Taste Test: Forget Jack Daniels. This Tennessee Craft Distillery Is Making Some of the Best Whiskey in the State.

Barrel finishes are all the rage in the American whiskey world, but that usually applies to bourbon and rye. Chattanooga Whiskey went a different route with its new Silver Oak Cabernet Cask Finish, giving its already interesting malt whiskey a lengthy amount of time in red wine barrels, and the results are very, very good.

Let’s start at the beginning—this whiskey is not a bourbon or a rye, but instead a straight malt whiskey. Chattanooga Whiskey likes to do things in its own particular way (with frequently wonderful results), so what’s in the bottle is actually a combination of five different single malt mashbills. I won’t bore you with the details by telling you specifically how R18077 differs from R18096 (you beautiful whiskey nerds can read all about that on the website), but according to the brand each mashbill brings distinctive flavors to the palate ranging from sage to smoke to coffee to spice. The barley that is used is a combination of toasted, roasted and caramel malt, and the distillate was aged in new toasted and charred oak barrels for a minimum of four years. Then the whiskey was dumped into Cabernet Sauvignon barrels from Silver Oak Cellars, located in the Alexander Valley region in Sonoma, for an additional 18 months. It was bottled at 95 proof and is non-chill filtered.

A year and a half in a wine barrel is enough to turn a great whiskey into one with the palate equivalent of wine-stained teeth, but that is not the case here. The nose is sweet and fragrant, with a strong malt aroma underscored by berries, freshly sliced orange and a hint of lemon. That malty characteristic follows through on the palate, with a strong chocolate throug-line that often defines American malt whiskeys as opposed to their Scottish counterparts. A multitude of flavors pop up at different times, with mint chip ice cream leading off followed by caramel, black pepper, blackberry and raspberry, and even a bit of Chambord. This is a cask-finished whiskey that has not gone overboard, and the combination of flavors just makes sense.

The world of Tennessee whiskey is obviously dominated by Jack Daniel’s, which also happens to dominate American whiskey in general. But this industry giant has been innovating with interesting new releases over the past few years, perhaps pushed by Tennessee’s number two, George Dickel, which has been a creative whiskey force since Nicole Austin took over there. But Chattanooga Whiskey is a small distillery that is putting on a clinic, and this third entry in the distillery’s Barrel Finishing Series is a fantastic release. It’s also pretty limited, with just six to eight barrels used for this batch, but don’t let that stop you from hunting down a bottle.

Score: 94

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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