With the wealth of distilleries now on stream across the country, distillers are tasked with not just making whiskey, but with setting themselves apart from the wide crop of competition as well. For some, this has translated to more experimental cask finishing that goes beyond the use of unspecified red wine barrels or the like. Take Coalition Whiskey in Crestwood, Kentucky. The distillery’s focus is on 100% rye whiskey finished in wine barriques from across Bordeaux—specifically, barrels sourced from Margaux, Pauillac, and Sauternes. Up in Clarence, New York, Three Chord’s latest bourbon is finished in Pinot Noir casks from Strange Family Vineyards, which is based in the Sta. Rita Hills AVA.
Finishing in wine barrels is just the tip of the iceberg these days. Barrell’s blenders finished their newest whiskey in not one but three different barrels, which previously held rum, madeira, and apricot brandy. Tequila barrel finishes are also on the rise, with Sagamore Spirit coming out with a rye finished in barrels that held tequila for at least seven years. Check out these high-scoring, uniquely finished American whiskeys from the Fall 2021 Buying Guide, all of which take traditional whiskey styles in a new direction.
High-Scoring Inventive Finishes
Coalition Sauternes Barrique Finished Kentucky
91 points, 47.1%, $90
Part of a series of ryes finished in wine barriques from regions of Bordeaux. On this one, the nose offers vanilla frosting and a hint of bitter chocolate. Spice and sweetness meet happily on the palate, bringing chocolate-covered raspberries, brown sugar, baking spice, and lemon meringue pie. Water unlocks more spice, along with cocoa powder and dark chocolate. A creamy finish offers dried berries, bitter chocolate, and vanilla cream.—David Fleming
Three Chord Strange Collaboration (Batch 001)
89 points, 49.5%, $50
Finished in pinot noir casks. Stewed fruit on the nose, along with cream soda, lemon oil, graham cracker, honeyed granola, and herbal tea. Palate is creamy and rich; notes of baking spice, cocoa powder, cooked blueberries and cherries, and well-integrated fruit. There is great length on the finish, where rich almond nuttiness emerges with ginger and more cocoa powder. With water, berried sweetness and honey roasted almonds. Well balanced.—Ted Simmons
Barrell Seagrass Martinique Rum, Madeira, and Apricot Brandy Finished
88 points, 59.65%, $90
Candied oranges and watermelon, pineapple, and confectionery shop meet tropical fruit grove, anchored by an earthy note of potpourri. There’s sweetness on the palate, but a chile powder heat serves as counterweight when things become spicier—quite different from its dulcet start, though water evens out the balance. The finish reveals cinnamon-raisin cake and Christmas spice. There’s generous spice and sweetness here, but at times a lack of balance.—David Fleming
Sagamore Spirit Distiller’s Select Tequila Finish (2021)
87 points, 49%, $69
Finished in barrels that held tequila for at least seven years. Tangy citrus dominates the nose with lemon-lime soda, orange blossom, and lemon peel, as well as a grassy freshness and some dill pickle. There’s more citrus on the palate in the form of tart key lime pie, along with roasted pecans and chocolate-covered cherries. The finish is balanced and flavor-forward with pronounced rye grain and chocolate. Inventive but too grainy.—Ted Simmons