What Are Small Batch Spirits?
What does it mean when you see ‘small batch’ on your bottle of whisky, rum or gin? And what about batch numbers on the labels? Is it all marketing or are you looking at clues of what’s on the other side of the glass?
By their very nature, Australian craft spirits are all ’small-batch’ products. By comparison to the mass-produced products on the international market, the amount that Aussie distillers make each time they fire up their stills is small.
When you see ‘small batch’ on a mainstream spirit, it probably is a small, limited run. For them.
But when it’s on a bottle of craft spirits, you’re probably looking at something very special.
It could be an experimental product, a seasonal spirit or a special select form of the distiller’s regular line. And if all the distillery’s bottles have small batch on the label, it probably means they’re always working on a tiny scale and that each run is unique.
And that’s the rubber-meets-the-road moment: these small-batch products are unique.
For me, I’m expecting something exceptional from a small-batch spirit.
I know the flavours will be elevated, probably a higher ABV too, and it’ll be a twist or riff on the regular spirit, but at its heart there’ll still be the hallmarks of the distillery that I love.
Batch Numbers On Bottles
Sometimes you also see batch numbers on a label. Often it’ll be on the flagship spirit or the most premium regular spirit the distillery makes.
This number doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a small-batch spirit, but it does still mean the distiller has probably paid more attention to this range than others.
Each batch may well have a slightly different flavour profile, as with small-batch products, where the distiller has—for example—selected the best barrels to use.
In a way, it’s similar to wine vintages. Over time, you can create an inventory so you can pick your favourite batch to drink or to see how the distillery has changed over time.
Comparing Two Different Batches
A good example of how batch number have a practical use is Starward Distillery’s premium whisky Fortis.
Comparing Batch IV with Batch VI of this wonderful 50% single malt, both aged in American oak ex-Barossa red wine barrels, is so interesting.
Batch IV (and you can read our full review of the IV here) is a little lighter in colour and has a touch more caramel on the nose than the VI, which is fruitier smelling.
To taste, Batch IV is bright yet slightly dry with strong vanilla notes coming in at the middle, and a long peppery citrus finish.
Batch VI however is dryer on palate and has floral mids. There’s a similar caramel and vanilla flavour towards the end but less pepper and more of a fruit and floral finish than its predecessor.
Both are still incredibly smooth—especially for a 50% whisky—and the differences are minor, but certainly noticeable all the same.
Small Batch Aged Spirits
With things like whisky and rum, small batch really refers to the number of barrels filled as opposed to the amount of wash distilled.
This limited number of barrels that come from the same run from the still are sampled then blended to create a small number of bottles. These bottles often have numbers on them too.
From one small batch run to the next, there’s likely to be a difference in flavour profiles, which is kind of the point.
Small Batch White Spirits
Small batch gin is about how much spirit is created from a single distillation. Small batch gin is about how much spirit is created from a single distillation. One of the challenges with small batch gin is consistency, though one positives is the distiller has complete control.
The distiller might have created a one-off botanical list or have a small amount of a particular ingredient.
Alternatively, it could be a seasonal product like Stone Pine Distillery’s Orange Blossom Gin, where distiller-owner Ian Glen hand-harvests the flowers of nearby orange trees each spring to use in his gin.
The result is a slight difference in each year’s batch, albeit small.
For craft spirits nerds, this is fascinating and a great reason to keep an eye out for batch numbers and small-batch labels on your Aussie craft spirits.