The Best Whiskeys Aged In Second-Run Barrels (That Used To Hold Different Booze)

While the bulk of whisky (or whiskey) expressions are still aged in charred or new oak barrels, the times are rapidly changing. New attention is being paid by distillers to their barrelling programs, leading to innovation industry-wide. As the new year dawns, it’s more and more common to see whiskeys aged in barrels, casks, or butts that formerly held different spirits or wines.

Sure, maturing a grain spirit in a generic, charred oak barrel imparts flavors of oak, vanilla, caramel, and leather into the whiskey. But if you mature (or rest) a whiskey in a barrel that once held sherry, port, cognac, rum, or another spirit or wine, you’re introducing a whole new layer to the flavor profile. Sherry adds a subtle sweetness, cognac ups the caramel and toffee notes, and port adds a grape-sweetness that regular oak just can’t create.

Jason Werth, bartender at Motif in Seattle enjoys rye whiskey that’s been aged in rum casks. The result is a subtly spicy whiskey from the rye along with a smooth, vanilla-forward sweetness added by the rum barrels.

“When it comes to making a unique new whiskey from non-traditional cask aging, this is the one,” he says. “It’s obvious I like sweetness and spice. It’s like American Rye whiskey had a midlife crisis, went on a pleasure cruise to the Bahamas, and had a baby out of wedlock with some Caribbean Rum.”

Other bartenders agree with Werth that maturing a whiskey in a port, sherry, cognac, or rum barrel is a real game changer. That’s why we asked some of our favorite stars behind the bar to tell us their go-to whiskeys (plus one brandy) aged in barrels that used to hold different booze.

Angel’s Envy Port Finished Bourbon

Lauren Mathews, lead bartender at Urbana in Washington, DC

Angel’s Envy bourbon is finished in port casks and their rye is finished in Caribbean rum casks. It adds such complex notes to each and really makes it a different product.

Famous Grouse Ruby Cask

Alli Torres, head bartender at Refinery Rooftop in New York City

I’m absolutely loving Famous Grouse’s release of the Ruby Cask. The label itself really roped me in. It has a beautiful design and marketing. It’s a blended scotch rested in a seasoned port cask, delivering a wildly smooth finish with hints of deep fruit.

Belle Meade Sherry Cask Bourbon

Seth Weinberg, head bartender at Bourbon Steak in Nashville

The Belle Meade brand from Nelson’s Greenbrier Distillery is known for its cask finished line of bourbons. I really enjoy their Belle Meade Sherry cask finished bourbon. The whiskey has plenty of age to hold up to the richness from the sherry finish. Also, sherry influence is mostly used with Scotch whisky, so it’s nice to try an American whiskey with the same influence.

GlenDronach 15 Year Tawny Port

Devan Knobloch, bartender at Likewise in Atlanta

My favorite is the GlenDronach 15 Year Tawny Port Scotch. It is gorgeous! It is like drinking a decadent dessert paired with the delicious, subtle heat of scotch. This is my go to with a dinner party and we are winding down with some after dinner drinks and carrying on.

WhistlePig Samurai Scientist Boss Hog

Kala Ellis, bar manager at O-Ku Bar in Nashville

My favorite cask finished whiskey right now is the Samurai Scientest Boss Hog by WhistlePig. It’s finished in Umeshu barrels, a sort of plum liqueur out of Japan. It’s high proof and drinks best out of a wide mouth rocks glass or coupe. As the ethanol disperses, it opens up delicious aromas of charred marshmallows and oak. We serve it here at O-Ku with an umeshu shot and plum on the side so you can see the whiskey flavor profile unfold in front of you. Out of only 90 barrels made, it’s quite an amazing experience.

Clear Creek Old Delicious Double Bourbon Barreled Apple Brandy

Brandon Lockman, lead bartender at Red Star Tavern in Portland, Oregon

I got to sample a new product coming from Clear Creek Distillery that I’m anxiously waiting to be released. It’s an apple brandy aged in freshly drained Trail’s End bourbon barrels for a year, then drained into another wet Trail’s End bourbon barrel for an additional year. The bourbon really comes through and makes this apple brandy something special. Look for it on shelves very soon.

Angel’s Envy Rum Cask Rye

Jonni Montgomery, bartender at Tulio in Seattle

Angel’s Envy Rye aged in Plantation rum casks that were originally Maison Ferrand cognac casks. With notes of maple sugar, citrus, and oak this holy trinity has all you’ve been hoping for.

Glenmorangie Lasanta

Patrick Turner, bartender at B & O Brasserie in Baltimore

I love Glenmorangie Lasanta. It is a perfect balance of that classic Glenmorangie with light smokey, peaty notes. It also has a super pleasant sweetness from the sherry cask finish.

Green Spot Chateau Montelena Single Pot Still

Alejandro Dieguez, head bartender at J. Bespoke in New York City

Green Spot Chateau Montelena Single Pot Still is a whiskey first aged on an ex-bourbon and sherry cask, and later finished on former zinfandel barrels, which gives it a very elegant finish. You can actually taste a little of this process in each sip you take.

Akashi Red Wine Cask

Silvia Rho, beverage manager at Copper Lounge in Los Angeles

Akashi Single Malt is so unique because not only is it aged five years in Cognac barrels, but it spends another year in either a red wine or white wine cask. The red wine cask is my favorite! It has a very savory flavor with a smooth fruit finish. It’s perfect for sipping during the winter season.

Virginia Distillery Port Rested Highland Malt

Will Witherow, beverage director at Live Oak in Alexandria, Virginia

I love the Virginia Distillery Port Rested Highland Malt. This blended whiskey has a nice touch of smoke and a small hint of sweetness with some hints of fruit as well. This whiskey has a great range to pair with hearty red meats as well as chocolate desserts.

Arran Grand Cru Champagne Cask Finish

Alexander Carlin, beverage director for Infuse Hospitality in Chicago

A few years ago, the Arran Malt Series released a scotch that had been in aged Grand Cru Champagne Barrels from Henri Giraud in Aÿ, Champagne. While only about 300 bottles were released, this unicorn-status whiskey rivals in quality the mythic status it has reached.

Ohishi Single Sherry

Jef Tate, head bartender at Janitor’s Closet in Chicago

Ohishi Single Sherry—I love the nose and flavor profile on this one: prunes, raisins, and plum wine. An excellent beefy sipper.

Dewar’s Double Double

Wade McElroy, director of food and beverage development at Fieldhouse Jones in Nashville

I recently tasted the new Dewar’s Double Double Series and loved everything about it. Each age (21, 27, 32) is finished in a different type of sherry cask and all of them are absolutely lovely. A great collector piece for the whisky shelf that should get even better with time.

Writer’s Pick: The Macallan 12 Sherry Oak Cask

There’s a special relationship between iconic Scotch whisky makers The Macallan and the Spanish sherry industry. Sure, in the last few decades, sherry hasn’t been the most popular drink. But whisky brands like The Macallan age (or rest) many of their whiskies in casks that formerly held this sweet, sometimes overlooked fortified wine. The Macallan 12 is matured in Oloroso sherry seasoned butts from Jerez, Spain. The result is a whisky with hints of vanilla, tropical fruit sweetness, and a subtle hint of oaky spice.