For many, there’s no beating uncut and unfiltered whiskey, and the reasons why are clear. Barrel-proof or cask-strength whiskies allow the drinker to taste the spirit undiluted, and they often present great value for those looking to savor a strong and sturdy pour. In fact, Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 lists—which take affordability into consideration—often feature barrel-proof whiskies including the 2020 Whisky of the Year, Larceny Barrel Proof and its sibling, 2017 Whisky of the Year Elijah Craig Barrel Proof.
Both of those bourbons are made at Heaven Hill Distillery, and although specific batches netted Top 20 honors, the whiskeys are consistent in quality batch after batch; in fact, two more recent batches of each appear on this list, along with consistent high scorers like Angel’s Envy and Old Forester. All of the whiskies here earned 94 points, reflecting the remarkable quality available in barrel-proof bourbon. Even the skilled blenders at Barrell earned high marks, proving that the style of barrel-proof bourbon can still be reinterpreted to discover new and exciting flavors.
The Winter 2020 Buying Guide features scores and tasting notes for over 170 bourbons, scotches, and more. Start with these five outstanding barrel-proof bourbons, then check out the full lineup of reviews.
Get a Load of These High-Proof Bourbons That All Scored 94 Points
Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Port Barrel-Finished Bourbon (2020 Release)
94 points, 60.2% ABV, $200
Why do I get the feeling I’m about to tuck into dessert? Just-cooked berries with brown sugar crumble, marzipan, toasted coconut flakes, vanilla, and orange wedges on the nose. More fruit cobbler, brown sugar, sweet toasted nuts, Nutella, and rich spice on the palate, which turns from chewy to silky with water. The finish goes on for days, laden with red fruit, roasted nuts, dark chocolate, and well-integrated spice. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Barrell Cask Strength Blend of Straight Bourbons (Batch 025)
94 points, 56.7% ABV, $90
This basks in beautiful baking spices—clove, nutmeg, and cinnamon—with toasty oak and candle wax hinting at its maturity. The palate is wonderfully dense with fruit, including flavors of marmalade, strawberry jam, and bright tropical fruits, woven with more spice. Even with water the richness and viscosity stand tall, as more caramel and butterscotch emerge. The spellbinding finish is long, sweet, and nutty. —Jeffery Lindenmuth
Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight (Batch C920)
94 points, 66.4% ABV, $60
Spice and fresh herbs on the nose, yielding to lemon meringue pie, peach tart, whipped cream, and baking spice. Bakery notes of cherry pie and red berries get things going on the palate, followed by sweet notes of vanilla wafer and frosted yellow cupcake atop herbs and spice, all accentuated with water. A long finish of Boston cream pie, coconut ice cream, baking spice, zesty herbs, and cigar ash. —David Fleming
Larceny Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight (Batch C920)
94 points, 61.2% ABV, $50
Sweet grain-driven aromas dominate the nose: blueberry pancakes with maple syrup, orange marmalade on toast, honey-roasted peanuts, toasted coconut, brown sugar, and cherry cordial candies. The palate is equally expressive, chewy with peanuts and roasted pecans, milk chocolate, orange, cinnamon, ginger, white pepper, and big chunky oak, which turns mouthwatering on the lengthy, peppery, nutty finish. Though a proof this high can get unwieldy, it never shows a hair out of place. —Susannah Skiver Barton
Old Forester 150th Anniversary Batch Proof Kentucky Straight (Batch 03/03)
94 points, 63.4% ABV, $150
Sweet notes of grape jelly, cherry pie, orange peel, and brown sugar balance on the nose against mature whiskey aromas of earth, leather, and antique closet. A powerful palate is driven by rich dark-chocolate fudge, blackberry tart, almond, tangerine slices, raisin bread, and spiced oak. A lengthy finish offers leather and spice, cinnamon, chocolate-covered blueberries, strawberries, cocoa, and oak. Water makes the flavors of this powerhouse even more impressive. —David Fleming
[*Bonus: There are two additional batches of Old Forester 150th Anniversary. Batch 1 scored 93 points while Batch 2 scored 94 points.]