’d be set with any one of them on your bar cart. But some of these are allocated. One of them is only a 100-bottle release. Some of these bottles will be “one per customer” purchases. You might be priced out of some of them, I don’t know your finances. That Costco Single Barrel is available and you can buy a case if you want. I was told when I bought mine, “Grab a few more, there’s no limit on those for some reason.”
Yes, two bottles beat it out, but only barely. I know I’m being effusive, but that’s only because you won’t see these at Costco forever. Get some now while you still can. It’s a great sipper that also happens to be the best-priced-for-quality bottle I’ve seen in ages.