If you've ever wondered about booze bottles bearing those curious cask- or barrel- strength labels, then mystery revealed: It turns out that the liquor industry has quietly gone "extreme" in recent years. Special editions of whiskey, vodka, gin and other potent potables are now available in levels of 51 to 70 ABV (or 102 to 140 proof) – and a few far higher – compared with more typical 40 ABV/80 proof of garden variety distilled spirits. These high-strength brews not only pack an alcohol wallop, but many are extremely flavorful, and thus stand out better when used with mixed drinks than their more diluted siblings (yes, it's true, most spirits are cut with water). Since many are twice or more as strong as your typical tipple, they'll ring your bell though if you don't treat them with the proper respect. Pour poorly at your peril.
Laphroaig Quarter Cask Islay Single-Malt Scotch Whiskey
Matured in small barrels, this single malt from the legendary Scottish distiller was created to emulate the style of the Laphroaig whiskies produced in the early 19th century. The idea is that after a standard barrel aging, the spirit is moved to a much smaller cask, which allows 30 percent more of the spirit to come in contact with the barrel wood. The resulting Scotch is darker than the normal 10-year Laphroaig, and at 96 proof, heavier in alcohol, too.
It doesn't leave you longing, either. Pull the cork on this bottle and you're going to get a lot of smokiness, like the smell of damp wood when it burns. But to be sure, the smokiness is refined, not rough or sharp, and there's a woody sweetness, like boiling maple syrup, that pervades the nose. It's more complicated than Laphroaig's 10-year and finishes with an interesting citrusy sweetness. But to be clear, this is not a gentle scotch. It's bigger and bolder. [$55; laphroaig.com]