There are dozens of ways to categorize a whiskey. From terms that define the proof to the terms that point to a whiskey’s origins, liquor lingo can be a lot to take in. And it does not help that there are redundant terms that mean the same thing yet exist as different labels. “Cask strength” and “barrel proof” are two of these terms.
Cask strength is the same as barrel proof, as both imply zero dilution. Cask-strength whiskey has the same strength in the bottle that it has when exiting a barrel. Barrel-proof whiskey has the same proof in the bottle that it has when exiting the barrel.
In this article, you will learn more about different terms that whiskey drinkers should know, including entry proof, full proof, and single barrel whiskey. You will also learn how these terms relate to cask strength whiskey as well.
Towards the end, you will find tips on selecting and enjoying barrel proof whiskey. But first, let’s look at what cask strength whiskey is in detail.
Cask Strength Whiskey vs. the World: A Brief Overview
A cask is the same as a barrel, though some minor aspects of the two types of containers might differ. Generally speaking, the terms are interchangeable and refer to wooden containers that often house liquids. Whiskeys, including bourbon and scotch, are aged in barrels or casks.
When this happens, the cask wood begins to absorb the water content of the barrel while leaving behind the alcohol. This increases the alcohol by volume value of the barrel. As the water leaves the cask, the overall volume of the drink decreases. At the same time, alcohol content remains the same because wood cannot absorb it.
This can go on for 2 years at a minimum and for over two decades in some cases. Obviously, the proof of the drink at the end of this is very high. Distilleries add back the water that is lost or even more water than is lost before bottling their liquors. But not all whiskey producers add water. Some bottle their drinks at the strength at which they come out. These drinks are considered to have “cask strength.”
Cask Strength Vs. Barrel Proof
As mentioned earlier, cask and barrel are interchangeable as both refer to the container in which whiskey is aged. Cask strength whiskey is whiskey that has the same strength in the bottle as it has when coming out of a cask.
If you want to use the word barrel instead of cask, you wouldn’t say “barrel strength.” Instead, you would say barrel proof. Proof is a measure of alcohol strength in liquor. It is twice the alcohol-by-volume ratio. A drink with 50% alcohol has 100 proof, and one with 40% alcohol has 80 proof.
Cask strength whiskey is the same as barrel proof whiskey. Whiskey bottled at the strength at which it is derived from a cask is cask strength whiskey. And whiskey bottled at the same proof (strength), at which it is derived from the barrel is barrel strength.
Ultimately, both cask strength and barrel proof are terms that refer to a lack of dilution of the whiskey at the bottling stage.
Cask Strength Vs. Full Proof
Sometimes cask strength whiskey is confused with full proof whiskey because of how “full proof” seems to imply an unchanging proof. And while both cask strength and full proof whiskey have higher proof than a standard bottling proof whiskey, they are not the same.
Cask strength whiskey is undiluted from the moment an aged whiskey barrel is opened, while a full proof whiskey is diluted with just as much water as the barrel has lost over the aging period.
A bottle of full proof whiskey has the same alcohol ratio as the contents of the barrel at the start of the aging process. Over the aging period, moisture and water escape the barrel making the liquor more concentrated. The volume of the water lost is restored by adding water, making the barrel full again.
In contrast, cask strength whiskey remains undiluted. The water lost during the aging process is not replenished, leading to an even stronger whiskey yield. Alcohol concentration is always higher when exiting a barrel than when entering. So equating to the exit proof of a barrel is always going to produce a yield with a higher ABV.
Cask Strength Vs. Entry Proof
Entry proof is the same as full proof, with only a semantic difference. Just like cask strength and barrel strength are the same, entry proof, and full proof are the same. In other words, cask strength whiskey is stronger than entry proof whiskey.
Entry proof whiskey is diluted when it exits the barrel so that its alcohol concentration is brought down to the level at which the barrel was initially filled. It is also called full proof whiskey and shouldn’t be confused with barrel proof whiskey, which is not diluted whatsoever.
Cask Strength Vs. Single Cask
Cask strength and single cask aren’t contradictory or mutually exclusive terms. Cask strength implies that whiskey has not been diluted with water or neutral spirit, while a single cask refers to whiskey that is aged in a single cask.
Cask strength whiskey can come from a single cask or multiple casks. Similarly, a single cask whiskey can be bottled at cask strength and at bottling strength/proof as well.
Cask Strength Vs. Single Barrel
Just like cask strength and single cask aren’t mutually exclusive terms, single barrel, and cask strength aren’t either. Single barrel whiskey is a whiskey that has been aged in one barrel from start to finish.
If whiskey is blended from multiple barrels and then aged in a single barrel, it might be positioned as a single cask whiskey. That’s because there aren’t any regulations around the “single cask” definition, but there are very rigid conditions set by multiple alcohol-related bodies around the term single barrel.
For a whiskey to be considered a single barrel product, its contents must be aged in a single barrel from the start of the aging process all the way to the bottling stage. Single barrel whiskey is a premium liquor regardless of whether it is bottled at cask strength or at bottling proof.
Cask Strength Vs. Single Malt
Cask strength refers to the alcohol ratio of a bottled whiskey, while single malt refers to its source. Single malt whiskey is produced at a single distiller, while cask strength whiskey is bottled at the same strength at which it exits the barrel.
How To Choose Cask-Strength Whiskey
Now that you know what cask strength whiskey is and how it differs from different proof tiers and whiskey categories, let’s go over the steps you need to take to choose a high-quality cask strength beverage.
- Determine the whiskey’s ABV – Not all cask strength whiskeys have the same alcohol ratio. Proof of whiskey can differ based on its contents. Suppose a whiskey has 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof) at entry, and moisture loss leads to the concentration increase. It will have 45% alcohol (90 proof). Even at cask strength, such a whiskey might be weaker than a diluted whiskey that exits the barrel with 70% alcohol by volume (140 proof). So you should base your decision on the proof of the bottle as much as you base it on whether it has cask strength or not.
- Considered the reviews – It always helps to consider general reviews regarding premium whiskeys. They command a relatively high price, which can lead to more remorse if the choice doesn’t pan out. Once you have narrowed down the whiskeys with the best proof, you have a shortlist that is unlikely to disappoint.
- Sample the shortlisted liquors – While the above help you prioritize alcohol strength and whiskey flavor based on the label and general reviews, they do not guarantee personal satisfaction. For that, you must personally sample the different whiskey options.
- Choose based on your taste and budget – As with any liquor, the final decision should be based on your own preferences. When you sample the whiskeys, you can tell which one you like better. And if the competition is too close, you can factor in the bottles’ prices and make your call.
Cask Strength Whiskey: How To Drink?
There are three ways to enjoy cask strength whiskey, depending on your burn preference.
- High burn – Drink cask strength whiskey chilled in a refrigerator. Do not add ice.
- Medium-High Burn – Have cask strength whiskey on the rocks. Delay consumption to lower the drink’s burn factor.
- Low burn – Dillute cask strength whiskey with water.
- Variable burn – Use the whiskey as an ingredient for a cocktail.
Final Thoughts: Is Barrel Proof the Same as Cask-Strength?
Cask strength whiskey is the same as barrel proof whiskey. Both terms refer to whiskey that has not been diluted after exiting the barrel. Whiskeys bottled at cask strength have a high burn factor and are considered a premium beverage.
One step lower is full proof whiskey, to which only as much water is added as is lost in its aging process. Whether you choose to buy cask strength or full proof whiskey, make sure to use the practices covered in this article/