Proof has three new privately selected bourbons. | Photo by Sara Havens

Whether you’re hosting Airbnb strangers or loaning the spare room to Uncle Tommy, many Louisvillians like to pull out all the stops to make their guests feel welcome for Derby. They don’t call it Southern hospitality for nothing.

So which bourbon should you choose for your guests that might not be something they can get in their own states?

As a writer who is willingly immersed in the bourbon scene, I often get asked about one-of-a-kind, privately selected bourbons and where they’re available. For those who don’t know the terminology, a privately selected bourbon is usually a single barrel that has been handpicked by a bar, liquor store or individual or group and then bottled especially for them.

Because it’s just one single barrel plucked out of a rick house full of thousands, the bourbon usually shows off rare characteristics not found in the regular brand. There could be heightened notes of caramel and vanilla, or a boost of baking spices and floral notes. And often, these single-barrel bourbons are bottled at a much higher proof, unless it’s the distillery’s policy to bring that down a bit.

Privately selected bourbons will be labeled as such. | Photo by Sara Havens

Basically, if you purchase one of these privately selected bourbons, you can technically say it’s one-of-a-kind without it sounding like hyperbole — because no one barrel tastes the same as another. That’s the beauty of bourbon, and that’s what makes the master distiller’s job a tough one if consistency is what he’s after.

So where can you get these bottles? The good news for us is most liquor stores in town have their own selected bourbons, including Liquor Barn locations, Old Town Liquor, Whiskey Westport & Wine, Total Wine and many more. It’s best to just go in and ask the folks working, or head to the bourbon section and look for single barrel expressions.

But say you’d like to taste before you buy — you can do that as well at a handful of Louisville bars that also carry a package license. Below is a peek at the inventory of a few such bars where you can sit down, order a pour of a privately selected bourbon, and then buy an entire bottle on your way out.

Proof on Main/21c Museum Hotel/Garage Bar

Proof’s bourbon bottle inventory. | Photo by Sara Havens

Proof is the bar inside 21c, so you can do your tasting there and then buy the bottle at the hotel’s gift shop. Garage Bar also is a sister establishment of the group, so you can purchase tastings there as well, although you’ll still have to go to the hotel if you want the bottle.

Insider stopped in last week for a quick tasting session with Proof beverage manager Chea Beckley, and he was excited to reveal his three latest offerings: Four Roses, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve. These join some other bottles in his stock, including Old Forester ($48), Buffalo Trace ($38), Russell’s Reserve ($64), Whistle Pig ($96) and Copper & Kings Brandy ($76).

Last winter, I tagged along with the Proof crew on their trip to Maker’s Mark to participate in the distillery’s new Private Select program. So I was familiar with this creation and was happy to see it finally bottled and available for purchase. The finished bourbon has crazy — yet delicious — notes of mocha, coffee and maple syrup. A pour is $18, while a bottle is $78. Proof: 111.6.

The single barrel Four Roses also was quite delectable and had intense wood notes up front. The barrel was aged seven years and six months, and I’ve yet to have a bad experience with anything out of that distillery. A pour is $10, and a bottle is $41. Proof: 100.

Finally, the Woodford Reserve was a blend of two 5-year-old barrels selected in January and showed off those sweet flavors we’re after in a good bourbon — baking spices, caramel, confection sugar. It’s also quite smooth, with none of the burn — aka a Kentucky hug — associated with some whiskeys. A pour is $12, and a bottle is $62. Proof: 90.4.

For a description of some of the other releases, check out a previous article published here.

The Pearl/Silver Dollar

Some of The Pearl’s private selection inventory | Courtesy of The Pearl

In February, we shared the good news that Germantown dive The Pearl obtained its package license and could now sell privately selected bourbons it shares with its sister location, Silver Dollar. You can taste samples at each location, but you can only purchase a bottle at The Pearl. So what do they have now for Derby week?

Beverage director Susie Hoyt told us she has a whopping 16 house single barrels, but only eight of them are available to purchase by the bottle. We’ll just focus on those. And since the pour prices differ a little between the places, we’ll just give you the cost of the bottle and its proof.

  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — $60. Proof: 101. This 9-year-old bourbon was selected with the help of master distiller Jimmy Russell.
  • Eagle Rare #1 — $60. Proof: 90. This bourbon is aged at 10 years, two months.
  • Eagle Rare #2 — $60. Proof: 90. Aged 10 years, three months.
  • Eagle Rare #3 — $60. Proof: 90. Aged 11 years, seven months.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel #1 — $62. Proof: 105.8. Aged 10 years, four months.
  • Four Roses Single Barrel #2 — $62. Proof: 112.4. Aged 10 years, eight months.
  • Maker’s Mark Private Select — $75. Proof: 110. Aged six years, two months.
  • Lunazul Reposado Tequila — $30. Proof: 80. Aged nine months in used bourbon barrels.

Haymarket Whiskey Bar

Haymarket is located in NuLu. | Courtesy of Haymarket Whiskey Bar

This NuLu dive bar has a huge selection of rare bourbons and whiskeys, and luckily for us, they also sell them by the bottle. Owner Matthew Landan and bartender Eric Snider sent us the list of what they currently have, and they also sell regular bourbons and whiskeys as well.

(They’re also the bar offering the $5,000 Pappy experience.)

Below is a list of what they have for sale by the bottle.

  • Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit — $60. Proof: 101. Aged nine years.
  • O.K.I. — $65. Proof: 110. Aged 10 years.
  • Whistle Pig — $90. Proof: 114. Aged 11 years.
  • Knob Creek #1 — $40. Proof: 120. Aged nine years.
  • Knob Creek #2 — $50. Proof: 120. Aged 12 years.
  • Old Forester — $45. Proof: 90. Aged four years.

The Back Door

You can’t buy a bottle at this venerable Highlands dive bar, but you can purchase a taste of its recently selected Old Forester single barrel, which owner John Dant treated his longtime staff to help choose. Insider tagged along that day as well, and you can read all about it here. The bourbon is now available for mere $5.50 a pour.

Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."