Over the past few years, the term ‘Cask-Strength whisky’ has been thrown around in whisky drinking circles more often than it ever was. Whisky aficionados are of course divided when it comes to this radical shift in whisky preferences, and Cask-Strength whisky has a fair share of admirers, as well as detractors.
For the people that don’t get together to sip whisky, huff on cigars and parley with like-minded whiskyheads every weekend, the question persists; what does Cask-Strength whisky mean?
Well, the word Cask-Strength implies that the whisky, or whiskey has been bottled just the way it was removed from the cask after maturation. No dilution, no chill-filtration or any other processes that standard whiskies go through, have been carried out on them.
Usually, standard whiskies are diluted with water to bring down their alcohol strength to 40% ABV to make them suitable to a wider audience’s taste. Standard whiskies even go through chill-filtration, wherein small particles and heavier oils from the whisky are removed to give it a more aesthetic appearance. Whiskies that have not been chill-filtered tend to become cloudy when cooled, which is usually considered undesirable.
These are the most common differentiating factors between cask-strength whiskies and standard whiskies. In fewer words, Cask-Strength whiskies are the spirit in its true form post-maturation, with nothing added, nothing removed, which is why many whisky purists have shown an inclination towards it.
Why Cask-Strength whisky?
Cask-strength whiskies are synonymous with hyper masculinity, being butch and are considered to be untainted by whisky purists, but there are some legitimate reasons why you should try a cask-strength whisky at least once. Let us list down a few reasons why you should go for the cask-strength bottle the next time you’re out whisky shopping.
Undiluted – Of course, the whisky has not been diluted, and has been bottled exactly the way it came out of the cask or barrel. This is whisky in its natural form, after it has spent years interacting with the fine Oak, and you will taste this richness when you drink a cask-strength whisky.
Be the Blender - This factor is important because not everyone enjoys whisky at the same proof. Meaning, you may love drinking your whisky with a few drops of water while another would love a generous splash of water, or even ice with their whisky. Cask-strength whiskies let drinkers be their own blenders, choosing the proof at which they wish to take their whisky. It is also true that whisky tastes different at different proof levels, and this gives you a chance to unlock the hidden character of your favourite Scotch, Bourbon or Irish whiskey by playing the blender yourself.
No Chill-Filtration – The process of chill-filtration is carried out mostly for cosmetic reasons, as a cloudy whisky might be considered polluted among the masses of lesser informed whisky drinkers. It wasn’t the norm earlier but as whisky brands began to chase the masses, chill-filtration soon became the norm. With cask-strength whiskies, distilleries are returning to the old days when the heavier oils, slight impurities and compounds were not removed, giving the whisky its own character.
More whisky – Now this is the home run that is undeniably, the most convincing point in favour of cask-strength whiskies. When you buy a cask-strength whisky, you effectively get more whisky per bottle since it’s undiluted and has a much higher ABV than standard bottles.
Which are the best cask-strength whisky brands in the market today?
Here’s out list of the most highly recommended cask-strength whiskies and whiskeys you should begin your adventure into this fresh new territory with.
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso
Three things that can convince even the most sceptical whisky drinker out there; The Glenlivet single malt, cask strength and Oloroso Sherry finish. This is an exceptional no-age-statement single malt from the Speyside Scotch whisky brand’s Nadurra series, which means ‘natural’ in Scottish Gaelic. The Glenlivet has done well to combine the qualities of a Speyside single malt with deep flavours of Sherry, born from Spanish tradition.
The infusion of Sherry flavours into this non-chill filtered single malt gives it an incredibly fresh personality for a cask-strength whisky. A rich, fruity nose with the aromas of dried fruits, cinnamon and apricots make sure The Glenlivet Nadurra draws the drinker in immediately. Explosions of fruity and warm spicy flavours are brought forth by a smooth and creamy drink, followed by a remarkably long finish.
The Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso is a cask-strength whisky that deserves a pedestal, and a drinker that fully appreciates the hard work and technique that went into creating this masterpiece.
