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‘Special Finished’ Bourbons, Blind Test And Power Ranked

When it comes to bourbon whiskey, you have a lot of choices out there. There are the classic low-proof bottles, barrel-proof releases, single barrels, limited editions, high-rye, low-rye … the list goes on and on. Another great section of the bourbon world is special barrel-finished bourbons or secondary cask finishes. Those are barrels that — no surprise here — go into a second barrel (vs. the standard new American oak) for finishing to add new flavor elements.

For this blind taste, I’m grabbing eight bourbons finished in everything from a second new oak barrel to various wine casks, brandy casks, and dessert wine casks. The throughline for all of this is the taste. I’m basically looking at whether or not I’d actually like to drink this in the real world (outside of tastings). I’m also looking at whether or not these live up to what’s promised on the label.

How can I do that in a blind tasting? Well, I’m going to guess which type of barrel these bourbons were finished in. It’s a test of my mettle and the clarity of the finish on these whiskeys. Our lineup today is:

  • Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Double Barrel
  • Penelope Rose Cask Finish
  • Woodford Reserve Honey Barrel Finished Bourbon
  • Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade
  • Daviess County Cabernet Sauvignon Cask Finish
  • Barrell Vantage
  • Woodinville Moscatel Finish
  • I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish

Okay, let’s find a great whiskey for you to try!

Also Read: The Top 5 UPROXX Bourbon Posts Of The Last Six Months

Part 1: The Tasting

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Taste 1

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a faint hint of toasted oak with a burnt sugar vibe next to Christmas spices, dusty dark chocolate powder, vanilla cake, and pecan shells. The palate leans into the woody spices with star anise, allspice berries, cardamon pods, and full sticks of cinnamon over butterscotch candies, more of that dark chocolate, and a hint of rum-raisin. The end has a light black tea vibe with dates and prunes dusted by all that woody spice and packed into a fresh pine box.

My Barrel Guess:

Toasted oak? Burnt sugars? Fresh Pine? This has to be a double oaked. You feel that fresh barrel come through and really lean into the woodiness of the spices.

Taste 2

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Soft orange blossoms and white flowers on a summer day pop on the light nose with a hint of candied cherry soaked dipped in dark chocolate with a hint of vanilla underneath it all. The palate holds onto the lightness with a strawberry and cream vibe next to tart raspberry and lush vanilla with a hint of dusty cinnamon that’s more sweet than sharp. The end has a hint of fresh herbs with more tart red berries and brand new porch wicker.

My Barrel Guess:

Light florals and tart berries … this feels like a light wine finish.

Taste 3

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Hello, honey cask! The nose has a lovely floral honey note with a hint of orange peels studded with cloves next to Almond Joy and a touch of Graham Cracker dipped in honey and dusted with cinnamon. The palate has a touch of fresh ginger next to more fresh honey with a hint of sticky toffee pudding underneath it all. The end has a touch of old cedar with a whisper of coconut tobacco next to creamy honey cut with vanilla.

My Barrel Guess:

Yeah, this is a honey cask through and through.

Taste 4

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This hits on complex notes on the nose from old leather, dried sage, cellared oak, roasted almonds rolled in toffee, sultanas, and then deep winter spice: freshly ground nutmeg, mace, cardamom, sharp cinnamon. The palate has a silky vanilla foundation with more sultanas over top, fresh and meaty dates, ginger snaps, and prunes mingle. The end has a gingerbread vibe next to cherry bark and grape must with more of those spices pouring into an old cedar humidor that used to hold tobacco.

My Barrel Guess:

This is a fancy brandy finish for sure. Those dried fruits and old wood give it away. It’s a refined one.

Taste 5

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Sour red wine with mulled wine spices comes through on the nose with tart apples, fresh honey, and plenty of vanilla. The taste holds onto that spicy and sour mulled red wine vibe as a hint of tannic oak and vanilla butter creep in. The end kind of washes out but holds onto the red wine with plenty of oakiness and vanilla and spice.

My Barrel Guess:

Red wine finish. 100 percent sure. A little too proofed down though.

Taste 6

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Dark chocolate tobacco leaves infused with dried chili peppers mingle on the nose with toasted coconut, fresh ginger, cherry root beer, and pineapple cores with a hint of espresso. The palate mixes orchard wood with espresso cream next to creamy eggnog, green tea, and savory green herbs. The end leans into spiced sticky toffee pudding with black-tea-soaked dates, plenty of cinnamon, and rich vanilla cream next to pink peppercorns, coconut cake, and smoked plum tobacco packed into a cedar box.

My Barrel Guess:

This is delicious! It’s really all over the place, so I’m not really zeroing in on a single cask. That likely means it’s a whiskey finished in a lot of casks and blended.

Taste 7

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

This opens with a mix of dark chocolate powder, smoked apricot, and burnt orange with a good dose of wet wicker and five spice. The palate leans into toffee and almonds (Almond Roca!) with peach pits, plums, and a touch of vanilla yellow cake. The end leans into the plums with a brown sugar vibe next to light Christmas spices, dry wicker, choco-spiced tobacco, and Almond Roca.
My Barrel Guess:

That Almond Roca gives this away as a Woodinville. That sweetness also leans into a dessert wine finish too.

Taste 8

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Tasting Notes:

Sweet cherry and caramel mix on the nose with sour red wine, vanilla, and dry porch wicker. The palate marries the tartness of the cherries with winter spices, creating a mulled wine spiked with a whiskey vibe next to a hint of cedar and black tea. The end leans into eggnog with plenty of nutmeg and creaminess with a hint of dark chocolate and a last blast of the cherry before the proofing water kicks in.

My Barrel Guess:

This had a clear red wine finish vibe. It was a little short-winded though.

