I am a firm believer that the standard of a finished whiskey should not hide the flavor of the whiskey behind the finishing flavor. A finish flavor should complement the whiskey, not overpower it. Too many whiskeys finished in another spirit barrel are dominated by the wine or other spirit flavor that it is hard tell that it is whiskey at all. I have picked five distilleries making finished products that I consider done well with just the proper amount of the finishing flavor to add a little something to the whiskey. I will list them in alphabetical order here.
Angel’s Envy Distillery, Louisville, Ky.: Angel’s Envy makes a very good finished Bourbon. Lincoln Henderson was a master at finishing this product. The Port Wine adds a nice fruitiness to the finish without detracting from the Bourbon. They have done this one right, it is a good finished whiskey.
High West Distillery, Park City, Utah: I have a bottle of their A Midwinters Nights Dram Rye, Act 6 Scene 6 that is finished in French oak Port barrels and it is very well balanced. The rye grassiness is well balanced by the fruitiness of the Port wine. When you drink this whiskey, you immediately know that it is a rye whiskey and may not even realize it is a finished whiskey at first. The Port comes through mostly in the finish. They certainly got it right on this product.
Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery, Nashville, TN.: Belle Meade was a label bottled by the Nelson Green Brier Distillery before Prohibition. The Nelson brothers decided to re-introduce this brand when they started up their modern distillery. They sourced some whiskey from MGP and finished the whiskey in Sherry casks. They did an excellent job creating a whiskey with just the right amount of sherry fruit in the whiskey. Since then they have done several other finishes for the brand and all of them are equally well produced. I personally love the original Sherry cask finish the best, but Rosemary’s favorite is the Madera finished. You can’t go wrong with any of the Belle Meade whiskeys.
Widow Jane Distillery, Brooklyn, NY: Lisa Wicker is not only a Master Distiller, but also a Master Blender. The proof of this in in her products. When she was hired to lead Widow Jane Distillery, you saw a huge increase in the quality of their whiskeys. She has Rye whiskey aged in oak and apple wood that is very good and her “Decadence” Bourbon finished in maple syrup barrels is excellent. So many of the maple syrup finished whiskey in the market, taste like whiskey that someone has dumped a ton of maple syrup into the bottle. Not so with the Decadence. There is a little maple sweetness, but mostly in the finish and there is no doubt that this is a fine 10 year old Bourbon to start with as the flavor of the whiskey comes first in this product. Well done, Lisa.
Limestone Branch Distillery, Lebanon, Ky.: Steve Beam has done an excellent job with his Minor Case Rye, finished in Sherry casks. He told me he worked hard to make sure the Sherry did not dominate the rye whiskey flavor and I think he pulled it off. The rye whiskey flavor is complemented by hints of raisins and almonds from the sherry cask. Well done, Steve Beam.
These are five distilleries who, in my opinion, are getting it right when they make a finished whiskey. I am sure that there are other distilleries finishing whiskey to complement the flavor and not hide the flaws, but unfortunately, those seeking to cover the problems of flawed whiskey are giving finished whiskey a bad name in my book.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller