When it comes to making whiskey, the rules are fairly clear-cut. In a nutshell, whiskey is a spirit made by distilling fermented grains. These can include barley, corn, wheat, rye, and other lesser-used varieties. After fermenting and distilling, it’s aged (unless it’s white whiskey or moonshine) in wooden barrels, often maturing in charred or toasted white oak (typically American or European oak). But this isn’t always the case. We’re seeing an uptick in special-barrel-finished whiskeys, and they’re glorious.
More and more distillers are maturing or finishing their whiskeys in unique barrels designed to impart nuanced flavors. These can include barrels that once held port, sauternes wine, rum, sherry, and more.
Washington State’s Woodinville Straight Port Finished Bourbon Whiskey is a great example of this. Brett Carlile, Woodinville Whiskey co-founder says that when crafting any special finished whiskeys, like their bourbon and rye, they look for barrels that will complement the flavors.
“We’re looking for the finish to add an additional layer of complexity,” he says. “Certain fortified wine finishes really meld nicely with the characteristics of our whiskeys. When we finish our bourbon in port barrels, it adds a fruitiness. Notes of berry and chocolate emerge from the finishing process.”
Woodinville isn’t the only distillery producing special-barrel-finished whiskeys. It’s being done all over the world from the U.S. to Ireland to Scotland and beyond. Keep scrolling to see 10 of our favorite expressions.
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