Special barrel finishes on whiskey are nothing new. The number of them you can find is pretty new, however, with new expressions popping up all the time. The barrel finish on a whiskey spans every single style of the brown juice these days, from bourbon to Irish whiskey to American whiskey and beyond. That means it’s time to take a look at some special barrel-finished whiskeys in a blind taste test to find some worth drinking.
For this blind taste test, I’m not sticking to a single genre of whiskey. Barrel finishing a whiskey is about more than just bourbon or scotch. It’s about adding that little something extra to the flavor profile — an “x-factor,” if you will. So to that end, I grabbed bottles from Ireland, Canada, Kentucky, Colorado, and Indiana that span American blended whiskeys, blended Irish tipple, American single malts, rye whiskeys, and sour mash whiskeys. It’s an eclectic mix with a barrel-finished throughline.
Our lineup today is:
- Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey
- Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Finished in Imperial Porter Barrels
- Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels Cask Strength
- Barrell Gold Label Seagrass Rye Whiskey Finished in Martinique Rum, Madeira, and Apricot Brandy Barrels
- Teeling Whiskey Single Malt Aged 32 Years Purple Muscat
- Oak & Eden Wheat & Honey
- Broken Barrel Luciferous American Single Malt Whiskey
- Guero Rye Whiskey Aged 6 Years Finished in Cognac Barrels
Okay, let’s dive in and find some great whiskey to stock on those fall-themed bar carts!
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Part 1: The Tasting
The nose opens with a tinge of orange oils and salted dark chocolate with floral honey, soft vanilla, and toffee brittle with a hint of pitchy firewood and apple-cinnamon toast. The palate has a smoked cherry vibe next to oranges stuffed with clove and allspice. There’s a soft eggnog creaminess and nutmeg sense on the mid-palate that leads to vanilla and cherry tobacco, warm winter spices, and more of that firewood pitch.
This is pretty damn nice overall.
A bit of buttermilk biscuit is overwhelmed by ester-y fruit and diacetyl butterscotch on the nose. The palate has a bit of dried apple and vanilla pudding with more of those ester-y fruit notes and a hint of steeliness. The finish is short and sweet with a tinniness and fake fruit candy vibe next to minor notes of toffee and spice.
This is a big ol’ nope from me.
This opens with a deep sense of blackberry jam over a Southern biscuit with plenty of brown butter, vanilla sauce, and apple fruit leather with a dash of cinnamon, allspice, and star anise next to a whisper of cherry cream soda and orange-chocolate tobacco packed into a cedar box. The palate is soft and supple with a brandy butter vibe next to mince meat pie with powdered sugar icing, meaty dates, black tea, and rich Black Forest cake. The end subtly meanders through shaved dark chocolate and stewed cherry, eventually landing on a vanilla-laced tobacco leaf rolled up with apple-cider-soaked cinnamon sticks and old wicker canes.
This is a wonderful pour of whiskey.
The nose opens with a hint of caramel malt next to apricot jam, old lawn furniture, grilled pineapple skins, Nutella, and some orange blossoms with a whisper of rye crust with caraway leading to a dry sense of hazelnut shells and wild sage. The palate opens with rich honey next to orange oils, dusty prunes, mango skins, and maybe a hint of cumin and dried red chili. The end mixes a touch of lemon oils with black peppercorns as the honey and mango cream toward a sweet and tropical fruit end that’s countered by rich notes of nutmeg and pineapple tobacco.
This was a heavy-duty pour but ultimately delicious.
The nose opens with a fleeting sense of dark chocolate malts next to black cherries tossed in smoked salt, walnut cake with plenty of cinnamon and nutmeg, and tart red berries swimming in a cream cut with vanilla pods. The palate dried out those cherries and adds in some meaty prunes, dates, and figs next to old cellar beams with an echo of prosciutto fat somewhere deep in that body of the palate. The end leans into woody mulled wine spices and rich creamed honey with a touch of buttery milk chocolate with a nutty edge and slight tobacco burn.
This is another stellar pour of whiskey.
This opens like a fruit orchard with a butterscotch underbelly next to singed marshmallow and cherry stems. The palate is sweet thanks to that butterscotch with spiced apple cider notes and a hint of stewed cherry with cloves and maybe a little banana bread lurking in the background. The end is light and sweet with apple candy next to vanilla extract and more of that butterscotch.
This was fine.
Interesting. The nose opens with a sense of fresh squash with a good dose of winter spices, light caramel, and wet malts rounding things out. The taste has a moment more of that fresh squash before hitting a note that’s — I swear — corn-encrusted fried catfish served on a banana leaf plate with cranberry sauce and a light sense of pumpkin ale and toasted coconut. The end lingers through the fall-inspired spices and ales vibes with a sweet squash cut with brown sugar and honey folds into a light tobacco leaf vibe.
This is just fascinating.
The nose opens with a sense of Swedish Fish next to orange marmalade on scones with a touch of rum-raisin, walnuts, and winter spices rolled into soft tobacco. The palate layers pine-y honey with salted caramel, oatmeal cookies with walnuts, raisins, and plenty of cinnamon and vanilla next to a hint of Cherry Coke. The end fades through woody cinnamon sticks and old star anise as apple-cinnamon tobacco folds in with dry sweetgrass and old cedar bark.
