Barrel Proof, Cask Strength, Full Proof, etc. - WTF are they?

We have all seen them: Barrel Proof, Batch Proof, Full Proof, Cask Strength - but what are they? Are they all the same? Is there a legal requirement? Yes and no.


To get this started, I am sipping on a pour of Larceny Barrel Proof B521. Coming in at 121 proof, this wheated bourbon is rich in burnt bread and butterscotch, with a nice touch of cinnamon spice, oak, and clove on the end. Larceny has been the odd man out when it comes to the Heaven Hill BP lineup. It has seen its fair share of misses when it comes to the general population. Before I get off on too long of a tangent, let’s talk more about this Larceny. Heaven Hill uses a barrel entry proof of 125 proof on all of their whiskey. That means when the liquid goes into the barrel, it is 125 proof. So how does it go from 125 and end up at 121? There are many factors that play a role such as evaporation, where the barrels are stored, how long they are stored, what floor of the warehouse, etc.


So what makes this barrel proof? Barrel Proof or Cask Strength or Batch Proof is when the liquid comes out of the barrel and is bottled without any water added to the final product. The difference in names is just what each distillery or brand uses to set themselves apart from someone else. Rebel Bourbon will use “Cask Strength” when talking about their single barrel store picks expressions because it is a single cask, dumped and bottled.


But Chad, those are coming in at 120 proof? Wellllll, technically they can add some water to the mix. But then why doesn’t Knob Creek or Russell’s Reserve have a label that says “cask strength’??!! I am not sure. Most brands will shout from the rooftops that they have a cask strength or barrel proof expression, but those old guys really don’t care about those titles. They have been putting out high proof expressions long enough that it just accepted.


Why doesn’t Heaven Hill say Batch Proof instead of Barrel Proof? Can’t tell you that either. They choose the term that they feel markets well. Honestly, most brands should be using Batch Proof, like Woodford Reserve does. I think Barrel Proof and Cask Strength should only be used for single barrel expressions because it just sounds like it makes more sense. Heaven Hill batches things like Elijah Craig and this Larceny that I am sipping on, but they use the term Barrel Proof. With ECBP they use barrels only 12 years and older - so one could assume that maybe they have it so dialed in that the average proof point from each barrel really does not vary that much from the other. Does that make sense? The terms barrel proof, cask strength, and batch proof are all used interchangeably by brands. No real legal definition is given to them and they really do not have much of a requirement when using the term either. Minimal water added, if any at all.


So then what is Full Proof? - sigh - Another marketing term given to expressions that are considered ‘full proof’ when going into the barrel. Take into account this deliciously valued Benchmark Full Proof I am sipping on as well - it goes into the barrel at 125 proof and is then cut back down to match this proof point. Weller Full Proof is the same idea, going into the barrel at 114 proof and is then watered down before bottling to match the “Full Proof” point it was barreled at.


You may ask why distilleries do this when all the public wants is ‘pure, uncut’ juice and the simple question is sales. The higher the proof, the less amount of bottles. We do not see much of things Ike 1792 FP or Weller FP on the market already, imagine if those were just bottled and sent out at cask strength? There would be a large variance in flavor, each batch would have to be hand written or submitted to the TTB, it would just cause more of a headache for the producer, which would then lead to a much more expensive product. 


Last question: how come Maker’s Mark band Michter’s have such low barrel proof points? Well, they use over entry proof points. The more water added at the beginning of the process means less water added at the end. I wish more brands would use lower entry proof points. Why? Because when something goes into the barrel at a lower proof, it has more time to mingle with that water. The water is added in the beginning and it spends time in the barrel creating a richer, fuller bodied experience. When added after, think about all of those flavors you are losing! Michter’s uses a barrel entry proof of 103, while Maker’s uses an barrel entry proof of 110. They will create more individual barrels and spend more money, but they are making amazing juice that creates a richer mouthfeel and better experience. If Heaven Hill would use a 110 proof point on this Larceny, it wouldn’t have as much of the astringency as it does, but higher proof before means higher bottle count later.


Regardless of which connotation is used, if you find a whiskey that is using one of the aforementioned above, it will be the highest proof possible from that brand. See where your palate lies and experiment with different brands. Compare things like Larceny BP to Maker’s CS (Which is stupidly underrated) and tell me what you think!


If you have anymore question or topics you would like to see me write about, feel free to shoot me an email or a DM @mydailybourbon on IG



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