Cask-strength whisky—straight from the barrel, uncut, and with minimal filtration—is tough to beat. But there’s something truly special about sipping barrel-proof bourbon outside in the summertime. As the last of the season’s balmy nights fade into fall, look to Whisky Advocate’s Summer 2020 Buying Guide for reviews of several new bottles that showcase bourbon at its brawniest, including the four highlighted below.
Because these whiskeys pack a punch in terms of both flavor and proof, you may want to try enjoying them with water or even ice. Dilute slowly to find your ideal proof, or add a large rock and discover additional flavors that emerge as the ice melts.
Given their high proof, these bourbons offer excellent value too. Even Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Batch Proof—which carries the heftiest price tag of the bunch at $130—could be considered a steal given its exceptional quality. Alternatively, you won’t go wrong with Tumblin’ Dice 4 year old Single Barrel Barrel-Proof for less than half the price. These heavy-hitting whiskeys are built for leisurely sipping, and there’s a bottle for just about any budget, so pour a glass to savor as the season ebbs.
4 Barrel-Proof Bourbons for Savoring Summer’s End
Stagg Jr. Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon (13th Edition)—94 points, 64.2% ABV, $50
This kicks off with a bounty of dark fruit—dark berries, cherry cough drops, and currants—coupled with heaps of vanilla, mocha, and rich oaky notes. Big and brawny on the palate, it pours bold and viscous, the blueberry and blackberry fruit balanced with the sweet-bitter notes of burnt sugar and pipe tobacco. The flavors harmonize beautifully, culminating in a finish of dark jam, coffee, and semi-sweet chocolate. —Jeffery Lindenmuth
Woodford Reserve Master’s Collection Batch Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon (2020 Release)—94 points, 61.8% ABV, $130
Lovely lavender-like florals and sweet Bit-O-Honey candies introduce this whiskey, with secondary aromas that suggest the vivid spice and earthy leather that lurk on the palate. Pleasantly sweet pineapple and citrus keep things bright on the palate, along with flavors of chocolate-covered banana. The final show of dusty oak tannins is laced with bitter espresso, then cocoa powder, ending with hints of furniture polish. An intense volley of flavors, skillfully integrated. —Jeffery Lindenmuth
Booker’s 2020-01 “Granny’s Batch” Kentucky Straight Bourbon—93 points, 63.2% ABV, $90
A sack of dried corn and a basket of roasted peanuts go hand in hand with iced tea, Coca-Cola, dark berries, caramel, and earthy clay barn floor. Unsurprisingly brawny and chewy in the mouth, it’s packed with dark chocolate-covered peanuts, cola, cooked cherries, chocolate tart, and tingling spice that carries well into the finish, which also keeps up the dark fruit and peanut flavors. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Tumblin’ Dice 4 year old Single Barrel Barrel-Proof Straight Bourbon (No. 1)—88 points, 57.85% ABV, $59
The nose is redolent of tea leaves, peach skin, herbal honey throat lozenges, blueberries, brown sugar, licorice, and toasted grain. More herbaceousness hits on the palate, cooling some of the cinnamon spice of the high proof with spearmint and licorice notes; add water, and nuttiness emerges. Continued herbal flavors into the finish, which also has citrus oil and peppery spice. Strong barrel character throughout. (5,500 bottles) —Susannah Skiver Barton
Bonus Scores: Check out more barrel-proof bourbon from Summer, including Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon (Batch A120), Three Chord 12 year old Twelve Bar Reserve Barrel-Proof Straight Bourbon (Batch 0007), and The Justice 14 year old Barrel-Proof Straight Bourbon.