Barrel Proof & Cask Strength
Barrel Proof or Cask Strength refers to any spirit which is aged in a barrel and has the full alcohol content as it came out of that barrel. Typically the full barrel strength of a whiskey could be 65% alcohol or 130 proof. The number won’t always be exact, and it will vary from barrel to barrel because of where it is stored, for how long, etc. You will often see an alcohol content of 64.4% alcohol and listed at 129.8 proof. Rum can get to over 150 proof.
Whiskey enthusiasts and aficionados prefer barrel proof because it is not watered down and is the same way master distillers are tasting it. Other than it being higher in proof, it is fuller in flavor as well. When you add water, it not only lowers the proof, but it can become more bitter. This is a reason why a lot of whiskey drinkers prefer Kentucky limestone water for their bourbon. It is smoother and bourbon, by law, must only be cut with Kentucky limestone water.
When you pick up a bottle of standard bourbon or whiskey like Jim Beam or Jack Daniels, you will see that it is always 80 proof or 40% alcohol. Jack Daniels makes a barrel proof whiskey that is 130 proof.
It is the same with Scotch Whisky, only they refer to it as Cask Strength, and again, it will vary, it typically will never be 120proof but more like 119.7 or 59.3% alcohol.
Obviously you have to be careful because it is so much stronger. When you have one drink you are actually drinking what would normally be closer to two. To taste barrel strength whiskey is really something special because it is unadulterated, nothing is watered down for the typical consumer and it really gives you insight as to how something tastes before it is processed. Sometimes the alcohol content is too high to enjoy, it can burn. In this case, taste the spirit first, then get an eyedropper of water and add it in, swirl it around in your Glencairn glass and you will notice a pleasant difference.
If you are looking for consistency, you are not going to find it here, which is actually the fun part. Because the spirit is not cut down to 80 or 90 proof and blended from several barrels, what you are going to find it each barrel has a different character and “personality”. Some are going to be hot, some are going to have different flavor notes, and they are all going contain a slightly different alcohol content which will effect the flavor.
You can expect to pay a lot more for barrel proof spirits. Obviously if they are not cutting it by 40% water, you will be paying at least 40% more or even higher. Jack Daniels typically goes for about $30, but their barrel proof will go for $70. A bottle of Michter’s will be about $50, but you can expect to pay closer to $100 depending on the region, store, etc.
With whiskey sales on the rise, these are becoming more and more popular for those who don’t want “watered down” whiskey and who want that full flavor. Enjoy exploring how the master distillers taste it straight from the barrel!