If you’ve taken an interest in different varieties of bourbon, you have probably come across rickhouse brands marketed for the way they are stored, aged, and distilled. Even though many brands like Russell’s Reserve have been marketing the uniqueness of their rickhouse whiskeys, it isn’t clear to most people what a rickhouse is.
So, what is a rickhouse? A rickhouse is a warehouse where whiskey barrels are stacked in multiple racks for uniform aging and thorough ventilation. Stacks are called ricks and a rickhouse is effectively a warehouse that holds multiple stacks of whiskey barrels.
In this article, you will find out how rickhouse location, size, and wall material can contribute to the overall quality and taste of the bourbon. You will also find out the different rickhouse brands that customers love alongside the key aspects on which you can judge rickhouse whiskey.
By the end of this post, you’ll know what rickhouse bourbon is and how you can differentiate high-quality rickhouse bourbon from low-quality rickhouse products.
Rickhouse Bourbon: A Brief Overview
A rickhouse is simply a shed with multiple ricks/racks designed to Distil bourbon in an appropriately ventilated environment. Rickhouses have a down-top ventilation design, with the lowers ricks being the coolest and the top-most racks being the hottest.
The dryness and heat at the top ensure that spirits have a more concentrated flavor profile with less moisture and water content. The cold air gets hot and rises up, lifting the moisture content of the spirits in the form of water vapor.
The open-top nature of a rickhouse allows the warm air to escape, allowing fresh air at the bottom to rise up as its temperature increases. The constant slow circulation gradually removes moisture from the barrels making flavorful bourbon.
But rickhouse Bourbons are desired for more than their concentrated flavor. They are also admired for their uniformity. While bourbon and whiskey barrels need to be rotated and moved around in standard storage, they can be held in one position in a rickhouse. The open ventilation of the storage method ensures that the whisky matures uniformly.
This makes rickhouses better not just for the consumer but also for the distillery. It is a practical storage method for single-barrel whiskey, though it has some quantity limitations.
How Many Barrels Are In A Rickhouse?
An old-school rickhouse can hold and age 18,000 to 20,000 barrels, while modern rickhouses are capable of housing 55,000+ barrels. An average rickhouse can have 90 wooden racks, with a capacity that increases with the size of the rickhouse.
Rickhouses rarely go beyond 90-barrels-high because the circulation becomes slower the higher a rickhouse is built. Most of the capacity expansion comes from longer racks that can house more barrels.
You might wonder if the whiskey that comes from smaller rickhouses is any different from one that comes from 50,000-barrel rickhouses.
Whiskey that ages on the top shelf of any rickhouse is comparatively better than the whiskey that comes from its lower shelves. Therefore, rick houses that have taller rack placement can provide better whiskey than ones with lower rack height.
It is hard to compare whiskeys from two rickhouses based on the size of the warehouses because location and atmosphere, alongside other factors like ingredient quality, contribute to the whiskey’s flavor and quality.
For instance, a warmer atmosphere accelerates the aging of whiskey. So a shelf 4 whiskey in a rickhouse located in a warm region might taste better than a shelf 9 whiskey aging in a cold region.
Ultimately, the size of the rickhouse can contribute to the altitude at which a barrel ages, which might affect its flavor. But the region of the rickhouse and the quality of the barrel’s contents are far more important.
Why Is It Called A Rickhouse?
A rack-bearing warehouse used for aging whiskey is called a rickhouse because it houses multiples ricks of whiskey barrels. A rick usually means a stack, but in the context of whiskey, it refers to a rack used to stack barrels.
For a facility to be a rickhouse, it must have several shelves of whiskey barrels and a slightly permeable ceiling or roof that allows warm air to escape. With this definition, almost any facility where whiskey barrels are stacked on their sides can be considered a rickhouse.
This might clash with the perceived specialness of “rickhouse whiskey.” Lately, many whiskey brands have started leaning into positioning their products as “rickhouse whiskey.” This creates an aura of unearned value around the whiskey.
Whiskey that is aged appropriately in a top rack in a rickhouse is objectively more flavorful than average whiskey, But for every one barrel of whiskey aging at the top, there are 90 barrels aging in comparatively lower altitudes, receiving gradually lower warmth.
Do not buy rickhouse whiskey simply because it comes from a rickhouse. Instead, judge the whiskey by the location of the rickhouse and the shelf height at which it is allowed to mature. This also applies to scotch and bourbon.
What Is A Bourbon Rickhouse?
A bourbon rickhouse is a warehouse where bourbon barrels age while stacked on top of each other in 40-to-90-story racks. It is pretty similar to a whiskey rickhouse but houses and ages bourbon only.
