To be 100-percent honest, high-proof whisk(e)y can be pretty hit and miss. More alcohol doesn’t always mean “better.” And with the proliferation of whiskey worldwide (especially bourbon), distillers and blenders often resort to creating expressions that are bigger, bolder, and stronger just to get your attention.
Many times, that translates to whiskey ABVs that inch towards 65 percent alcohol. Which is a lot. We’re talking 130 proof.
Still, when high-proof bourbons are crafted with care, they can absolutely be extraordinary. And today we’re turning our attention to some of these expressions, all 100 proof and above. We targeted bourbons that don’t get muted in your favorite cocktails but aren’t too hot to work as sippers — a delicate balance that few high proof expressions manage to pull off.
Below you’ll find eight of our favorites high-proof bourbons. Click on the prices to grab a bottle for yourself.
Knob Creek Single Barrel
Average Price: $50
This highly coveted, 120 proof bourbon has a mash bill of 77 percent corn, 13 percent rye, and 10% percent malted barley. It’s aged for nine years in charred, white oak barrels to guarantee a smooth sipping whisky even with the heightened alcohol content.
On the nose, you’ll be greeted with aromas of charred oak, sticky toffee, toasted vanilla beans, and a slight hint of spice. The palate is filled with wood char, a nutty sweetness, buttery caramel, and cinnamon sugar. The finish is long, warming, and ends with a nice mix of butterscotch and spice.
For the price, it’s hard to find a better value high-proof bourbon. It’s just as great as a cocktail base as it is a sipper.
Average Price: $99
This award-winning, highly sought-after bottle is named for George T. Stagg who was instrumental in building the original Buffalo Trace Distillery, well-known as the most important distillery of the 19th century. It’s uncut, non-chill filtered, and matures for just under ten years in charred American oak barrels.
Take a moment to breathe in the scents of vanilla beans, caramel, and subtly spicy rye. The palate is loaded with creamy chocolate, caramel corn, dried fruits, and a nice hit of cracked black pepper. It all ends with a mixture of fruit sweetness and a light smoky spice.
This is a highly coveted bottle that often sells for much more than its MSRP. If you can find it even close to $100, grab it and savor every sip. You might not get another chance to try it for a while.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Average Price: $88
Elijah Craig makes nothing but great expressions. You can’t go wrong with its Small Batch, Toasted Barrel, and its Barrel Proof offerings. The latter is uncut, non-chill filtered and hand-labeled with a batch number and each bottle’s particular proof.
On the nose, you’ll find aromas of wood char, candied orange peels, dried cherries, and vanilla beans. The palate is full of sweet cinnamon sugar, buttery caramel corn, brown sugar, and a nice hit of peppery rye. The finish is warming, mellow, and ends with a great combination of sweetness and spice.
Like many barrel-proof expressions, one of the coolest aspects of this bottle is that no two releases are the same. The barrels selected and the proof changes for each one.
EH Taylor Barrel Proof
Average Price: $130
Named for Edmund Haynes Taylor, Jr., the one-time owner of Buffalo Trace, this prohibition-style bourbon is bottled at 125 proof. It’s made from hand-picked, uncut, non-chill filtered barrels. Even with the high proof, it manages to be mellow, rich, and very easy to sip.
Before you sip, you owe it to Buffalo Trace to fill your nostrils with the aromas of pipe tobacco, charred oak, vanilla beans, and subtle spice. Sipping this whiskey reveals a world of buttery caramel, sticky toffee, oak, dried fruits, and pleasing spice. The end is long, warming, and filled with spicy rye and sweet caramel.
Another hard-to-find bottle, E.H. Taylor Barrel Proof is the bold, badass expression from the brand that deserves to be slow-sipped using a single ice cube while you sit in a comfy chair and decompress after a long work week.
Larceny Barrel Proof
Average Price: $70
First launched in 2012, Larceny has since become of the most respected brands in the bourbon world. In 2019, Heaven Hill launched Larceny Barrel Proof, an expression that drops three times per year. While its proof varies based on each batch, it’s uncut, non-chill filtered, and age for six to eight years.
On the nose, you’ll find notes of spicy cinnamon, toasted wood, vanilla beans, and maple candy. Taking a sip reveals dried fruits, buttery caramel, vanilla essence, almond cookies, and a gentle hint of spice. The finish is lingering, warming, and ends with a nice mixture of caramel and vanilla.
If you’re a fan of soft, wheated whiskeys, but you also enjoy high-proof bourbons, this is your jam. Plus, it’s really hard to beat the price.
1792 Full Proof
Average Price: $59
Another throwback to a bygone era, 1792 Full Proof is uncut, non-chill filtered, and enters the bottle at the 125-proof cask strength. It’s well known for its rich, caramel, and vanilla-filled flavor profile that is — like so many on this list — nicely-suited for mixing or slow sipping.
The aromas of caramel apples, sweet honey, vanilla beans, and wood char are prevalent. The palate is swirling with cinnamon sugar, caramel candy, butter cookies, and subtle candied orange peels. The ending is soft, mellow, and filled with notes of vanilla, caramel, and a hint of spice.
This 125-proof bourbon is extremely complex. It requires multiple samplings (and maybe a drop of water or single ice cube) to unlock all of the various aromas and flavors.
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength
Average Price: $250
Angel’s Envy is a big name in the whiskey world due to its unique resting in the likes of rum barrels and port casks. Its Cask Strength expression was first launched in 2013. It carries no age statement, but it’s assumed to be aged between four and six years in former port wine barrels before being finished in ruby port wine casks.
Breathe in the scents of charred oak, fresh leather, toasted vanilla beans, and dried fruits before taking your first sip. Tasting this complex whiskey reveals candied orange peels, wood char, buttery caramel, raisins, and subtle spice. It all ends with a nice dry, mellow, subtly sweet finish.
Like many of the expressions on this list, Angel’s Envy Cask Strength isn’t easy to find. In order to enjoy this nuanced, rich whiskey, you might have to pay over the brand-reccomended retail price.
Average Price: $110
Booker’s is the bold, brash, bad boy of Jim Beam’s Small Batch Collection. It’s uncut, unfiltered, and the highest alcohol content brand made by Jim Beam. This cask strength bourbon was aged between six and eight years. The best part? Every expression has a different name, comes from different barrels, and carries a different proof.
While each batch is different, we tried the most recent expression: Batch 2021-01, also known as “Donohoe’s Batch.” On the nose, you’ll be treated to aromas of caramel apples, subtle, nutty sweetness, and a nice kick of cinnamon spice. The palate is filled with notes of sweet caramel, toasted oak, vanilla beans, cooking spices, and almond cookies. The finish is long, filled with pleasing heat, and ends with a combination of caramel and spice.
Drinkers eagerly await the newest Booker’s expression for a reason. Every bottle is uncut, unfiltered, and high-proof, and they each come with a unique story and flavor profile.
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