Part 2: The Ranking

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

8. I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish — Taste 8

I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish
Diageo

ABV: 45%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This Diageo whiskey is a sourced Kentucky bourbon that’s aged at the famed Stitzel-Weller distillery for four years. The whiskey is then finished in red wine barrels from California before blending, proofing, and bottling.

Bottom Line:

This had a nice enough palate but kind of washed out at the end, that’s the only reason it’s last here. This is a fine whiskey otherwise. The red wine is clear on the palate as well, which is another nice touch.

7. Daviess County Cabernet Savignon Cask Finish — Taste 5

Daviess County
Lux Row

ABV: 48%

Average Price: $54

The Whiskey:

This whiskey combines two mash bill programs. Rye-heavy and wheat-heavy bourbon barrels are aged for five years before they’re vatted and then re-filled into Cab casks from Napa. That juice then rests for a final spell before batching, proofing, and bottling as-is.

Bottom Line:

This was a clearly nice whiskey with a fine palate. It wasn’t arresting like some of the other pours on the list today, but it was clearly red wine finished. I’d say maybe use this for solid cocktails regularly and an on-the-rocks sipper in a pinch.

6. Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Double Barrel — Taste 1

Cedar Ridge Double Barrel
Cedar Ridge

ABV: 52.5%

Average Price: $50

The Whiskey:

This whiskey from craft distillery favorite Cedar Ridge combines their beloved whiskey with new oak one more time. The juice has a classic base of 74 percent corn, 14 percent rye, and 12 percent malted barely. After about four or five years, that whiskey is reloaded into brand new charred American oak barrels for a final finish.

Bottom Line:

This was a nice change of pace from the sweeter wine and brandy finishes. Still, this was light and very woody, though that’s the point. The only reason it’s a little lower on this ranking is that it didn’t pop as much as the rest. Otherwise, this is a good grab if you’re in the Midwest.

5. Penelope Rose Cask Finish — Taste 2

Penelope Rose Cask
Penelope

ABV: 47%

Average Price: $52

The Whiskey:

This whiskey takes Penelope’s beloved and multi-award-winning four-grain bourbon blend — 76 percent corn, 14 percent wheat, seven percent rye, and three percent malted barley — and re-barrels it in hand-selected French Grenache Rosé Wine Casks from the Southern Rhône of France. Once those barrels hit just the right flavor notes, they’re vatted, proofed, and bottled as-is.

Bottom Line:

This had a nice lightness to it thanks to that rose barrel, which really came through on the palate. Overall, this is a lighter whiskey with a nice palate that’s perfect for easy sipping on a slow day.

4. Barrell Vantage — Taste 6

Barrell Vantage
Barrell Craft Spirits

ABV: 57.22%

Average Price: $80

The Whiskey:

This brand new release from Barrell Craft Spirits really leans into unique and rare finishings. The blend is a mix of Indiana, Tennessee, and Kentucky bourbons that were finished in three different oaks separately before blending. In this case, that’s Japanese Mizunara casks, French, and American oak. Different toast and char levels were used for the barrels to achieve a unique palate that builds on the heritage of Barrell’s other triple cask-finished whiskeys (Dovetail, Seagrass, and Armida).

Bottom Line:

Ah, that makes sense as the palate didn’t land on one distinct barrel vibe. Still, this was delicious. Buy this whiskey, especially if you like something new and fresh with a deep flavor profile.

This is also where I’m splitting hairs with the ranking. This could be number one on another day. Today, it’s a little lower since the next three are a little clearer cut on the palate.

3. Woodinville Moscatel Finish — Taste 7

Woodinville Bourbon Moscatel Finish
Woodinville

ABV: 50%

Average Price: $70

The Whiskey:

This whiskey starts as Woodinville’s award-winning five-year-old bourbon. That juice is then re-barreled into Moscatel wine casks for a finish maturation period. After nearly a year, the whiskey goes into the bottle having just been touched by water but otherwise as-is.

Bottom Line:

This is just delicious. It’s also now available nationwide, so you might be able to try it even if you don’t live in Washington state this year.

2. Woodford Reserve Honey Barrel Finished Bourbon — Taste 3

Woodford Reserve Honey Barrel
Brown-Forman

ABV: 45.2%

Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This brand-new whiskey from Woodford Reserve takes classic Woodford bourbon that’s aged at least four years and finishes it with some honeyed oak. The bourbon is filled into barrels that aged honey for a final maturation before blending, very light proofing, and bottling.

Bottom Line:

This hit the honey barrel finish out of the park. There was a clear sense of the finish with a nice bourbon edge still underpinning everything. It was also very easy drinking and delightful to sip.

1. Bardstown Bourbon Company Chateau de Laubade — Taste 4

BBC Bourbon
Bardstown Bourbon Company

ABV: 53.5%

Average Price: $160

The Whiskey:

This bourbon is a blend of 12-year-old, low-rye bourbon from Kentucky and 10-year-old, very-low-rye bourbon from Tennessee. The whiskeys were re-barreled into Armagnac casks from the famed Chateau de Laubade. One set spent two years mellowing on the bottom floor of the rickhouse while another set spent 16 months mellowing on the top floor. After that, the barrels were vatted and bottled as-is.

Bottom Line:

This is a beautiful sip of whiskey. If you can find it buy a couple — you won’t see it again until next year.

Part 3: Final Thoughts

Special Finish Bourbon Blind
Zach Johnston

Overall, this was a nice panel of whiskeys. Each one delivered on what was promised on the label. That’s not always true, I can assure you. I really liked all of these, though the bottom three are more in the cocktail base column for me.

The top five were all nice enough to recommend as sippers or for great cocktails. That said, the top three are the prime cuts. If you can find any of those at your local liquor store or high-end whiskey bar, you’ll be in for a real treat. Good luck out there!









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