This was really nice. Not the best pour of the set, but up there.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Five Trail Blended American Whiskey Finished in Imperial Porter Barrels — Taste 2
Average Price: $73
This new whiskey from Coors is all about that Colorado Rocky Mountain water in the proofing. The whiskey is a blend of a four-year wheated bourbon from Indiana with four-year four-grain bourbon from Kentucky, a four-year single malt from Colorado, and a seven-year rye from Indiana. Those barrels are batched and then the whiskey is re-barreled in Imperial porter barrels for a final rest before batching, proofing with that aforementioned Rocky Mountain water, and bottling.
This just did not land today. It was tinny and had a fake fruit vibe that I couldn’t get behind. This is a hard skip for me.
7. Oak & Eden Wheat & Honey — Taste 6
Average Price: $50
This bourbon (from Kentucky) is heavily wheated only 51 percent corn and 45 percent wheat, plus a mere four perfect malted barley in the mix. The whiskey is aged for a few years before it’s batched, proofed, and bottled. Finally, a honey-soaked oak spire/stave is added to the bottle for a final touch of flavoring before you open it.
This was fine. It was a solid wheaty bourbon with a touch of honey. Nothing really stood out though.
6. Broken Barrel Luciferous American Single Malt Whiskey — Taste 7
Average Price: $70
This whiskey is made from 100 percent Indiana single malt whiskey. Those barrels are then re-barreled into Amaro and French oak casks for final maturation. The final blend is a mix of 80 percent Amaro barrels and 20 percent French oak before and bottling at cask strength.
This was fascinating. It was so different and … worked. I really like the pumpkin ale vibes, especially this time of year. There’s something here worth going back for and exploring more of that flavor profile.
5. Guero Rye Whiskey Aged 6 Years Finished in Cognac Barrels — Taste 8
This Tennessee whiskey is sent out to Savage & Cooke in Northern Cali for a final rest. The juice is a 51 percent rye that’s cut with 45 percent corn and four percent malted barley in the mash. After several years of resting, the whiskey is re-barreled into Fine Champagne cognac casks for a final rest. Once ready, the barrels are batched and the whiskey is proofed down with local spring water from the Alexander Valley.
This was really good. I can see using this for solid cocktails or as an on the rocks pour. The only reason it’s a little lower is that it didn’t jump out at me beyond “hey, this is good stuff!”
4. Michter’s US*1 Toasted Barrel Finish Kentucky Sour Mash Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $238
This release takes Michter’s signature Kentucky Sour Mash and finishes it in toasted barrels. In this case, it’s an 18-month air-dried and lightly toasted barrel that carries the whiskey to the finish line before proofing and bottling.
This did pop. There’s a real sense of a toasted barrel finish that’s distinct and adds something to the overall vibe of the whiskey. This also feels like the first whiskey on the list that works great as a sipper neat or with a little water to plumb those flavor depths a little more thoroughly.
3. Barrell Gold Label Seagrass Rye Whiskey Finished in Martinique Rum, Madeira, and Apricot Brandy Barrels — Taste 4
Average Price: $500
This very limited and high-end version of Barrell’s Seagrass rye is made from two sets of 100 percent rye whisky from Canada. The first set was finished in apricot brandy casks before heading to Barrell’s blending house in Kentucky. The second set was finished in Martinique rhum barrels before transport to KY. Finally, a little bit of each set was then re-barreled and into Malmsey Madeira barrels for a final rest. All of those barrels were then slowly blended into this whiskey and bottled completely as-is.
This was marvelous. It was lush and bold. It’s straight-up great from top to bottom. Why is it third then? It was a lot. I can see this being a little off-putting if you’re not ready to be pulled on a wild ride. I dug it, but I’m looking to push the boundaries.
2. Teeling Whiskey Single Malt Aged 32 Years Purple Muscat — Taste 5
Average Price: $3,269
This whiskey was distilled all the way back in 1990. 28 years later the whiskey was re-barreled into one cask from Portugal, a Purple Muscat French oak cask, and left alone for another four years (a very long time for a finishing barrel). Finally, 2022 was the year and the cask was drained and 238 bottles of this elixir were sent out into the world as-is.
This was delightful. It was subtle but carried clear and distinct notes that sang on the senses. You felt transported while drinking this. It was beautiful neat but really blossomed with a drop of water or two.
1. Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Wine Barrels Cask Strength — Taste 3
Average Price: $229
This modern classic is a yearly limited release from the beloved Lousiville distiller. The juice is made from a mix of locally sourced barrels that are finished in Ruby Port casks. The best of the best are hand-selected by Angel’s Envy’s team for as-is batching and bottling with only 14,000 odd bottles making out this year.
This is goddamn perfect. I wrote “excellent” in my notes. This is the bottle to grab when it drops in your local area this season.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
There are some really solid whiskeys in this lineup. Look, you can skip number eight completely. There are some solid Five Trail releases and their cask finish isn’t one of them (at least not yet anyway).
Numbers seven through four are all very solid whiskeys. I recommend trying them all. That Guero release is probably going to be the most familiar if you’re into classic rye/bourbon notes. The Michter’s Sour Mash will be more on the dry end but still delivers classic Kentucky whiskey vibes with plenty of cherries sweetness, dry woodiness, and depth.
Overall, it’s the top three that popped the most. And it wasn’t even close. That Barrell Gold Label Seagrass, Teeling, and Angel’s Envy were amazing. They all could have been tied for first place really. The Angel’s Envy won out simply due to it being the most refined and engaging overall. It felt as great as it tasted.