9 Whiskies That Weren’t Aged in a Traditional Barrel

Claims that whisky made using alternative technologies tastes as good as whisky made through traditional means deserve to be put to the test. We pitted several of these “tech” whiskies against similarly priced counterparts from mainstream and craft distillers, all tasted blind by members of the Whisky Advocate review staff. In the majority of cases, the tech whiskies averaged lower scores than the other whiskies in the flight. (The exception was Lost Spirits Abomination, which performed favorably even alongside some classic Islay malts.) Most of the time, though not always, the tasters were able to identify the alternatively aged whiskies, which often showed assertive wood and notes typical of young spirit. Here’s how they measured up.

Lost Spirits Abomination The Sayers of the Law
87 points—54% ABV, $50

18 months in barrel
Processing: Multiple peated malt distillates are aged in Scotland, then blended, exported, and put through Lost Spirits’ reactor with pieces of charred oak treated with Riesling wine.

Aromas of smoked meat, kelp, saline, rubber, and butterscotch pudding make for a sweet and savory first impression. Flavors of burnt sugar, vanilla custard, cooked apple, dark cacao, black pepper, and salty umami carry through on a big, aggressive, hunger-sparking palate. The finish is unsweetened chocolate, ash, and pepper—bold and unapologetic, it responds well to water.

Lost Spirits Abomination The Crying of the Puma
85 points—54% ABV, $50

18 months in barrel
Processing: Multiple peated malt distillates are aged in Scotland, then blended, exported, and put through Lost Spirits’ reactor with pieces of toasted oak treated with Riesling wine.

An aggressive punch of peat—creosote, tar, rubber, and seaweed—mingles with wood spice, butterscotch, vanilla pudding, and red apple on the nose. The palate shows charred meat, charred wood, earthy smoke, crème brûlée, and red apple flavors. The short, ashy finish satisfies with dark chocolate and black pepper. At such a high proof, it takes water well and develops in the glass.

Cleveland Black Reserve Bourbon
83 points—50% ABV, $30

3 to 6 months in barrel
Processing: Distillate from Indiana and Ohio is aged in new charred oak barrels before undergoing Cleveland’s proprietary process using new charred oak pieces.

The nose is grainy with strong wood notes and hints of vanilla, lilac, and cinnamon candies. Flavors of caramel, vanilla, spice, and citrus tussle with cedar, tea leaves, and oak tannins before a lengthy, assertive finish of tobacco, caramel, cinnamon, clove, and orange peel.

Relativity American Whisky (prototype)
83 points—40% ABV, $35

Minimum 6 months in barrel
Processing: Distilled in Indiana and aged in new charred oak barrels, then put through a “compression aged” process using new charred oak pieces.

Generously woody with pencil shavings and lumber mingled with chamomile, white flowers, and vanilla on the nose. The light-bodied palate is sweet and floral, with cloying milk chocolate, toasted coconut, and vanilla flavors. It’s just a bit simple and boring.

Noble Oak Bourbon (prototype)
82 points—45% ABV, $35

Minimum 12 months in barrel
Processing: Distilled in Indiana and aged in new charred oak barrels, then put through a finishing process using sherry-seasoned Spanish oak pieces.

The caramel on the nose is a bit strange and chemical, but the palate offers promise with its pleasing spice, sweetness, orange peel, chocolate, and silky mouthfeel. There are lovely flavors, but the oak feels layered on rather than integrated.

O.Z. Tyler Bourbon
82 points—45% ABV, $20

Minimum 12 moths in barrel
Processing: Distilled in Kentucky and aged in new charred oak barrels before undergoing the TerrePURE process.

Wood spice dominates the nose, with citrus, floral, and tobacco barn aromas. The palate has pleasant orange peel, spice, red apple, and vanilla notes with a robust heat; however, toasted oak continues to reign. One for the wood lover.

Cleveland Underground Bourbon Finished with Hickory Wood
81 points—47% ABV, $45

Around 3 months in barrel
Processing: Distillate from Indiana and Ohio is aged in new charred oak barrels before undergoing Cleveland’s proprietary process using hickory wood pieces.

Grassy aromas mingle with white pepper, honeysuckle, jasmine, and newsprint on the nose. The palate rushes through sweet vanilla-cake and ripe fruit flavors, with strong oak and alcohol influence, to a finish that is mostly wood with some pleasant chocolate and herbal notes. Disjointed at times, but water helps bring it together.

Cleveland Underground Bourbon Finished with Apple Wood
80 points—45% ABV, $45

Around 3 months in barrel
Processing: Distillate from Indiana and Ohio is aged in new charred oak barrels before undergoing Cleveland’s proprietary process using apple wood pieces.

Juicy Fruit gum, Kool-Aid, sugared orange gumdrops, and candied papaya and mango meet fresh-cut lumber on the nose. The palate has notes of bruised banana and juicy guava, with assertive wood and cocoa powder to balance the sweetness.

O.Z. Tyler Rye
79 points—44.9% ABV, $20

Minimum 6 months in barrel
Processing: Distilled in Kentucky and aged in new charred oak barrels before undergoing the TerrePURE process.

Aromas of lumber, wood spice, and butterscotch give way to pencil shavings, toasted sawdust, and cloying sweetness on the palate. Gentle baking spice and cherry flavors aren’t enough to redeem the assault of wood.

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