Shelter Small Batch Bourbon Review [In Depth]

Shelter Small Batch Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Shelter Small Batch Bourbon Details

Distillery: Shelter Distilling

Type & Region: Bourbon, California, USA

Alcohol: 45%

Composition: Unknown

Aged: At least 1 year 

Color: 1.0/2.0 on the color scale (deep copper)

Price: $50

From the company website:

Shelter Small Batch Blue Corn Bourbon is not your typical Bourbon, it’s a celebration of the American West. We use Non GMO Heirloom California Blue Corn, grown with water from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada, that is cultivated for its flavor, not cattle feed. Masterfully blended from 2-3 hand selected barrels, our Small Batch Bourbon imparts signature flavors of Birthday Cake, Vanilla, and Maple.

Shelter Small Batch Bourbon​ overview

Shelter Distilling makes a huge range of spirits, from agave spirit, single malt whiskey, rye, vodka, gin, and bourbon. I’ve covered their agave spirit and single malt whiskey previously, and now up is their introductory bourbon of sorts.
I write “introductory” because it’s their youngest and least expensive bourbon, a 1 year old bourbon for $50. Admittedly, it’s very young and it’s a really big risk to release something like this to the public, and to send it to someone like me. I’m not going to hold back my feelings, good or bad.
Shelter Distilling, founded in 2017, is located in Mammoth Lakes, California. If you don’t know where that is, it’s northwest of Fresno by Yosemite National Park, and not too far from the California-Nevada border. It’s out there off the beaten path.
Now this isn’t your usual bourbon coming from a craft distillery. There are some interesting twists here. First and foremost, some (not sure if it’s all) of the corn used in the mash (at least 51% corn since it’s bourbon) is California-grown heirloom blue corn. This is not the commonly used yellow dent corn. Heirloom corn is always an interesting addition, and distilleries for the most part are just starting to experiment with it.
There’s also the whole “terroir” of the Sierra Nevada mountains, where the distillery is located, and “small batches” explicitly stated as 2-3 barrels. That’s truly small batch bourbon.
Let’s find out what Shelter Distilling has in store with their young bourbon in this Shelter Small Batch Bourbon review.
Thank you to Shelter Distilling for providing this bourbon. All opinions are still my own.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Shelter Small Batch Bourbon​ smell

With my first few sniffs, Shelter Small Batch Bourbon has honey, floral white pear, roasted corn, roasted oak, pine, cinnamon, fennel, mint bubblegum, and a little pineapple and rose. It’s light, bright, fruity, and corn-y, but it smells nice and not at all off-putting, which is usually a concern for 1 year old craft bourbon.
Because it’s so young, it still hasn’t picked up enough substantive notes to be impactful and full, but the good news is that there’s no wacky funk or grain, so it’s on the right track.
After swirling and 15 minutes of rest, I get honey, white pear, mint, roasted corn, toasted oak, vanilla, cinnamon, caraway seed, green grape, and orange peel. Shelter Small Batch Bourbon again is light, bright, and fruity with a little roasted corn and oak. It actually smells nice, I just want it cranked up a few levels with more richness. I guess that comes in a few more years.
The range is developing, so the scents are promising. There’s no heat at all too, which is great.
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Shelter Small Batch Bourbon​ taste and aftertaste

Shelter Small Batch Bourbon starts with light and gentle honey, pear, mint, lightly toasted oak, cinnamon, roasted cork, green grape, orange peel, licorice, pineapple, and a little earthy caraway seed. As young as it is, it still tastes pretty good with budding sweetness and bright fruitiness, but it’s nothing great or noteworthy given how light it is.
The key is that nothing tastes bad or off. There’s no wacky or funky graininess or earthiness, and that’s a major relief. It’s a weirdly worded comment, but it’s important in the context of a 1+ year old craft bourbon.
With hard “chewing” I taste slightly denser honey, apricot, vanilla, white pear, and mint followed by roasted corn, toasted oak, cinnamon, green grape, caraway seed, and lychee. There’s no heat to speak of. I’m glad that “chewing” opens up the sweetness and fruitiness with a bit of spicy zing, because it actually tastes good. I wish that it were more bold and rich, but it seems like it’ll get there in a few years
The finish leaves minty honey, white pear, toasted oak, cinnamon, mint, and caraway seed with lingering floral pear, fennel, and caraway seed. It kind of tastes like lightly sweetened frosted flakes.
After “chewing” it leaves honey, white pear, mint, orange peel, roasted oak and toasted oak, green grape, caraway seed, and a little dryness.
Shelter Bourbon is a sweet and fruit-forward bourbon with budding bright fruitiness and nothing weird, funky, or off. That in and of itself is a big win.
I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too. Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Shelter Small Batch Bourbon​ Rating

Mid Shelf
I was concerned that I wouldn’t have much good to say about this 1 year old Shelter Small Batch Bourbon. I was concerned that it would taste overly funky, grainy, and earthy, as many young bourbons tend to, and I’d think it was awful. If that were the case, I’d still write it and accept the risk that I’d piss off Shelter Distilling and they’d never send me another thing.
Thankfully there actually are positive things and I’m glad to say that I enjoyed it for the most part. No, I’m not saying that this is some amazing bourbon that drinks way older than its very young age. Shelter Small Batch Bourbon is not a great bourbon right now, but I don’t think that’s the point. They’re showing a point in time that’s early on in their whiskey journey.
But in all honesty, selling a 1 year old bourbon for $50 is a really really hard sell, for me and probably most people. I get it, they need to recoup their costs, but I’m not sure this is the right way to do it.
The price is suspect, but the bourbon is very promising. There’s a nice brightness, fruity sweetness, and delicateness that hasn’t been taken over by overly earthy oak, grains, and youthful funk. It’s already surprisingly well balanced, varied, and devoid of any unpleasant youthfulness. Sure, I’d like more richness, but that just takes more time.
Nice job Shelter Distilling. You’ve laid a strong foundation and I’m looking forward to what comes out in a few years when the bourbon hits 4 years old. I wouldn’t recommend paying $50 for this when it’s under 4 years, but I think it can be compelling when it does.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)