You might be surprised to hear this, but cask strength doesn’t mean higher proof (than your average whiskey). Sure, you’ll find many bourbons, single malt Scotch whiskies, and other whisk(e)ys in the 60% range and beyond that are also labeled as cask strength or barrel proof, but the designation is not a guarantee of ABVs. The term cask strength is specifically used by whiskey (and to a lesser degree rum) distillers and blenders to designate an expression that wasn’t diluted after its maturation (though a lot of whiskeys are cut with water before they go into the cask/barrel).
Regardless of the alcohol content, the term is fairly eye-catching and has grown extremely popular with whiskey fans. This means that there are a ton of cask-strength and barrel-strength whiskeys on the market today. To find the best, we went to the source, asking a handful of well-known whisky distillers and experts to tell us the best cask-strength American-made whiskeys to drink right now. Keep scrolling to see all of their picks!
Andy Nelson, co-founder and head distiller of Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville
Average Price: $99
The best cask-strength bourbon (that I don’t make) has to be Booker’s. The first time I tried it, the bottle was in the 130 proof-wise, maybe even 140. You can’t tell me something made that well at that high a proof isn’t exciting. But the crazy thing is, it’s also delicious.
At first, the aroma comes across like walking into a leather shop. It’s a very specific sense memory, but that’s my experience. Then the palate shows these deep, rich flavors of brown sugar, tobacco, and cherry and it hardly gets more comforting when it comes to whiskey.
Still Austin Cask Strength Bourbon
Heather Greene, CEO of Milam & Greene Whiskey in Blanco, Texas
Average Price: $67.99
If I am drinking a whiskey at cask strength, more often than not it is something very old or exclusive where I know the maker wanted me to taste it completely unadulterated, and those will be the more delicate refined side rather than a bang-your-head with alcohol kind of thing.
I tried Still Austin’s new Cask Strength recently and was super impressed. I’d sip that one again for sure.
A nose of dried cherries and oak greets you before you’re immersed in candied pecans, brown sugar, and toasted vanilla beans.
Four Roses Private Selection Barrel Strength Bourbon
Jeremy Kasler, CEO of CaskX, a bourbon cask investment firm in Los Angeles
Average Price: $99.99
You can’t go wrong with a Four Roses Private Selection Barrel Strength if you can find one. While the proof and the recipes can vary, I’ve never had one I didn’t like. If you’re a Four Roses fan, just imagine the bourbon served straight from the barrel (minus the flecks of char).
The flavors here are bold and extreme, but also quite delightful with a bouquet of baked fruit and citrus, followed by layers of caramel, dark chocolate, toasted almonds, and black pepper. If you find one, grab it. You won’t be disappointed.
Balcones Brujeria Single Malt Whiskey
Colin Keegan, founder of Santa Fe Spirits in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Average Price: $125
Balcones Brujeria, a Single Malt – 125.8 proof – As with all Balcones whiskies this is a really bold, tasty whiskey. This is the best Sherry cask-finished whiskey I have had.
Spiced nuts, figs, melons, and honey. Holiday pie baking notes, black tea, and mushrooms on the taste. A long rich finish, with seemingly no end.
Lost Lantern Boulder Spirits Peated Colorado Single Malt
Murphy Quint, head distiller at Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher, Iowa
Average Price: $130
I enjoy Stagg Jr. and Weller Full Proof just as much as the next guy or gal, but there are plenty of quality cask-strength bottles that are readily available. I’m a big fan of anything from Lost Lantern. They visit distilleries from all over the country and buy single barrels to release under their own label at cask strength. Everything they release is of quality, so it’s always a safe bet.
One of their best is Lost Lantern Boulder Spirits Peated Colorado Single Malt. It’s a heavily peated single malt that was matured for five years.
This single malt starts with dried fruits, chocolate, candied orange peels, and vanilla. It’s all enveloped with smoky, robust peat.
Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon
Phil Morgan, distiller at Arcane American Whiskey in Brooklyn, New York
Average Price: $84.99
Frey Ranch Single Barrel Bourbon. This whiskey’s grain is grown by the distiller’s farm making it a real field to bottle straight bourbon barrel-strength whiskey.
Many notable flavors make this an iconic whiskey. The most prevalent are oak, corn, bitter cocoa, and a pine spice finish.
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon
LC May, grandson of Clyde May and brand ambassador at Clyde May’s Whiskey in Troy, Alabama
Average Price: $88.99
While there are a ton of excellent cask strength offerings out there, I have always been a fan of the Elijah Craig Barrel Proof offering. It’s big, bold, high-proof, complex, and surprisingly well-priced.
The profile is full of a pepper spice that doesn’t overwhelm despite the proof, while surprisingly managing to have a nose of dried orchard fruits.
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel Bourbon
Rebecca Running, CEO of Darco Spirits in Philadelphia
Average Price: $399
Blanton’s Straight from the Barrel is one of my favorites. It has a huge taste profile with amazing flavors. This is the treat at the end of a long day or to finish off a great dinner. It’s the perfect nightcap.
Honey, butterscotch, raisins, vanilla beans, and rich oak are the main flavors. Adding water only heightens these flavors.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon
Brad Jennings, whiskey expert at North of Bourbon in Louisville
Average Price: $52
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof is one of the best cask-strength bourbons on the market. It has a vanilla and burnt caramel flavor that makes it great. I also enjoy Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. If I had to pick one of the two, it would be Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. It’s complex and well-balanced.
Candied almonds, dried fruits, oak, vanilla, and buttery caramel round out the key flavors that make it such a memorable bourbon.
George T. Stagg Bourbon
Alex Munch, founder of Stauning Danish Whisky in Demark
Average Price: $599
My favorite cask-strength bourbon is the same as my favorite beginner bourbon. George T. Stagg is hard to beat when it comes to higher-proof bourbons. It’s so good, it changed my perception of what a bourbon could be.
The main flavors that make this whiskey so great are notes of vanilla beans, pipe tobacco, dried cherries, dark chocolate, and buttery toffee.