Whether you call them cask strength or barrel proof, these American whiskies offer up some serious heat. Uncut, unfiltered and stacked at a much higher proof than average commercial whiskies, these beautiful brown spirits taste as they do coming straight out of the barrels, hence barrel proof. To get a better idea of what sets each apart, we tasted through each of these with Egor Polonskiy, beverage director at Chicago's Untitled Supper Club, which has more than 600 American whiskies in its collection. And yes, it was all done in the name of research, naturally.
So why cask strength, and why now? The higher-proof whiskies paint a much truer picture of what the distillate is all about, Polonskiy said. As bourbon grew in popularity over the last five or so years, more people experimented with a wider variety, allowing their palates to adjust and handle higher proof. "The more you drink, the finer they taste," he added. "There's no wrong way to drink, but the high-proof whiskies do best with just a touch of water to soften it up and round those edges." Not to mention mellowing out the heat. Don't forget: These fire-fueled cask-strength whiskies regularly run north of 110 proof and don't come with an extinguisher. You've been warned... or encouraged.