Cask strength or barrel proof bourbon is a whiskey style that will warm you up on the coldest fall days. Technically, the term is a reference to a whiskey that hasn’t been diluted by water. No cutting with H20 equals higher ABVs (typically), which means this whiskey is often described as hot and can easily leave you flush.
When it comes to cask strength, there’s no exact ABV or proof that denotes what that is — it’s simply whatever the ABVs are when the whiskey comes out of the barrel. This means it could technically be anywhere from 45 percent to 60 percent and well above (again, most cask proof offerings are on the higher end of the ABV spectrum). In general, these are potent and warming expression — just what you need as the weather turns.
Below, you’ll find 10 of our favorite cask strength bourbons ranked. Some are more well-known and others are underrated expressions. We literally like them all (some better than others, but all palates are different). Make sure to click on the prices if you’re intrigued by the tasting notes.
10) Pinhook Bourbon Country Cask Strength
Average Price: $55
Annually, Pinhook drops new rye or bourbon to pay tribute to a thoroughbred horse. Each expression is blended and proofed to be one-of-a-kind. Its award-winning Bourbon Country Cask Strength has a mash bill of 75 percent corn, 20.5 percent rye, and 4.5 percent malted barley. It’s a potent 115.3 proof that manages to be surprisingly smooth.
On the nose, you’ll find hints of candied orange peels, caramel candy, maple syrup, and nutty pecans. The palate is filled with notes of cinnamon sugar, buttery caramel, vanilla beans, and a slightly nutty sweetness that warms you up at the very end.
This whiskey might not have the name recognition of many of the other cask strength whiskeys on this list, but it definitely shouldn’t be missed.
9) Bulleit Barrel Strength
Average Price: $59.99
Why This Bottle?
Bulleit is well-known for its value bourbons and ryes. Its award-winning Bulleit Barrel Strength isn’t to be missed with its uncut, unfiltered, straight from the barrel proof and flavor. It’s made in single batches to guarantee the richest, sweetest, most mellow sipping whiskey regardless of the high proof. The ABV various based on batch, but it’s between 120 and 125 proof.
This whiskey opens with subtle holiday spices, charred oak, and a ton of cinnamon, butterscotch, and vanilla flavors. The palate is loaded with maple syrup, toasted marshmallows, cloves, cinnamon sugar, and oak. It all comes to a crescendo with a warming, dry, sticky toffee pudding finish.
Like with many of the other expressions on this list, this is the type of bottle you enjoy after you’ve already tried Bulleit’s lesser ABV expressions.
8) Old Ezra Extra Aged
Average Price: $75
Started in 1957, Ezra Brooks is currently distilled in Bardstown, Kentucky (along with Rebel Bourbon, David Nicholson, and Blood Oath) at Lux Row Distillers. Its Extra Aged expression is a straight bourbon that spends seven years in new, charred American oak barrels before being bottled at cask strength.
Complex aromas of cinnamon, charred oak, dried cherries, and slight spice are prevalent on the nose. Sipping it reveals flavors of raisins, more cherries, oaky wood, caramel apples, and vanilla. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice mix of spice and sweetness.
The phrase “extra aged” is a bit misleading since this whiskey is only aged for seven years. But with a complex flavor profile, that’s definitely long enough.
7) Maker’s Mark Cask Strength
Average Price: $50
It’s not hard to understand the appeal of Maker’s Mark. The original expression is cheap, flavorful, and always the same. That’s all well and good, but the cask strength version is where it’s at. It’s barrel-proof, non-chill-filtered, and filled with spice, caramel, and other rich flavors.
On the nose, you’ll find bold aromas of crème Brulee, oak, slight spice, and subtle smoke. The taste is rich, flavorful, and loaded with vanilla beans, creamy caramel, and just a hint of wintry spice. It all ends with a nice, slightly dry, caramel finish.
Once you’ve tried Maker’s Mark (and we’re sure you have), it’s time to move on to the bolder, more robust cask strength version.
6) Wild Turkey Rare Breed
Average Price: $50
Bourbon drinkers and bartenders alike rave about this award-winning bourbon. Made with a blend of six, eight, and 12-year-old small batch bourbons, it’s known just as much for its high proof as it is for its sweet, nutty, caramel, and slightly spicy flavor profile.
