Noah’s Mill Small Batch Bourbon. Before my whole (recent) rum obsession, bourbon was my go-to. It took me a few years into my alcohol journey to really became acquainted with whiskey (once I finally ventured beyond Jack/Jameson/Crown), but then the classic American bourbon stole my heart. The first time I tried Noah’s Mill, my taste buds were shocked by its high alcohol content, as it’s bottled at “barrel strength” – 57.15% ABV. That aside, this is a delicious sipping bourbon, and definitely something I’ve grown to appreciate more and more as I’ve familiarized myself more with whiskies.
So what exactly does “barrel strength” or “cask strength” mean? Well, the standard proof of most spirits is a moderate 40%ABV, a percentage that makes these palatable for sipping and balanced for mixing. However, aged spirits are actually put into barrels at a higher proof after distillation to optimize for the development of complex and delicious flavors from the barrels during the aging process. Before bottling, they’re usually watered down to ~40%, though sometimes they’re left without any dilution, hence at barrel/cask strength.
As you’d expect, higher proof spirits will generally taste “hotter” with more intense, stronger flavors. When/if drank over ice or with a bit of water, you’ll notice the flavors change as it gets diluted, with more of the complementary flavor notes coming out as the bite from the alcohol lessens. Proof is really unrelated to quality, so it just depends on your taste preferences and the flavor profile you’re going for (if mixing). Personally I think it’s definitely an acquired preference, and the more you get into sipping spirits straight, the more you’ll appreciate the complexities in a higher proof spirit that can get lost in their diluted counterparts.