Given the stock market’s volatility of late — on Monday the Dow clawed back from a 1,000-point drop — there’s a good chance many of us are seeking a stiff drink.
As it turns out, the booze industry has plenty to offer on that front.
In recent years, spirits producers have increasingly been touting bottles that go well beyond the traditional standard of 80-proof (or 40% alcohol by volume). These offerings, often referred to as “cask strength” at least when it comes to whiskey, are proving particularly popular with connoisseurs.
The thinking goes that when a drink is bottled at straight-from-the-still strength — typically, well above the 100-proof mark — it delivers a truer experience. “There’s more flavor and the finish is much better,” says Adam Levy, founder of the Alcohol Professor website and director of several spirits and wine competitions.
Of course, consumers have the option to lower the proof if they so desire just by adding water (or ice, for that matter). But as Levy notes, the reverse isn’t true when you’re dealing with lower-proof spirits: “You can never take the water back out.”
There’s also a value-added component to high-proof spirits, says Robert Krass, director of spirits for Town Branch, a Kentucky-based bourbon brand that has released several cask-strength bottles over the years. While spirits producers typically charge a little more for higher-proof offerings, Krass says the math still works out in consumers’ favor — meaning you get a lot more booze for your money if you do water down the spirit.
But Krass says the real “value” of high-proof is in terms of the taste: “It’s kind of the purest expression of the art form.”
With that in mind, here are some high-proof spirits we’ve reviewed for our Weekend Sip column. All are worth considering — for today or any time you’re looking for something a bit stronger.
Booker’s comes from the Jim Beam folks, a cask-strength offering that pays homage to Booker Noe, who was the sixth-generation master distiller in the company’s family line. Each quarter, a new bottling is released — they vary somewhat in style and character, but they’re united in their boozy pedigree, coming in at around the 125-130 proof level. One of our favorite Booker’s bottlings was a special 25th anniversary edition in 2014, but we’ve also enjoyed more recent releases.
Another boozy bourbon, but this one has an added distinction: It was named the world’s best whiskey in spirits critic Jim Murray’s annual guide a few years ago. We appreciated its sumptuous, oaky quality as well as the flavor notes of caramel and jam-like fruit.
Rye has become increasingly popular among serious sippers of late. Pikesville is a brand with roots going back to the late 19th Century, but it has gotten a renewed push of late from Heaven Hill Brands, the spirits company that acquired it in 1982. As part of its efforts, Heaven Hill has offered Pikesville at a higher strength — 110 proof, to be exact. We called it a beaut of a drink, pointing to its notes of black coffee, banana and caramel, plus a certain spicy tingle on the tongue.
Tequila Herradura Colección de la Casa, Reserva 2015 — Directo de Alambique
Yes, tequila can also be bottled at higher proof — 110 proof in the case of this Herradura offering released a few years ago. It was part of a special series designed to push Mexico’s signature spirit in bold, new directions. Despite its inherently boozy nature, we found this tequila surprisingly smooth and supple, with pronounced notes of citrus and black pepper.
Bruichladdich Octomore Edition 12.3 Scotch whisky
We just sang the praises of this Scotch a few days ago, but we’ll gladly sing them again. Bruichladdich’s Octomore line is known for being super-smoky (or “peaty”). But it also delivers on the alcoholic front, with this release registering at 124 proof. Taste-wise, it delivers the promised smoke, but layers it with other flavors, from salty citrus to dried fruit. In all, a very “Scotchy” Scotch.