Over the past decade, the American whiskey landscape has seen the emergence of double-oaked and toasted barrel varieties, firmly establishing these barrel finishing techniques as pivotal components in the market. Once confined to an experimental niche explored by a select few, double-oaked bourbons have now been integrated into the standard portfolios of many esteemed brands.
What does double-oaked/toasted mean?
In the traditional aging process, bourbons and ryes are aged in new, charred oak containers, infusing them with classic flavors like caramel, vanilla, and oak. The innovation introduced by double-oaked whiskeys involves transferring the original distillate to a second barrel for additional aging. Sometimes the second barrel is charred. Sometimes it's toasted. This method intensifies wood notes, adds a marshmallow flavor to the palate, and softens the finish.
Who invented toasted bourbon?
Some credit Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel bourbon with starting the trend. Originally unveiled as a limited release in 2012, it's joined Elijah Craig’s Small Batch and Barrel Proof expressions as a core offering in Heaven Hill's lineup.
However, Woodford Reserve Double Oaked bourbon came close on its heels that same year, and Woodford is widely credited as the brand that started the trend. Though considered an entry-level bourbon, thanks to its low proof and widespread distribution, Woodford set the standard for what people expect in a toasted-barrel bourbon. Woodford Double Oaked remains a great introductory sip for the double-barrel curious.
The debut of Michter's Toasted Barrel bourbon in 2014 made it clear the toasted barrel craze was here to stay. This limited-release bourbon remains one of the most popular toasted barrel whiskeys, with Michter's Toasted rye being another celebrated variant.
Which double-oaked whiskeys should I be hunting?
Part of Brown-Forman's highly-lauded Whiskey Row series, Old Forester 1910 bourbon taps into the brand’s rich history. Its name references a 1910 distillery fire that prompted an innovative response. Old Forester chose to re-barrel the surviving whiskey in heavily charred barrels, essentially pioneering the technique before it was a marketing trend. The current 1910 bourbon is reasonably priced, and easy to find. It's another excellent gateway for those exploring toasted barrel offerings.
Chicken Cock Double Oaked Kentucky whiskey also draws on history, reviving a brand that was popular during the 1920s Jazz Age. It gained prominence after winning a Fred Minnick ASCOT Award and is making a name for itself in the crowded field of American whiskey.
Of independent distilleries, Taconic Double Barrel Maple bourbon introduces a unique twist by aging for an additional six months in barrels previously used for aging maple syrup.
"Sir Mix-A-Lot," the TSR collaboration with Bainbridge Organic, is a wheat whiskey re-barreled in a Mizunara cask that previously held their award-winning Yama whiskey. Infused with tropical fruit and spice notes, this expression is a unique spin on double-oaked whiskeys.
As the popularity of double-oaked bourbons continues to soar, these exceptional expressions offer enthusiasts a diverse and flavorful journey through the evolving landscape of bourbon whiskey. Try them all and decide which one you like best.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY PIERRE AUGUSTE