Can cask-finished bourbon technically still be called bourbon? It’s a divisive subject in the world of American whiskey as the regulations specifically state that bourbon can only be matured in “charred new oak containers.” There are some who believe that any time spent in a different barrel immediately disqualifies these whiskeys from being considered bourbons, while a case could also be made that maturation and finishing are separate periods of measurement, with maturation typically lasting years, and finishing lasting only a few months.
Here at Whisky Advocate, we saw this growing trend and expanded our Buying Guide categories accordingly, to account for finished bourbons and ryes. We see them as not quite the same but not so different either, that’s why you’ll see “Bourbon/Finished Bourbon” when you flip to the reviews in the back of the magazine.
No matter your stance on the issue, the fact remains that American whiskey makers are just beginning to explore the possibilities of cask finishing. With every new Buying Guide, we review more and more cask finished bourbons and ryes, and the Spring 2022 issue is no different. From cognac to beer to wine and other finishes, these whiskeys showcase the added dimension that a secondary cask can offer. What’s more, they’re all very good, scoring 88 points or more, with Ammunition Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Finished bourbon landing among our Editors’ Choice whiskies for the issue.
New and Diverse Cask Finished Bourbons and Ryes
Bardstown Bourbon Company Ferrand Finished Bourbon
93, 55%, $125
Finished in barrels from cognac maker Ferrand, to great effect. A hint of barrel char on the nose, along with burnt brown sugar, baked peaches, taffy, grenadine, toasted almonds, nougat, cooked pears, crème de cassis, and banana flan. The palate is smooth and thick, with pastry shop flavors, manuka honey, and rhubarb pie. The finish is oak laden, but rich with cooked fruit, charred oak, iced coffee, and dark chocolate.—David Fleming
Sagamore Spirit Ale Cask Finished Rye
92 points, 49%, $69
Fragrant with Grape-Nuts, grape hard candy, caramel-covered marshmallows, and cinnamon bun on the nose. Very powerful on the palate, with a spicy, hard grip and notes of roasted coffee beans, spiced vanilla, and raspberry pie. Water brings out grain-forward and bitter lemon aromas and sweet dessert notes, semi-sweet chocolate, and pepper spice. Great length on a finish offering orange-tart fruitiness, vanilla cream, bitter espresso, and fresh grain.—David Fleming
Ammunition Cabernet Sauvignon Barrel Finished Bourbon
90 points, 45%, $50
Sweet lemon drops and key lime pie on a fruit-forward nose, with hints of licorice and fragrant oak. Water brings out vanilla, bitter cherry, and sweeter notes of fruit cocktail. Spice and sweetness on the palate—and finish—of vanilla cream, citrus, and red berry notes, plus cinnamon cake, allspice, and coffee, balanced with pleasant oak and earthiness. Well made, with pronounced but balanced and well-integrated flavors. (120,000 bottles)—David Fleming
Redemption Cognac Cask Finished Bourbon
89 points, 49.5%, $70
Poached pears, peaches, and other soft cooked fruit aromas, along with sweeter notes of honey and brown sugar. The mouthfeel is soft and gently sweet, with pear tart, baked apple, ginger, cinnamon, and chocolate. Lots of chocolate and spice, with water bringing out alluring spice and sweet fruit. The finish offers melon, vanilla bean, burnt brown sugar, and gingerbread cookies. (8,400 bottles).—David Fleming
World Whiskey Society 6 year old Tequila Cask Finished Bourbon
89 points, 56%, $80
Ripe fruit on the nose—almost overripe, but it blows off to bring fresher hints of vanilla, cardamom, chocolate, lime, and faint baking spice. The palate is somewhat dry at first, but then develops to bring Toblerone, taffy, circus peanuts, and butterscotch syrup. The finish is the best part—lengthy and smooth, with loads of chocolate and a sweet subtle finale of candied lime. (3,000 bottles)—David Fleming
Templeton Oloroso Sherry Finished Rye
88 points, 46%, $53
The annual sherry-finished rye release from Iowa’s Templeton Distillery. Sweet notes of honey, butterscotch, and raisins meld with buttered peanuts, grape, and orange oil on the nose. The palate is very creamy and filled with flavors of sweet grain, candied strawberries, milk chocolate, and a sprinkling of allspice. The finish is long, rich, well-balanced, and packed with berries and dark fruit notes. Sweetness and spice partner to good effect.—David Fleming