What 'Store Pick' Bourbon Actually Means

On the surface, what makes a bourbon a bourbon is straightforward. As a distinctly American spirit, bourbon has to be made in the U.S. with at least 51% corn, be aged for at least two years in new charred oak barrels, contain no coloring or flavoring additives other than water, and be bottled at between 80 and 125 proof. However, the rise in popularity of bourbon in recent years — the most expensive bottles of bourbon can fetch huge sums of money — has led to a proliferation in varieties of bourbon, which has only added to the terminology. Well, add store-pick bourbon to that mix.

A store pick, also known as a private barrel or privately selected barrel, is when a store (or restaurant, bar, private bourbon club, or some other purchaser) selects, or "picks," a specific barrel of bourbon from a distillery, which then gets bottled and labeled to indicate that it's not a bottle that's typically released by the distillery. Store picks are becoming increasingly popular as stores and retailers realize it's a way to offer something different and differentiate themselves. For consumers, it's a way to try a different expression from a known brand.

How to select a store pick

There are typically three different ways that store picks are selected: A buyer visits the distillery to try out different barrels and selects the one they like, the distillery sends samples from different barrels to the buyer to taste and choose among, or a buyer is given a chance to purchase a pre-selected barrel by the distillery. Store picks are almost always single barrel rather than small batch bourbon, though it is possible for a store pick to be a blend.

It's important to note that store-pick bourbons are not necessarily better than regular bourbon offerings by a particular brand or distillery. The store may not have even had the chance to try the barrel out beforehand. Even if they did, you're relying on someone else's palate and tastes, which can be quite different from yours. It's a good idea to talk to the shop or seller offering the store pick to find out how the barrel was selected and if they had a chance to taste it, as well as details about the tasting notes. If the store offers a sample, even better, as you can see if you like that particular bottle before purchasing. One thing is for certain with store picks: You're unlikely to find them anywhere else!