While a majority of single malt Scotch whisky is bottled at 80 proof (or 40 percent alcohol by volume), if you take a good look at some of the bottles at your local liquor store or on online retailers, you’ll often see the phrase cask strength. When whiskey comes out of the barrel, it’s often diluted to bring the proof down to the standard 40 percent ABV. Cask strength (or barrel-proof) whiskeys aren’t diluted with any water to proof them down to a lower ABV.
Add to that, cask strength whiskeys are non-chill filtered, meaning the whiskey itself doesn’t have the fats, proteins, and other compounds filtered out that come naturally from the aging process. While filtering is designed to remove any little floaters that you might see in the bottle (especially when it gets cold), many whiskey lovers believe that it also removes important flavors as well.
Since it’s not diluted, cask strength whisky can fall anywhere between 50-75 percent alcohol by volume. But don’t expect to see any 150-proof single malt whisky (there is an upper limit, of course, dictated by the rules of the region), cask strength single malt whiskies are typically in the 60-65 percent ABV range.
This potent whisky, while enjoyable on its own when made well, is best enjoyed neat with a few drops of water. This changes the whisky on a molecular level. It opens it up and lets other flavors and aromas reveal themselves. It also lessens the burn from such a high level of alcohol.
Below, you’ll find eight potent, high-proof expressions from some of the most well-known distilleries in Scotland.
This popular, no-age-statement, single malt Scotch whisky was aged completely in Oloroso sherry casks. Meaning “the original” in Gaelic, this cask strength whisky has a nose of candied orange peels, candied nuts, winter spices, and dried cherries. The palate is a symphony of oaky wood, sweet sherry, chocolate, orange peel, cherries, and light spices. It’s big, bold, lightly spicy, and surprisingly mellow and creamy.Learn More
Bunnahabhain 12-Year Cask Strength
Bunnahabhain is one of the distilleries located on Islay. While it’s not as well-known as the peated Scotches from the likes of Laphroaig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg, it’s a distillery that consistently produces award-winning whiskies. One of its best is its annual Cask Strength release. The 2023 release is its third. Bottled at 60.1 percent ABV, it’s matured in ex-sherry casks. The result is a complex, elegant whisky with notes of dried cherries, raisins, oak, vanilla, and gentle spices.Learn More
Highland Park Cask Strength
If you want to drink like a modern day viking, grab a bottle of Highland Park Cask Strength. One of the most northern distilleries in Scotland (Kimbland Distillery, 22 miles north, is the only one that beats it), it’s located in Kirkwall, Orkney. Its Cask Strength single malt whisky is aged in first-fill sherry seasoned European oak barrels as well as first-fill sherry seasoned American oak barrels, refill casks, ex-bourbon barrels, and ex-port wine barrels. It has flavors of candied orange peels, licorice, oaky wood, toasted coconut, vanilla, and a nice hint of robust peat smoke.Learn More
The Glenlivet Nàdurra Oloroso Sherry Cask
This cask strength expression for renowned whisky distillery The Glenlivet is matured completely in first-fill Oloroso sherry casks from Jerez, Spain. This small batch, non-chill filtered expression begins with aromas of raisins, dried cherries, vanilla, and wintry spices. The palate is filled with notes of cinnamon, toffee, dried cherries, sweet sherry, and warming baking spices. The finish is a mix of sweetness and spice and lingers for a pleasurable amount of time.Learn More
Laphroaig 10-Year Cask Strength
When it comes to complex, peat-smoked single malts, it’s tough to beat the appeal of Laphroaig. Depending on the batch, this potent, smoky, robust single malt ranges between 55-60 percent alcohol by volume. Matured for 10 years, the most recent batch begins with a nose of vanilla beans, pipe tobacco, and wintry spices. Sipping it reveals a complex flavor profile featuring notes of sticky toffee, cinnamon sugar, vanilla, salted caramel, and peaty campfire smoke. It’s best neat with a splash of water to open everything up.Learn More
Glengoyne Cask Strength
This year, Glengoyne released Batch No. 10 of its annual Cask Strength single malt whisky. It’s bottled at 59.2 percent ABV and was matured in a combination of European and American oak barrels. It’s high-proof yet mellow, with a complex flavor profile that starts with a nose of orchard fruits, baking spices, toffee, and vanilla. Drinking it neat with a splash or two of water opens up a world of candied orange peels, clover honey, toasted vanilla beans, caramel, and chocolate. The finish is warming, lightly spicy, and leaves you craving more.Learn More