Cask-Finished Whiskeys Find Their Niche in the Market
When we opened Bin 110 in Cornelius, North Carolina (just north of Charlotte), we wanted to provide the highest quality beverage offerings across all segments. Admittedly, wine and whiskey hold a special place with us — we consider them kindred spirits, if you’ll pardon the pun!
It’s fascinating how much the nuances in production and maturation shape the complex profiles of wine, whiskey, and their range of expressions, which is something we try to highlight in our offerings at Bin 110. Lately we’ve been impressed by the cask-finished styles that seem to bring out the best of both categories.
A thoughtful melding of both wine and whiskey, cask-finishing has increasingly gained recognition as a tasty style all its own, contributing a new generation of wonderfully complex, innovative spirits. Thanks to its versatility, complexity, and flavor punch, cask-finished whiskeys are becoming a stand-out product in a booming whiskey market. That’s why we’re taking a closer look at some of the brands paving the way for this modern tradition.
Cask-Finished Whiskey — A Modern Tradition
Few things Americana are as steeped in tradition as bourbon. This exclusively American spirit follows a very strict set of guidelines, as well as the mantra, “All bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon.”
As with most things grounded in such deep tradition, change and deviation from the norm is not often met with acceptance. Cask-finished bourbon is one such deviation, one that has fought through the resistance to become one of the hottest segments in the whiskey marketplace.
Famed master distiller Fred Booker Noe of Jim Beam was the first to dip his toe in the cask-finished marketplace with the 1999 release of his Distiller’s Masterpiece, aged 18 years and finished in used cognac barrels. Despite Noe’s position as one of the leading distillers in the industry, this whiskey languished on the shelf — partly because of the price tag (a whopping $250), but also because many “traditionalists” considered it an affront. Since this time, several cask-finished iterations have surfaced, but the most popular finishes come from wine and rum casks.
While Jefferson’s didn’t invent the idea of cask finishing, they’ve certainly done the heavy lifting to bring it to the forefront for whiskey consumers. Jefferson’s was named after Thomas Jefferson, because of his famous experimental nature. To that end, they have brought to market some very successful wine cask-finished whiskey.
Groth Cask is Jefferson’s spin on Kentucky Straight Bourbon, resting an additional 12 months in the used barrel of one of Napa Valley’s iconic vineyards. Groth was actually the first California Cabernet Sauvignon to receive a 100-point rating from Robert Parker, and it imparts another level of complexity and dark berry fruit. They followed this up with Chappellet’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet cask-finished bourbon, as well as their Grand Select, finished in a French dessert wine barrel from Chateau Suduiraut. The Grand Select is actually a homage to Jefferson himself who brought this wine back to Virginia in 1787.
Angel’s Envy is another top player in this marketplace. In fact, every whiskey they’ve released is a cask-finished varietal. Their popular bourbon spends an additional 3-6 months in port wine barrels imported directly from Portugal, and remains one of the more popular whiskeys ordered in bourbon bars around the country. They also push the envelope with their limited-release Angel’s Envy Rye, which is cask finished for up to 18 additional months in XO Caribbean rum barrels that previously served as cognac barrels. This finish provides one of the most unique tasting whiskeys you will find anywhere, and even at 100 proof, a very smooth sipper.
Another unique cask-finished whiskey is Whistle Pig’s Old World 12yr Rye. This particular rye whiskey spends time in three different “old world” wine casks before being blended back together to form a very bold, yet sophisticated libation. Old World Rye is finished in Port Wine Barrels (7%), French Sauternes Wine Barrels (30%), and Madeira Wine Barrels (63%). This marriage of three “old world” wines provides hints of chocolate and fruit that you would not otherwise garner in a traditional rye. But don’t worry Rye Aficionados — you’ll still get the spice you expect from a 12yr Whistle Pig, too!
Sip On, Cask-Finished Whiskey Drinkers!
As I mentioned in the beginning of this piece, we discussed some similarities shared by wine and whiskey — another, more unfortunate shared attribute is what I call “drink shaming.” For years, people have been hesitant to dive into the world of wine because they didn’t “know enough” about it — what temperature, glass, grape varietals, age, etc.
The same is happening now with whiskey. Traditionalists and “experts” are quick to tell you what mistakes you are making with your whiskey choices. But don’t listen to the noise! When someone cracks on your cask finished bourbon and tells you, “That’s not the way Elijah Craig did it!”, be sure to remind them that you aren’t still driving the same car Henry Ford built either.
No matter what you’re drinking, it’s your drink and your palate. Continue to learn, but above all else, enjoy it!