What is a Finished Whiskey?
There has been a finishing frenzy for whiskey as of late. In years previous, finished whiskey was few and far between. Most flavors you found in whiskey were thick syrups that imparted strong flavor. Like “peach” or “apple” flavorings. And most of your barrel-finished whiskies were part of scotch production, which had historically used barrels that had previously aged other spirits.
However, in recent years, there seems to be a genesis of finished whiskey coming out. Cognac, marsala, and sherry casks are common, just to name a few. And, just like any other part of the distillation process, it’s both an art and a science to ensure the proper balance in the finished product.
Isn’t It Finished After The First Barrel?
So, let’s back up for a moment. A finished whiskey is a very simple concept. The whiskey is aged as normal. Then, when the first part of the aging is finished, it’s put into another barrel. These barrels can be from just about anything. Popular barrels include sherry and cognac. However, some distilleries like to experiment with beer barrels or even cabernet barrels.
While the first barrel initially ages the whiskey, the second barrel imparts more complex and different flavors to the whiskey. These flavors develop at different rates based on a number of factors. How long the original contents of the barrel were aged, weather conditions, how long the whiskey sits in the new barrel, and the flavor profile and chemical makeup of the whiskey all play parts in how a finish changes the whiskey.
Okay, But Why?
For several reasons! First, it adds new character and depth of flavor to the whiskey. These flavors can add fruit notes to an earthy whiskey or drier notes to a sweeter whiskey. It’s about rounding out the flavor profile and delivering something unique.
It’s more or less the same reason that single barrels have become so popular. As people hone in on what whiskeys they like, they want to have different ways to explore those profiles and expressions. If you love a good, dry whiskey and a distillery you enjoy releases one with a sweeter finish, why wouldn’t you want to try that? It’s a rounded version of your favorite profile.
So, the next time you see a finished whiskey on the shelf, give it a thought. They can be excellent if done properly. For me, I love dry whiskey finished lightly in sweet sherry casks. One of my favorites is Dareringer by Rabbit Hole. Maybe you’ll find a combination you love as well!
Greg Sinadinos started his spirits journey writing a whiskey periodical for Fine Tobacco NYC Magazine. He began answering review requests under a social media page he named “Whiskey Culture,” which quickly merged with Greg’s passion for connecting with others and his interest in history.
Today, Greg travels the country not just looking for great whiskey, but also exploring the history and individuals that the whiskey community is founded upon. He has authored “Whiskey History From Around The World” and is the host of “The Rickhouse” web series.