One of the most exciting pieces of the spirits world in 2021 is the spirit of ingenuity. Sure, you can always find Scotch whisky aged exclusively in oak barrels or well-made, affordable vodka, rum, and tequila. But some distillers are pushing the envelope to develop nuanced, unique flavors by aging spirits in barrels that once held other types of booze entirely. Or they’re playing with mash bills (the mix of grains that are fermented). Or both.
Most whisky lovers know about the trend of aging single malt scotch in sherry seasoned casks, but the creative barrelling movement has gone well beyond that now. Some innovative pioneers are aging whiskies in former wine barrels, tequilas in rum casks, rye in port barrels… the list goes on. As new ideas enter the public consciousness, innovators stand ready to push things even further. It’s a big, messy, fun cross-pollination and we, the drinkers, reap the rewards.
Besides just innovation, one of the perks of creative barrelling, mash bills, and distilling techniques is that the new expressions being created are often able to bridge the gaps between two different fanbases. Whether it’s bourbon with rum notes or rum with bourbon notes or tequila with notes of both, these expressions offer easy entry points to different spirits and engage a new set of drinkers.
Below you’ll find eight interesting expressions that bridge spirits in a fun way. Check our tasting notes and click the prices to give something innovative a try.
Martell Blue Swift Cognac (Cognac + Bourbon)
Average Price: $50
Martell is a big name in the Cognac Game. If you enjoy the smooth flavor of Cognac, you can’t go wrong with any of its expressions. But if you want to try something extra mellow and totally unique, try this expression — which builds on the grape-based distilled spirit of France with corn-centric American bourbon whiskey notes.
Martell took VSOP Cognac and finished it in ex-bourbon barrels. The results are spectacular.
The nose begins with the aromas of toasted vanilla beans, caramel apples, coconut cream, and wood char. The palate is filled with notes of raisins, dried cherries, oak, sweet corn, and subtle spices at the very end. Fans of both spirits will enjoy the melding of flavors.
If you’re a fan of Cognac and a fan of bourbon, this is your jam. It has all the silky smooth, sweetness of a long-aged Cognac and the buttery caramel and oakiness of a classic bourbon.
El Mayor Rum Cask Finish Extra Añejo (Tequila + Bourbon + Rum)
Average Price: $140
In general, most tequila is aged in American oak barrels. El Mayor turns this process on its head by not only maturing its tequila in ex-bourbon barrels for three full years, but it finishes this extra añejo in casks that once held Agricole rum. It’s made in limited quantities and truly unique.
Aromas like cloves, cinnamon, chocolate fudge, vanilla beans, and sweet agave are prevalent on the nose. The flavor is complex and balanced with hints of anise, cinnamon, oaky wood, and butterscotch. A slightly sweet rum backbone shows itself throughout the taste. The finish is mellow and sweet, with a hint of molasses.
In theory, this style of aging might seem strange. But the sweetness of the bourbon and rum plays off the cooked agave sugars perfectly, making this a great tequila sipper for fans of all three forms of alcohol.
Angel’s Envy Sherry Cask Bourbon (Bourbon + Sherry)
Average Price: $69
Some bourbon aficionados have trouble believing that Angel’s Envy truly fits the parameters of bourbon, due to the unique barrels and casks it chooses to age its whiskey in. We don’t care about all that noise. Its sherry casked version is Kentucky straight bourbon that gets an “extended finishing period” in former Oloroso sherry butts — borrowing a page from the Scotch whisky playbook.
The nose is filled with scents of dried cherries, raisins, almond cookies, and vanilla beans. The palate is all about the charred oak flavors that work nicely alongside sherry sweetness, vanilla cream, and sweet toffee with just a hint of spice. It all ends with a mellow, sweet, slightly dry finish.
Scotch fans are well acquainted with sherry-finished whiskies, but this isn’t as common in the bourbon world. The sweetness of the sherry casks only adds to the overall sweetness, making this a truly rich, indulgent sipping bourbon.
Big Gin Peat Barreled Gin (Gin + Peated Scotch Whisky)
Average Price: $35
Seattle’s Big Gin crafts some high-quality, underrated gins. One of its most interesting is its Peat Barreled Gin. Flavored with Juniper, coriander, bitter orange peel, grains of paradise, angelica, cassia, and a few other herbs and botanicals, it’s aged in both Ardbeg and Laphroaig Scotch whisky barrels, both known for their peaty, smoky, briny flavors.
