The truth about whiskey is that most of it has an extra, added ingredient — water. A majority of the Scotch, bourbon, and rye you buy has been diluted (or proofed) down to between 40 or 50 percent alcohol by volume. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. Makers do this to improve flavor, create a more consistent spirit, and sell a little more whiskey.
There’s a growing trend to take out a bit of that water. You’ve probably seen a steadily increasing number of cask strength offerings, also known as barrel proof, on your local liquor store shelves. These undiluted whiskeys become a trend thanks to the potent punch, not just in their proof, but also the flavor.
Without extra water you are tasting more of the spirit that emerged from its woody slumber, making them great neat, on ice, or in a cocktail. But remember, with the higher alcohol content, you’ll want to take care or you could wind up putting yourself to bed right after happy hour. Here are five high-octane, cask strength bottles you should try.
Welcome to flavor country. Each release of Aberlour’s A’bunadh clocks in at around 120 proof. So, one pour of this cask strength gem is the equivalent of a glass and a half or a typical 80 proof dram. Thick and rich, tons of dried fruit, chocolate and sugary notes make the A’bunadh a favorite of Scotch drinkers in the know. Try it neat at first and experiment with a few drops of water here and there to help open up flavors you may miss with your first few sips.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof
Depending on the batch Elijah Craig Barrel Proof kicks in between 128 and 140 proof. Whoa, Nelly! Named Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year, the interplay of caramel, vanilla, cinnamon spice, and chocolate make this bourbon a tasty treat. The whiskey packs a bit of heat, so we recommend a nice ice cube to cool it off and slowly add a bit of water.
Michter’s US1 Toasted Barrel Strength Rye
In order to create this expression, Michter’s takes its excellent barrel strength rye and re-casks it in toasted barrels (rather than traditional charred) for an additional two years. The result is rye whiskey that is less fiery, better balanced and averages a 108 proof. The flavors are more complex than the original barrel strength, which you would expect with the extra 24 months in wood. Notes of toasted almond, oak, and spice abound, with a touch of smokey to round out the mouthful. All in all this a rye you definitely want to try.
Redbreast 12 Cask Strength Irish Whiskey
The original Redbreast 12 Single Pot Still has always been a standout among Irish whiskeys. It’s a dram with rich fruity flavors and a pastry sweetness that lingers pleasantly. In its cask strength, 115 proof iteration, the mouthful gets thicker and the fruit notes get deeper and more intense as does the complexity.
Kavalan Soloist Pedro Ximenez Sherry Single Cask Strength
If you’re not familiar with the Taiwanese producer Kavalan, you should be. Master blender Ian Chang makes some of the best whiskeys in the world. The island’s subtropical climate speeds up the maturation process, so Kavalan can crank out more amazing expressions is shorter amounts of time. Bottled between 100 and 120 proof, Pedro Ximenez Sherry Cask Strength variety will stun both your tongue and, at $650 a bottle, your wallet as well. Notes of fruit and wood dance around the palate, while the sweetness of honey lingers long after the glass is gone.
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