8 Cask Strength Whiskies to Try Now
January 31, 2023 –––––– Ted Simmons
Veteran whiskey drinkers tend to embrace higher proof bottlings for the full flavor and experience they deliver. These are whiskies straight from the barrel, with no water added prior to bottling. The heat can be overwhelming in some instances, but time—and yes, a few drops of water—allow these whiskeys to take on a new life, flavors changing and emerging as the proof is gradually lowered to the drinkers’ preference.
That’s not to say that low ABV whiskies don’t have their time and place. In fact, a smart connoisseur learns to keep a range of ABVs at hand for any and all occasions. You don’t want to serve the wine lover in your life something that will scorch their palate, and sometimes, a low proof spirit makes a perfect aperitif.
Our Winter 2022 issue contains our Top 20 whiskies of the year—a list where cask-strength whisky is well represented—and there are even more cask strength whiskeys reviewed in the Buying Guide. Trusted names like Larceny Barrel Proof and Booker’s appear, scoring well, but so too do newcomers like Red Line and Penelope. It seems there’s more cask strength whiskey than ever to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with one of these bottles.
High-Proof and High-Scoring Whiskeys
Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon (Batch C922)93 points, 63.3%, $60Blackberry jam, blueberry pancakes, new leather, and tobacco leaf on the nose. Powerful on the palate, with an opening blast of cinnamon followed by strawberry jam, dried herbs, dark chocolate, espresso, and vanilla flan. Drinking it with a big rock of ice is recommended. Excellent length on the finish, with more jammy fruitiness, cinnamon bun, and dark chocolate. It’s a brawny whiskey that carries its proof with great structure, balance, and complexity.—David Fleming
Booker's Straight Bourbon “The Lumberyard Batch” (2022-02)92 points, 62.4%, $90Notes of fresh lemon, chocolate, and candied orange slices emerge on the nose, while the palate is deliciously rich, creamy, and smooth, with balanced spice and a pleasant texture. It definitely benefits from water, which unlocks more sweet orange, spice, and seasoned oak. The rich finish offers a crescendo of espresso and tart black pepper melding with dark chocolate and a hint of orange peel. A complex whiskey with lots to enjoy.—David Fleming
Red Line 6 year old Cask Strength Single Barrel Straight Bourbon (No. 155)92 points, 56.5%, $80Dessert lovers, rejoice: This is made for you. The nose is redolent of Rolos, Milk Duds, cocoa powder, hot fudge, and Raisinets. These carry on to the creamy palate, where rich hot cocoa and dark chocolate-covered espresso beans are supplemented by just the right amount of heat from cinnamon spice and ginger. A lovely zip of red fruit bursts forth on the finish, which lingers on and on, making for a gift that keeps on giving.—Julia Higgins
Hirsch Selected Whiskeys Cask Strength Cognac Cask Finished Straight Bourbon (Batch O722)91 points, 62.5%, $200There’s a delectable spiced breadiness on the nose: brown sugar-cinnamon Pop Tart, cinnamon babka, and French toast, but it’s not just one note thanks to the handful of ripe strawberries and blueberries that join in. Those fruits carry right on through to the palate, though this time they’re chocolate covered. Watch out—this is a hot one, but the rich texture and baking spices keep it palatable. Espresso and baking chocolate on the decadent finish make for one delicious ride.—Julia Higgins
Penelope Toasted Barrel Strength Bourbon (Batch 22-01)91 points, 57.5%, $65There’s plenty to appreciate on the nose, which starts off fruity—apricot, red berries, and orange peel—but also offers caramel, confectioner’s sugar, bubble gum, fluffernutter, and vanilla. Fruit remains on the palate, but it’s hot cinnamon spice that takes the lead, as a hefty dose of Red Hots, Big Red gum, and cinnamon powder coat the mouth. Cinnamon remains on the lengthy, delicious finish, but it’s tempered by cooling menthol and vanilla extract.—Julia Higgins
Proof and Wood 4 year old The Representative Barrel Proof Rye (2022 Release)90 points, 57.8%, $50Sweet and bready on the nose, featuring caramel, cinnamon-raisin bread, and dried strawberries. With water, and this takes it well, sweet lemon, honey, and cherry cough syrup emerge. The palate is chewy and rich, with brown sugar, PayDay bar, strawberry milkshake, and peppery spice. A flavorful finish delivers chocolate brownies and chocolate-covered cherries. Big in both proof and flavor, with lots to offer.—Ted Simmons
Backbone Bourbon Anniversary Edition Decade Down Uncut (2021 Batch)89 points, 55%, $80Decade Down includes a portion of sherry cask-finished bourbon, creating a layered whiskey that shows the influence of the sherry casks without overpowering the base whiskey. The nose is vanilla and caramel-forward, with those boldest aromas resting on top of sarsaparilla, cola float, and chocolate oranges. The palate revels in flavors of cinnamon graham crackers, raspberries and cream, and blueberry scone, all backed up by vanilla, honey, and grainy sweetness.—Shane English
Brother's Bond Original Cask Strength Bourbon89 points, 57.9%, $80It’s breakfast for the nose, thanks to a hefty drizzle of maple syrup, pancakes with powdered sugar, freshly squeezed orange juice, and sliced mango. Some toasted coconut wafts up, too. The palate is hot, hot, hot—Red Hots, freshly grated ginger, and white peppercorns. Water calms that heat and coaxes out some honey. Oak emerges on the finish, alongside a zing of lemon peel.—Julia Higgins