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The Best Single Malt Whiskies Aged In ‘Special’ Barrels, According To Bartenders

Similar to bourbon in the U.S., single malt Scotch whisky has a few rules and regulations. To be defined as “single malt” Scotch whisky, it must be distilled in Scotland (obviously), come from only one distillery, be made from 100 percent malted barley, have a minimum alcohol content of 40 percent, and must spend at least three years aging in oak barrels.

While many distilleries opt for American oak, Spanish oak, or ex-bourbon barrels, some distilleries add unique flavors by gaining or finishing in barrels the formerly held cognac, port, sherry, beer, various wines, and much more. The use of these other vessels imparts different flavors and aromas to the whiskies while also adding some serious depth.

To find the best single malts aged in these “special” barrels (the parameters are wide for this!) we reached out to a few of our favorite bartenders. Check their picks below.

The Balvenie 12 Doublewood

The Balvenie 12 Doublewood
The Balvenie

Joseph Samuel, bartender at Billy Can Can in Dallas

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $65

Why This Whisky?

The Balvenie 12 Double Wood is aged in two different casks (hence the name). This 12-year-old single malt whisky first ages in ex-bourbon barrels before spending nine months in Oloroso sherry casks. It’s an easy sell from the popular brand and the Sherry makes for an easy finish.

The Macallan Rare Cask

The Macallan Rare Cask
The Macallan

Lewis Caputa, lead bartender at Rosina Cocktail Lounge in Las Vegas

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $350

Why This Whisky?

The Macallan Rare Cask is aged exclusively in first-fill Sherry casks. I feel that the chocolate, vanilla, and spices really stand out which makes this a fantastic sipper.

The Dalmore 12 Sherry Cask Reserve

The Dalmore 12 Sherry Cask Reserve
The Dalmore

Daniel Yang, lead bartender at Electra Cocktail Club in Las Vegas

ABV: 40%

Average Price: $65

Why This Whisky?

Many people will be familiar with The Dalmore, and for good reason. The 12-year Single Malt is split and finished in both ex-bourbon casks and sherry casks (including the Dalmore exclusive Matusalem Oloroso sherry casks which are aged thirty years and seasoned with both Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso sherry). Then, the whiskies are combined to bring us one of the most well-known sherry finished scotches on the market.

There’s a bountiful collage of citrus and chocolate (enhanced by the sherry cask finish) with the vanilla and caramel notes found from the bourbon casks. I definitely recommend giving this stag a try if you haven’t yet.

Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish

Lagavulin Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish
Lagavulin

James MacInnes, liquor boss at Klaw in Miami

ABV: 46%

Average Price: $80

Why This Whisky?

This year has seen the release of plenty of mouthwatering scotches from across the pond. But one stood out to me, Lagavulin 11-year-old Offerman Edition: Guinness Cask Finish. This release was brought to market at an unusual age (eleven years) and aged in Guinness stout barrels which rounds off the edges of its youth.

If you’re a fan of peat and barley, this dram is a must-try.

Glenmorangie A Tale of Winter

Glenmorangie A Tale of Winter
Glenmorangie

Lee Noble, mixologist at Art in the Age in Philadelphia

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $99

Why This Whisky?

This single malt whisky finished in Sicilian Marsala barrels is a great one, taking the heart of Glenmorangie and layering in traces of the luscious, nutty, dried fruit notes from the wine.

The Dalmore Port Wood Reserve

The Dalmore Port Wood Reserve
The Dalmore

Subhash Sankar, head mixologist at Alaia Belize in San Pedro Town, Belize

ABV: 46.5%

Average Price: $110

Why This Whisky?

The Dalmore’s already intensely fruity and complex single malt offers striking notes of ripe plum, cherry, and dried apricot in the Port Wood Reserve expression. This non-age statement whisky is initially aged in bourbon barrels before being finished in Tawny Port pipes from W & J Graham’s winery in Portugal.

Aberlour A’bunadh

Aberlour A’bunadh
Aberlour

Christopher Devern, lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia

ABV: 55-65%

Average Price: $115

Why This Whisky?

Aberlour A’bunadh is my pick. Cask strength and finished in Spanish Oloroso sherry butts, this is a special scotch to taste. This single malt Speyside whisky is pleasantly rich with an ample amount of fruit and dried fruit flavors. You’ll find flavors of cacao, spices, cherry, baked pie, sherry, and oak. This is a unique bottle that stands out from other Sherry finished scotches for its complexity and richness.

Longrow Red

Longrow Red
Springbank

Mark Phelan, beverage director of 16″ On Center in Chicago

ABV: 51.6%

Average Price: $135

Why This Whisky?

One of my favorites is Longrow Red from Springbank. The most recent release was finished for two years in Cabernet Franc barrels. The juicy notes and subtle tannins of the wine balance beautifully with the peated single malt. It’s a magical sip, especially in winter.

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish
Arran

Ally O’Keefe, bartender at The Bower in New Orleans

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $85

Why This Whisky?

Arran Sauternes Cask Finish has beautiful notes of oak and peat intertwined with honeyed apricot, pecan, golden raisin, and caramel cookie. It’s an elegant expression with the boldness of scotch and the delicacy of dessert wine.

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year

The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year
The Balvenie

Justin Wilson, lead bartender at The Kimpton Sylvan in Atlanta

ABV: 43%

Average Price: $75

Why This Whisky?

Easily, The Balvenie Caribbean Cask 14 Year. It’s exceptionally smooth and complex, slightly smoky with a hint of caramel and vanilla that comes through from being finished in Caribbean Rum barrels. There’s a reason this is one of the most popular single malt whiskies on the market.

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