Cask-strength bourbon, also called barrel strength, is a bourbon that is bottled at the same alcohol by volume (ABV) that it is aged in the barrel. In non-bourbon terms, it has not been watered or proofed down. As the federal law outlining the rules for making the spirit states, “Bourbon may not be introduced to the barrel at higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol by volume).”
Most distillers proof down their bourbon to make it more tolerable to the palate, but some enthusiasts out in the world like a higher-proof bourbon at its truest expression. Cask-strength bourbon is like tipping the barrel up and taking a swig: it is as natural as the spirit can be.
Cask-strength bourbon packs a punch and is unlike your favorite bottle-strength bourbon. However, using cask strength in cocktails can change the drink altogether.
Another difference in bottle and cask strength is that the bourbon is non-chill filtered, which usually removes compounds so that the bourbon may be cloudy.
Finally, higher proof comes at a higher cost.
Here’s my Top 5 list of cask strength bourbons that give you the most bang for your buck:
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof: A pure, 12-year-old bourbon, typically 130 proof or higher. With orange and baking spices, this expression is perfect for the beginner.
Wild Turkey Rare Breed: A lower-proof whiskey around 113, with blends of 6, 8-, and 12-year-old Rare Breed barrels. Honey and spices shine through in flavor with a warm smokey finish.
Old Forester 1920 Prohibition Style: Part of the “Whiskey Row” series, this bourbon gives you the best of both worlds: price and flavor. Brown sugar and cherry delightfully overwhelm the taste buds with a powerful finish of cocoa and spices.
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel: This is going to cost you a little more than the others, but trust me, it is well worth the price. At 125 proof, you will know that you are drinking cask-strength bourbon. Chocolate and caramel burst on the tongue with a warm Kentucky hug at the end.
Stagg Jr.: Ranging from 125-135 in proof, Stagg is hotter than others and may be too much for some drinkers. An aggressive flavor profile that is more like a 15 on 1 to 10 scale blasts, though with notes of vanilla, chocolate, and tons of smoke. Be warned; this bourbon packs a punch.
Cask-strength bourbon can be fun to try. As I said before, cask strength is the truest expression the distillery has to offer. All bourbon lovers should try their favorite brand’s cask-strength bourbon before the price limits who can afford the experience.
Click here to sign up for The Bourbon Flight Newsletter.