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.
Redbreast 12 Year Old Cask Strength Irish Whiskey
Irish whiskey often unfairly gets short shrift compared to its highland counterpart, but a jigger of Redbreast soundly puts such silliness to rest. Produced by Irish Distillers (who also make heralded brands like Midleton, Paddy Powers and Jameson), Redbreast is unique among Irish whiskies sold here in the States in that it is distilled in more traditional pot stills (instead of column stills used with blends), and without the addition of grain whiskey. While Redbreast Cask Strength is just as smooth and drinkable as its diluted brethren, it is more full-flavored and noticeably darker and richer – and noticeably stronger at 115 proof. It doesn't have much of a bouquet (most Irish whiskies don't), just a slightly floral smell with hints of honey and pear. But on the tongue, it explodes with flavor, heavy on fruit essences – figs, dates, and apples. It's an unusually big and complex liquid. [$65; singlepotstill.com]