Aberlour is one of the most criminally underrated single malt Scotch whiskies of the world, and the Aberlour A’bunadh even more so. This is a small-batch cask strength single malt that the company has willed to recreate based on the blueprint of an 1898 bottle of Aberlour unearthed in 1975. A’bunadh is a no-age-statement single malt Scotch, finished in Oloroso Sherry butts.
A’bunadh is Scottish Gaelic for ‘the Original’, and the Aberlour brand takes their whisky very, very seriously. Beginning 1997, the company has only ever released the A’bunadh in small batches each year. The Aberlour A’bunadh bottlings have ranged from 61% ABV to 58% ABV over the years. Gentle spicy aromas entwined with rich notes of Oloroso Sherry are followed by a creamy, full bodied palate. Flavours of candied ginger, dried fruits, and dark chocolate come next, making way for a long, intense finish with an aftertaste of spice, dark chocolate and some toasted oak.
This extensive and enthralling repertoire of flavours is one rarely ever found in a no-age-statement single malt, especially a cask-strength Scotch. If you have tried and loved any of Aberlour’s award-winning single malt Scotch whiskies, the Aberlour A’bunadh is the next step in your whisky journey.
Jameson Bow Street 18 Cask Strength
Jameson, the world’s most popular Irish whiskey, is not a brand that you will have to look hard for, no matter where you are since it’s basically found in every bar around the globe. Yet somehow, the Irish whiskey behemoths surprised the world with the Jameson Bow Street 18 Cask Strength.
Released in 2018, the Bow Street 18 is the first ever cask-strength whiskey released by Jameson worldwide so you can gauge the kind of ripples it sent across the Irish whiskey industry. The Bow Street 18 does not stray too far from the traditional Jameson experience, being a blend of pot still and grain whiskies. The standard Jameson is matured for four years, and bottled at 40% ABV, and that’s where things change entirely. The Bow Street 18 is not just bottled at cask-strength, it is also matured for 18 years, finished in ex-Bourbon barrels.
In addition to being the first widely released cask-strength Jameson whiskey, the Bow Street 18 is also a rare bottle to find. It is released only once a year, and is finished at Jameson’s Bow Street Distillery, where only 84 barrels can be stored at any given time. If the standard Jameson is a drink for every occasion, the Bow Street 18 is truly a drink for every special occasion.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Strength
We agree the name is quite the mouthful, but believe us when we say, the whisky is too! Bottled at a whopping 64.5% ABV, this is one of the strongest Jacks in the market. It is also Master Distiller Jeff Arnett is particularly proud of his work on this one, and we believe he should be.
Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof is bottled from a single barrel, hence the name, and has not been blended with product from any other barrel. There is a very good chance that you may never taste the same spirit from the same barrel when it comes to this drink. For lovers of Jack Daniel’s, the Single Barrel Barrel Proof is yet another opportunity to relish the vanilla, brown sugar and caramelized wood flavours of this Tennessee delight.
This is a relatively new release, introduced in 2015 by Jack Daniel’s. It has also been made available in select markets, which make it an attractive proposition for the people who swear by Jack Daniel’s.
Elijah Craig Cask Strength Bourbon whiskey
A number of other Bourbon brands may like to lay the claim to being the bestselling Bourbon brand in the United States and worldwide, although Elijah Craig does not rely on said parameters. Premium Bourbon might not have the same mass appeal, but Elijah Craig have stuck to creating critically acclaimed drinks. The Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof, is a testament to that fact.
All batches of this expression have had an ABV that registers over 60% ABV, making it an exceptional cask-strength Bourbon whiskey that is packed with flavour and smoothness. The latest small batch release of the Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof had an alcohol strength of 68.4% ABV.
Flavours of vanilla, caramel, spicy cinnamon, butterscotch and toasted oak dominate with the Elijah Craig Small Batch Barrel Proof. It is also non-chill filtered, which means the body on this Bourbon is magnificent. This is a cask-strength Bourbon for enthusiasts that may be sceptical regarding a stronger Bourbon, because this is one of the best options in the market today.
These are some truly remarkable cask-strength whiskies and whiskeys on the market. It may be difficult to get your hands on some of them, but hey! That’s what makes the drink better.