Once relegated to airplanes and minibars, the 50 ml bottle became increasingly popular as a result of COVID-related restrictions especially among craft distillers who were kept from hosting events or opening their tasting rooms. To stay afloat, small distilleries turned to minis (which are 50 ml), sending out samples for virtual tastings, and connecting with drinkers from afar.
“Filling 50 ml bottles is notoriously difficult, and normally not known as a profit center for craft businesses, but we saw them as an investment,” says Gareth Moore, CEO of Virginia Distillery Co.. The distillery launched its first single malt, Courage and Conviction, in April 2020, at the start of the pandemic, and used 50 ml bottles as part of the rollout to reach more people.
Catoctin Creek co-founder Scott Harris says that they resisted minis at first, but eventually saw the appeal. “Store tastings have stopped completely nationwide, and without tastings, there is no easy way to get customers to try our products before committing to a larger 750 ml purchase,” he explains. But with minis of whiskeys like Roundstone Rye, Catoctin Creek can get its products into people’s glasses even without the face-to-face interaction.
The benefit of “try before you buy” applies especially to more expensive whiskies. If the pandemic left some strapped for cash, minis offer a way to sample and enjoy something new without a big outlay. James Saxon, assistant whisky maker for Compass Box, says the company has seen an uptick in sales of its 50 ml gift pack—which includes The Peat Monster, Spice Tree, and The Story of the Spaniard—and is currently exploring how to offer more whiskies in the smaller format.
“People who wouldn’t have felt inclined to splurge on a full bottle have the confidence to give a new brand or expression a try when the format is smaller,” Saxon says. “The consumer feels happier getting to try more whiskies without needing to spend a lot of money.”
Mini Me: These 50 ml bottles let you try before you buy (a whole bottle)
Virginia Distillery Co. Courage and Conviction—91 points, $8
Guava, pomegranate, blueberries, kiwi, sandalwood soap on the nose. Lemon and orange oil, dried leaves, nutty tobacco, and peppery spice on the palate. Milk chocolate and a hint of ashy charred nuts.
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye 80 proof—80 points, $4
Made with 100% organic rye, this Virginia-made whiskey is fresh and oily on the nose, and bursts with rye spice, hints of mint, and just a bit of vanilla.
Amrut Peated Single Malt—90 points, $6
Smoked meat, paprika, cumin, peppercorn, and star anise, amid fragrant smoke and maple bacon. Tangerine, marmalade, lime zest, and pineapple juice along with a cascade of aromatic spices.
Johnnie Walker Blue Label—97 points, $20
Caramels, dried peats, elegant cigar smoke, seeds scraped from vanilla beans, brand new pencils, peppercorn, coriander seeds, and star anise. Ripe peach, stewed apple, and orange pith.
Woodford Reserve—89 points, $5
Nutmeg, mango, baked apples, cinnamon, blueberry pie, and vanilla walk in perfect harmony. Gingerbread, caramel, and vanilla jump into layers of smoke and spice.
Compass Box The Peat Monster—93 points, $20/set (also includes Spice Tree and Story of the Spaniard)
Candied citrus, lemon-frosted cake, and raspberry, along with classic peated undertones of charcoal and iodine. Brine, seashells, ashiness, and a floral peat influence combines with vanilla and lime.
Penderyn Madeira—88 points, $10
Candied orange and lemon slices, toasted spices, herb garden, light vanilla. Toffee and orange cake, an array of tropical fruits with papaya and passion fruit sweetness, and a thrust of pepper and clove.
Bushmills Red Bush—87 points, $2
Cinnamon, molasses, sultanas, tarte Tatin, and sweet crème brûlée. A brash combination of spice, cinnamon, cooked apple and pear, caramel popcorn, bitter vanilla, and spun sugar.
Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye—91 points, $3
Fruity and floral, with prunes, peaches, red apple skins, and bouquets of spring flowers boosted by vibrant peppery spices. Hints of vanilla round it out. A long, spicy finish ends with hints of citrus pith.