The nose is very spicy (in a good way) with hints of cracked black pepper, charred wood, and toasted vanilla beans. Sipping it brings forth notes of oaky wood, buttery caramel, vanilla, and peppery rye. The finish is a great, warming combination of peppery spice and sweetness.
While some of the expressions on this list are hard to come by, you can pretty much find Wild Turkey Rare Breed at any liquor store. It doesn’t at all take away from the appeal and quality.
5) Little Book
Average Price: $150
Whiskey drinkers who lean in the higher proof range have loved Booker’s for years. But while this expression could easily find a place on this list, today we’re instead turning our attention to Little Book. The most recent version of this limited-run whiskey is “The Road Home.” It’s Freddie Noe’s tribute to his grandfather using a recipe that blends 9-year-old Basil Hayden’s, nine-year-old Knob Creek, 11-year-old Bookers, and 12-year-old Baker’s.
The nose is a symphony of cloves, cinnamon, and other baking spices as well as butterscotch and toasted vanilla beans. The flavor is all vanilla, caramel corn, dried cherries, and a nice, pleasing, warming kick of oaky spice on the final sip.
If you’re a fan of Jim Beam’s small batch expressions, but you can’t just choose one, grab a bottle of Little Book instead. It’s artfully blended and encompasses all the brand has to offer.
4) Kings County Barrel Strength
Average Price: $100
This award-winning bourbon is pulled straight from the barrel. Depending on the batch, it’s aged between two and five (and even longer) years and is between 116 and 128 proof. It’s well-known for its bold, intense, but still mellow, and highly drinkable flavor.
The nose is highlighted by scents of toasted marshmallows, caramel candy, woody oak, slight peppery spice, and dried fruits. The palate has hints of dried cherries, cinnamon, pipe tobacco, and toffee before finishing with a nice combination of spice and vanilla.
Kings County is making a name for itself in the whiskey world. If you’ve yet to try any of its expressions, now is the time.
3) Weller Full Proof
Average Price: $400
The Weller name is a big deal in the whiskey world. Many of the brand’s expressions are highly sought after and sometimes they become unicorn bottles. Weller Full Proof demands a lot on the aftermarket and many drinkers believe that with its non-chill-filtered, wheated profile, it’s worth it.
Its nose leans heavily on dried cherries, raisins, and caramel apples. The palate is flavored with butterscotch, chocolate fudge, oak, dried fruits, and lingering, warming spices at the finish.
Weller Full Proof isn’t always easy to come by and when you do, you’re likely to spend a little more for a bottle. If you’re okay with that, grab one and savor it. This is a complex, special, and, yes, warming dram.
2) Angel’s Envy Cask Strength
Average Price: $250
This limited-edition, award-winning bourbon is only released once per year (in limited quantities). Made using hand-selected barrels, it’s 120 plus proof but manages to be nuanced and filled with chocolate, vanilla, and other rich flavors.
Breathe in the aromas of fresh leather, charred oak, slight spices, and dried fruits. On the palate, you’ll find raisins, dried cherries, candied orange peels, pipe tobacco, and woody oak. The finish is dry, filled with pleasing heat, with slight toffee and fruit at the end.
Similar to Maker’s Mark, if you’ve tried Angel’s Envy aged in port casks, you might want to step it up and try this version. That is, if you can get your hands on a bottle.
1) Stagg Jr.
Average Price: $150
Named for whiskey pioneer George T. Stagg, Stagg, Jr. is uncut, unfiltered, and matured for almost ten years before bottling at cask strength. It has a low rye mash bill that makes it supremely sippable and memorable.
The nose is complex with notes of dried fruits, oak, orange peels, caramel corn, and cinnamon sugar. The palate is all caramel apples, fudge, dried cherries, and a gentle, nutty sweetness throughout. It ends with a nice dry, warming finish.
Stagg, Jr. is a highly sought-after bottle, and it deserves the praise it receives. It’s bold, uncut, but surprisingly mellow as well. Clearly, it’s my personal favorite this time of year.
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