As anyone who enjoys brown spirits knows, the barrel in which the spirits are aged is one of the biggest sources of flavor. Some whiskey distillers and experts estimate that as much as 60% of the spirit’s character is derived from time spent inside the wood, traveling in and out of the staves as the temperature fluctuates.
For many years now, distilleries have been putting spirits other than whiskey into ex-bourbon or whiskey barrels to impart into the spirit the rich, complex notes left behind in the porous wood. Rum and tequila, in particular, often see the inside of a barrel. These days, you can find a spirit aged in ex-whiskey barrels in almost every category, from gin and vodka to cognac. These are seven great examples of spirits (okay, one’s a wine) that have spent time inside a whiskey barrel and are better for it.
Apothic Inferno Wine ($14)
California’s Apothic Wines released this limited-release, barrel-aged selection specifically with whiskey drinkers in mind. The red wine is aged in charred white oak whiskey barrels for 60 days, bringing a darker, complex flavor to an already fruity and rich wine. This isn’t just a gimmick—you can really taste the oak in this bold red blend.
Aviation American Old Tom Gin ($50)
Portland, Oregon’s House Spirits Distillery aged this limited-edition Old Tom expression in first-fill Westward Oregon straight malt whiskey barrels for a year, giving the spirit a copper tinge and lovely vanilla and wood flavors. The botanicals used to make the gin include juniper, coriander, lavender and anise, ensuring that the spirit has a flavorful and versatile base to start. Aviation American Old Tom can certainly be used in any gin cocktail, but it’s also a great sipper, neat or on the rocks.
Christian Brothers Sacred Bond Brandy ($28)
Heaven Hill Brands is perhaps best known for its Evan Williams and Elijah Craig bourbons, so it makes sense that the company’s brandy line would see the inside of a barrel too. Christian Brothers Sacred Bond is the first bottled-in-bond brandy, according to Heaven Hill. It’s aged in bourbon barrels for four years and comes in at 100 proof, as mandated by the Bottled-in-Bond Act. The brandy itself is distilled in copper pot stills in Napa, California, as it has been since the Brothers started planting grapes there in the late 1800s. The brandy is flavorful and oaky, another fine collaboration between grape and grain.
Corazón Thomas H. Handy Añejo Tequila ($80)
As we all know, it’s incredibly hard (and expensive) to get your hands on a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier to find a barrel-finished bottle of tequila from Corazón. The tequila is distilled from 100% blue agave, before being placed into Buffalo Trace Distillery barrels for aging. In the case of the Thomas H. Handy añejo, it stays in those barrels for 19 months. If you like aged bourbon, you will respect this earthy and nutty tequila.Continue to 5 of 7 below.
Martell Blue Swift VSOP Cognac ($50)
Martell, France’s oldest cognac house, introduced its Blue Swift expression in 2016, making it exclusively available in select U.S. markets. The idea for this release was a tribute to Martell’s longstanding relationship with the United States: The brand started shipping its cognac barrels from France back in 1783. This is the first ever Kentucky-bourbon-barrel-finished cognac for Martell. The company doesn’t say exactly how long the eau-de-vie de vin spends in ex-bourbon barrels, but the results are indisputable. Lovely notes of vanilla and oak shine through the cognac’s dried-fruit base. A perfect whiskey substitute for a classic cocktail like a Manhattan.
Mount Gay Limited Edition XO Cask Strength Rum ($200)
Only 3,000 bottles of this Mount Gay rum were released in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Barbados becoming an independent nation. This bold spirit is bottled at 126 proof, making it an excellent but potent sipping rum best enjoyed with a splash of water or an ice cube. The XO is a blend of rum aged between eight and 15 years in ex-bourbon barrels, giving it a rich, oaky taste that complements the spirit’s inherent sweetness. This is truly rum for whiskey drinkers. Sure, you can make a Dark & Stormy variation with this, but you’re better off sipping it in a Glencairn glass.
OYO Barrel-Finished Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka ($38)
Middle West Spirits takes its signature OYO vodka, made from red winter wheat, and infuses it with wildflower honey and fair trade vanilla beans before finishing it for an undisclosed length of time in ex-bourbon barrels. The result is a golden vodka that draws flavor from the infusions as well as the barrels, which impart an oaky and nutty taste.