The nose is filled with the aromas of orange peels, juniper berries, slight peat smoke, and nice herbal quality. The flavor is unlike any gin you’ve likely ever tasted. While the botanical and juniper-centric flavors are there, it’s spicier than most gins and has an ever-present note of smoky peat throughout.
If you’re a fan of peaty, Islay single malt whiskies, this is the gin for you. It’s more than just a gimmick too. It’ll give a spicy, smoky kick to your favorite gin cocktails.
Sagamore Spirit Port Cask Finish Rye (Rye + Port Wine)
Average Price: $75
While some of the spirits on this list seem like they came to the distillers while they were in the midst of a fever dream, Sagamore Spirit Port Cask Rye definitely doesn’t. Winner of the “World’s Best Rye Whiskey” at the 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, it’s a 4–5-year-old straight rye whiskey that finished in both European and American port casks.
Inspiration-wise, using American port barrels for bourbon is the U.S.A.! version of putting Scotch in sherry butts.
Aromas of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, dried fruits, and caramel are noticeable at first whiff. The sherry finishing is totally noticeable on the palate, too. You get ripe berries, raisins, dried cherries, caramel, and just a touch of peppery rye. The finish is dry, sweet, and slightly spicy.
When it comes to rye whiskey, it’s hard to get more well-rounded and complex than this. With its sweet fruity, subtly spicy flavor, no wonder it was named the best rye whiskey in the world.
Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or Sauternes Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch (Scotch + Sauternes Wine)
Average Price: $79
Glenmorangie is constantly cranking out high-quality, exciting whiskies. One of its most innovative is its Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or Sauternes Cask Finish. First aged in ex-bourbon casks before being finished in Sauternes wine barrels (a dessert wine from France), it’s sweet, rich, and totally sippable.
You’ll be surprised by the potent aromas of caramel, vanilla beans, sweet honey, and citrus zest on the nose. The sip reveals hints of sticky toffee, more vanilla, slight cinnamon, candied orange peels, and a gentle dessert-like sweetness at the finish. All in all, a perfect after-dinner drink paired with or without rich desserts.
This whisky (similar to the brand’s other dessert-like whiskey, Tale of Cake) is sweet, rich, highly flavorful, and tastes more like a dessert liqueur than a single malt whisky.
Starward Nova Single Malt Whisky (Whisky + Red Wines)
Average Price: $52
You may not yet be well aware of Australian whisky but that’s likely to change sooner than later (it’s changing now, in fact!). The country is much more well-known for its Vegemite and its wines, but brands like Starward are leading the way in the whisky game. And its Nova Single Malt Whiskey is made to combine both whisky and wine notes (luckily not Vegemite included).
This single malt whisky is matured in barrels that previously held Australian shiraz, pinot noir, and cabernet wines.
Not surprisingly, due to the large number of red wine barrels used for aging, the nose is alive with ripe berries, pears, dried cherries, charred oak, and a nice kick of spice. The palate reveals flavors of butterscotch, vanilla beans, more berries, and a hint of cinnamon sugar. The last few sips are a mixture of rich spice and sweet fruits.
This is the whisky for the wine lover. It has the richness, sweetness, and caramel of a single malt whisky and the fruit and oak of high-quality red wine.
Old Barrel Vodka (Vodka + Cognac)
Average Price: $25
When it comes to spirits people obsess over, vodka definitely gets the least amount of love. Many drinkers believe that vodka either tastes like ethanol or is simply flavorless and boring. Old Barrel Vodka is something completely different. It’s a premium French vodka that’s aged in Cognac barrels. This results in the addition of caramel and oaky flavors.
Honestly, the complexity of the aromas surprised us. It doesn’t smell the way you’d expect a vodka to smell, There’s a good deal of oak, dried fruits, caramel, and a nice nutty sweetness. There’s more of the same on the palate with more fruitiness as well as toffee, black pepper, and vanilla at the finish.
It’s really hard to pinpoint what is going on here. There are almost too many flavors to appeal to most vodka drinkers, but it doesn’t taste like it spent a long time in Cognac barrels. While it’s certainly interesting, this option is more on the novelty end of the spectrum. Try it in a highball with a little seltzer.
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