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Expand Your Palate With The Best Barrel And Cask Finished Whiskeys

Almost all whiskeys are aged in a barrel. Scotch and Irish whiskey tend to mellow in old bourbon and sherry casks. Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey, and rye need to rest in new American oak barrels. And some whiskeys don’t have any specific barreling procedure, like Canadian or Australian whiskies. Still, unless we’re talking moonshine or white dog, there’s going to be some booze meeting wood for a few years.

After that initial aging, whiskeys are blended and filtered with water or go straight into the bottle. But sometimes master distillers take the aging one step further. They’ll transfer their juice to another barrel to add an extra layer of depth, new aromas, and unique flavors to their whiskeys. This is called “finishing.” If you spot a bottle that says “Rum barrel finished” or “Cognac barrel finished,” it means that the whiskey in that bottle was barreled twice — once to turn it into a standard aged whiskey and a second time to add a little something extra.

In short, cask or barrel finishing is for the experimenters, the searchers, the mad ones traipsing wildly through the world of whiskey. Around these parts, we’re definitely fans.

The eight bottles below offer a wide selection of our favorite whisk(e)ys from around the world that take cask and barrel finishing to the next level. Let’s dive in!

BALCONES FR.OAK TEXAS SINGLE MALT WHISKY

Story:

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Balcones Distillery is changing the game down in Waco, Texas. The craft distillery is taking risks with their blue corn bourbons and Texas single malts. Their recent release, Fr.Oak Texas Single Malt Whisky, is a big whisky that keeps winning awards for its brilliance. The 100 percent Golden Promise malted barley spirit is barreled in several different sizes of American oak for up to nine months. Then the juice is moved to French oak for another 13 months. The result is something wholly unique to the whisky world.

Tasting Notes:

This whisky goes BIG. It opens with notes of browned butter, clove, rosemary sprigs, grilled peaches, umami-bomb mushrooms, and worn leather. Nuances of dulce de leche, black tea, mango, creamy vanilla ice cream, and green peppercorns dance throughout the taste. The spice wanes into a white pepper and allspice sharpness with a hint of bitter chocolate and herbal eucalyptus branches on the warming finish.

ANGEL’S ENVY BOURBON FINISHED IN PORT WINE BARRELS CASK STRENGTH

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Story:

Angel’s Envy masterful bourbon is aged for seven years in new American oak. The master blenders then start hand-selecting the best barrels for blending. That high-quality juice is then transferred to port wine casks to finish aging. The bottle is then bottled, uncut at cask strength (62 percent ABV or 124 proof), making the indomitable Cask Strength Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels.

Tasting Notes:

Apples dipped in honey, ripe bananas, stone fruit hanging from branches, bitter yet floral black tea, and toasted oak lead the way. Butterscotch arrives with rich and butter toffee followed by those honey-dipped apples again. Vanilla and oak notes come up from the background and join with the bitter black tea towards a dry and warm finish.

TULLAMORE D.E.W. XO CARIBBEAN RUM CASK FINISH

Story:

Irish whiskey is a great candidate for extra barrel aging. Tullamore D.E.W. XO Rum Cask Finish is a triple distilled spirit that blends pot still, malt, and grain Irish whiskey that’s then aged in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks before going into first-fill XO (extra old) rum barrels that held Demerara rum from Guyana. The result is a blend of Irish whiskey engineering and Caribbean vibes in every bottle.

Tasting Notes:

Citrus, spice, and banana settle next to notes of vanilla and woody oak. Creamy caramel mixes with banana leaning towards a Banana’s Foster feel with plenty of vanilla and fatty, sweet dates. The caramel and banana fully blend with doses of mild spice on the long and warm finish.

TALISKER PORT RUIGHE

Story:

Talisker bottles the sky and sea into every bottle of whisky they produce. Talisker Port Ruighe (pronounced Port “Ree”) is a testament to the barrel prowess of the distillery. The hot juice goes into used American and European oak. Once it hits just the right spot, the whisky is moved to ruby port wine casks for finishing.

Tasting Notes:

Imagine a campfire on a windswept beach. There’s a sense of ripe stone fruits caramelizing over the hot coals of that fire as smoke billows around your senses. Dark fruits, sharp spiciness, and thick peat smoke rise up on the palate. Finally, bitter cacao arrives to usher in a dry, long-lasting finish.

PIKE CREEK 10 YEAR RUM BARREL FINISH

Story:

Up in Canada, Pike Creek blends a classic corn whisky with a small dose of rye and then ages it for ten years in white oak. The extreme swings in the weather in Ontario and long barreling time allows the whisky to take on a deeper character. Finally, the juice is moved into rum barrels to add a finishing depth to the corn/rye hybrid.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla and brown sugar dominate the intro to this sip. Fresh plums and figs alongside honeycomb and toffee lead towards a sharp turn into rye spiciness. There’s a hint of freshly milled lumber next to citrus wisps on the back end. The finish balances the vanilla, dark rum sugars, and rye spice on a lasting warm finish.

BELLE MEADE BOURBON FINISHED IN XO COGNAC CASKS

Story:

Belle Meade, the sibling of Nelson’s Green Brier, is making some of the best bourbons in Tennessee. Their cask finishing program is one of the most daring in the industry as lines are always being pushed. Their Bourbon Finished in XO Cognac Casks is a highwater mark of the style. After selecting the best barrels of bourbon from their rickhouse, the juice is transferred to French Limousin Oak that held Champagne XO Cognacs for 12 years before they arrived in Tennessee.

Tasting Notes:

Crème brûlée fresh from the oven greets you on this one. Sweet red apples dusted in cinnamon follow. Dried orange zest and baking spice drop into the mix with clear bourbon notes of vanilla and rich caramel. Wisps of allspice rise as a cedar bark note drive the sip to a warming hug of a finish.

MICHTER’S US1 TOASTED BARREL FINISH RYE

Story:

Michter’s knocked it out of the park with this twice barreled Toasted Barrel Finish Rye. The hot rye first ages in charred new American oak. Once it hits just the right point, the juice is transferred to barrels that Michter’s especially makes for the finishing process. They air-dry oak staves for 24 months and then toast them — no more char is utilized. The whiskey then ages in those toasted barrels until it’s perfect for a single barrel bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Vanilla dances with honey and dark chocolate as rye spice builds. Roasted almonds sit next to fatty and sweet dates. Rich crème brûlée fills out the body of the sip as the spice peaks with a distant billow of a campfire, crackling away at dry fir logs kicking up wispy lines of smoke.

THE BALVENIE PORTWOOD 21 YEAR

Story:

This 21-year-old single malt from Speyside’s The Balvenie is a once-in-a-lifetime bottle of scotch. The spirit is aged for decades in ex-bourbon casks before being transferred to port wine pipes. Port pipes are 500 to 600-liter massive barrels that aged port. For comparison’s sake, a bourbon barrel is usually 120 liters. The large-format barrelling process adds a serious port feel to the finished product.

Tasting Notes:

Roasted nuts and floral dried fruits lead the way. Hints of spice delicately balance with wildflowers and ripe red fruits with a slight tartness. The fruity sweetness, sharp spice, and floral notes all come together on a rich, bold finish that warms you to the depths of your soul.

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