At its best, whisk(e)y can be almost inscrutably complex while never losing touch with its simplest building blocks. While there are various styles and rules for each unique iteration of the spirit, whisk(e)y is essentially just an alcohol distillate made from fermented grains and aged in wood barrels. Like beer, it’s elegant in its directness but contains endless possible permutations.
The aging process, in particular, has benefitted from tremendous industry-wide creativity in recent years. After the initial barreling, many distilleries are now opting to finish their expressions in unique barrels. These include staves that once held sherry, rum, cognac, and even maple syrup. This additional level of maturation imparts unique and memorable flavors into the final product.
To find the best whiskeys finished in barrels beyond the standard first or second fill American Oak, we asked a handful of our favorite bartenders for help. Check their picks below.
The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask
Mitchell Meredith, general manager of SOFF’s at JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Miami
The Balvenie 14 year is a complex Caribbean Rum cask finished scotch. The subtle peaty notes are rounded out by the vanilla notes of the Oak Barrel and the molasses notes in the rum. It’s a perfect expression for an old fashioned style cocktail — try it with the addition of chocolate bitters.
Carlos Lopez, bar manager at Stitsville Fish Bar in Miami
Redbreast Lustau brings the best of both countries’ products together — Irish whiskey and Spanish sherry. The sherry barrel imparts an extra sweetness that pairs well with the caramel and nutty flavors of the Redbreast.
Stranahan’s Sherry Cask
Jess Thorson, bartender at TORO Kitchen & Lounge at Viceroy Snowmass in Snowmass, Colorado
You have to go with Colorado’s Stranahan’s here. I really like their Sherry Cask. It has a rich flavor without being too sweet.
Angel’s Envy Finished Rye
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
Angel’s Env Finished Rye has such a versatile flavor profile but performs well by itself. The rum finish is not overbearing but still stands out — delivering the rum-notes one would naturally expect.
Edradour Sauternes Cask
Jeremy Allen, bartender at MiniBar in Los Angeles
Glenfiddich has been doing an experimental series with different releases finished in different barrels, which was pretty successful. The Balvenie 14 Caribbean Cask is also hit among bartenders.
For something more niche, I love Edradour Sauternes cask. It’s the perfect kiss of wine from the wood, it adds and lifts up the scotch, instead of covering it up, like some with a heavier hand.
Woodford Reserve Five Woods
Daniel Gamiño, assistant food and beverage manager at Banyan Tree Cabo Marques in Acapulco, Mexico
Woodford Reserve Five Woods, which is aged in five different barrels — various sherries and ports. The delicate results deliver flavors of red fruits, confit plums, dark chocolate, raisin, hazelnut, dark caramel, and coffee. It’s balanced and full-bodied.
This whiskey is a great pairing for steaks and aged meats.
Isaac Bowman Port Finished
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Andy Printy, beverage director at Chao Baan in St. Louis
Isaac Bowman Port Finished is one of my favorites in this category. It’s all port wine on the nose and for just an instant on the palate. It almost immediately gives way to cloying baked fruit and pastry. The finish brings back more French oak and just the right amount of spice.
The Macallan Amber
Efren López Fernandez, bartender at Banyan Tree Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen, Mexico
In my opinion, Macallan Amber is a great bottle aged in more than just oak barrels. It’s because it has a lot of flavor of malt, caramel, and honey. Like all of The Macallan’s expressions, it’s finished in sherry butts from Jerez, Spain.
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength
Zach Wilks, bartender at Anthony’s Chophouse in Carmel, Indiana
Angels Envy Cask Strength is unlike anything I’ve ever had. It’s so complex with great fruit notes along with butterscotch and toffee notes also. I love this bottle.
Hudson Whiskey Short Stack
Sebastien Derbomez, brand advocacy manager at William Grant & Sons
What about maple barrel?
I’ll challenge you to try Hudson Whiskey Short Stack. Short Stack is a toast to those late-night haunts in New York City, and the characters that inhabit them. Distilled from hearty New York rye, mellowed in American oak, then finished in Vermont maple syrup barrels. Bold rye spice is rounded by a subtle maple sweetness.
Consider this your new whiskey to impress your friends and family.