It is possible to age multiple types of whiskey, including bourbon, in a single facility. But seasoned bourbon consumers assert that aging standard whiskey and bourbon in the same facility can be bad for both products.
Small rickhouses usually house one type of whiskey. Regardless of whether a rickhouse carries whiskey or bourbon, the name of the facility is called a rickhouse. You’ll not find rickhouses being referred to as bourbon rickhouses, scotch rickhouses, etc. These facilities are often differentiated based on their size and material.
A mega rickhouse usually ages over 30,000 barrels, while a small-scale rickhouse holds less than 18,000 barrels. Aside from size classification, these facilities are also divided between metal rickhouses and brick rickhouses.
What Is The Difference Between A Metal And Brick Rickhouse?
Metal rickhouse is cold-blooded and reliant on the atmospheric temperature for its immediate internal temperature. A brick rickhouse can regulate its internal temperature and depends on ventilation for its temperature maintenance.
As a result, barrels in a metal rickhouse experience drastic changes in temperature while barrels in a brick rickhouse age at a stable temperature. The more consistent a region’s natural temperature, the less risky it is to have a metal rickhouse. The more extreme a region’s temperature swings, the more you need a brick rickhouse for temperature stability, especially on the top shelf.
Rickhouse Bourbon Buying Guide
If you want to buy rickhouse bourbon or whiskey, you have to look beyond the “rickhouse brand” gimmick to seek actual quality. The pointers in this section will help you select the most flavorful rickhouse whiskey. They will also help you avoid low-quality rickhouse beverages.
The Region Of The Rickhouse Is Important
While many rickhouses are located close to each other, there are some that are in very cold regions. A rickhouse must be in a temperate-to-hot region for the bourbon to age properly. The drier its weather, the more rapidly the whiskey will lose its moisture and become concentrated in flavor.
Prefer Brick Rickhouse Bourbon
Brick rickhouses are better at temperature regulation, so the bourbon is homogeneously matured and uniformly aged when it is housed in a brick rickhouse. Wooden and metal rickhouses can undergo steep temperature changes, though the distilleries’ quality control departments filter out sub-par bourbon even from less-insulated rickhouses.
Still, it is safer to go with a brick rickhouse as the chances of getting inconsistent bourbon from such facilities are close to zero.
Select Top-Shelf Bourbon
The top three shelves have the best-aged bourbon in any given batch. Regardless of the height of the ricks, you cannot go wrong choosing the top-shelf product. The temperature is the warmest around the topmost shelf, but you can go as low as the third shelf from the top and still get well-aged whiskey.
Go By General Consumer Reviews
Aside from choosing a top-shelf product from brick rickhouses in warmer regions, there is one more thing you can do to ensure that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase: look at product reviews. See what previous buyers have been saying about a specific rickhouse bourbon before you purchase your next bottle.
General consumer reviews are much better than professional critics’ reviews. They focus on the general appeal of the bourbon and pretty accurately indicate how likely you are to enjoy a batch.
Popular Rickhouse Bourbons
The best rickhouse bourbons are ones that have a straightforward rationale behind their quality and a decent customer review base speaking for their general appeal. Bourbon should not be hard to like, and the best bourbon tastes good to every bourbon lover. Here are some rickhouse brands admired by bourbon consumers in general.
- Russell’s Reserve Rickhouse Bourbon – Among people who rave about the effects of a warehouse on whiskey, customers of Russell’s Reserve are the most vocal. The facility produces “single rickhouse,” whiskey that is aged and distilled in one rickhouse. It is objectively more flavorful than standard straight bourbon and is, in many ways, a pioneer in the rickhouse bourbon wave.
- Gold Bar Rickhouse Bourbon – Gold Bar Rickhouse Bourbon is one of the strongest bourbons. It is distilled and bottled at cask strength with zero dilution. The effects of it being a “rickhouse bourbon” are not marketed by Gold Bar but are evident from the first time you sample it.
- B&B Rickhouse Barrel Select Bourbon – Bourbon & Bones Rickhouse Bourbon Barrel Select bottles are released in limited batches and often sell out because of previous customers’ recurring interest. It could be because of the relative scarcity of the B&B barrel select or could be because of how good its rickhouse bourbon is.
Key Takeaways About Bourbon Rickhouses
Rickhoouse is a warehouse with ricks/racks housing 18000 to 55000 barrels of whiskey. It allows the barrels to age uniformly without the need for rotation or movement.
The topmost shelves access the warmest air and produce more concentrated whiskey. For the best rickhouse bourbon, you should opt for top-shelf products sourced from a brick rickhouse in a temperate region.