Whether or not you are an avid whiskey enthusiast or just a casual window shopper, you are going to find this expression, or style, of whiskey. This is of course, Finished Whiskey. So what exactly is that? Great question!
Finished Whiskey, is whiskey that is aged in a primary vessel, such as an oak barrel, then moved into another vessel that housed a different subset of liquid before hand. This could be something like bourbon whiskey being aged in a new charred white oak barrel dumped and then ‘finished’ in a port wine barrel. The most well known brand of whiskey known for finishing is Angel’s Envy, created by Lincoln Henderson and his son Wes Henderson. Many brands do this type of aging to push the limits and innovate on the basic ideology of what whiskey is.
See, by law, bourbon dumped into anything other than a new charred oak barrel, cannot be called bourbon. 20 year old bourbon dumped into a wine barrel for 30 seconds cannot be called bourbon. Once it hits a used barrel, it is then finished whiskey. There are many different brands who use this as their primary product lineup, while some larger brands use a finished product as something meant for a special release. One thing to note is that finished whiskey is not for everyone, but there is a finished whiskey for everyone.
The possibilities are literally endless. Barrell Craft Spirits sources their juice from may different distilleries from around the United States and blends them together to create a unique blend that cannot be replicated again. To take it up another level, sometimes they will age several different whiskies in different barrels then blended together, while other times they blend everything together first and then secondary age it in another barrel.
Finishing has long been a practice in Scotch whiskey. Scotch whiskey tends to be aged in port and/or sherry wine barrels, and even sometimes rum barrels. The flavor that it imparts on the malted whiskey is usually very intense. Single malt scotch itself, isn’t too flavorful due to the climate. Even just a slight finishing can create a whole new product that can take the basic flavor whiskey to a whole new level. Sherry finished scotch is pretty much how i prefer my scotch. The rich dark fruit, chocolate, and oak tannins make it a much more pleasurable experience for me.
Doing this with American whiskey tends to be that much more concentrated in flavor. Our climate in most of the United States varies day by day, but usually seeing a wide range of temperatures through the year. Taking a basic Kentucky bourbon and finishing it in a wine or rum barrel for a year versus scotch finished for a year, would be about twice as much flavor imparted onto the liquid inside.
There are many brands who do this, it is a controversial subject for some. Many view it as an abomination of the juice, while others view it as pushing boundaries of modern day bourbon or rye. The best way to understand what a finished whiskey actually is, is to go out and try some. Start “small” with something like a port finish, then try rum, cognac, sherry, and whatever else is out there.
Whiskey is about the journey and the enjoyment, however you feel about finished whiskey, understand that may be what brought someone into this hobby and helped them get their palate acclimated.