Demand for premium whiskey has skyrocketed over the past decade, giving rise to a plenitude of limited-edition or special releases. One of the most popular types of these bottlings harks back to the way whiskey was peddled prior to the 20th century—undiluted, or “cask-strength.” Simply put, this is whiskey that goes straight from the aging barrel into the bottle without being cut with water, generally measuring somewhere between 55 and 65 percent alcohol by volume (ABV).
Even the most seasoned whiskey aficionado might wince at tossing back a straight shot of 130-proof hooch, so the allure of these super-proof bottlings lies partly in experimentation.
“A cask-strength spirit allows the customer to drink it how they like it best,” says Erick Castro, owner and operator of San Diego drinking establishment Polite Provisions. “You might enjoy it with just a splash of water to tame the heat a bit, while I might add enough water to bring it down closer to 45 percent ABV [90 proof]. We are both drinking the same bottle of liquor, but we are each experiencing it on our own terms.”
Bartenders like Castro have played a major role in the resurgence of cask-strength whiskey. Many a menu at modern speakeasies feature a plethora of cocktails made with 100-plus-proof spirits. “The high alcohol content of a cask-strength spirit helps to beef up liqueurs and cordials that might be too sweet or dainty,” says Castro. “This affords bartenders opportunities for inventiveness that transcend what traditional, 80-proof spirits can do.”
We’ve included seven of the very best cask-strength whiskeys released in the past 12 months.