The Good Life: Fine Finishing

Steve Palec on Bourbon

Steve Palec

We’ve all encountered an annoying grammar enforcer who is just itching to correct your slightest faux pas. And I hope I pronounced that correctly.

I like to mess with them by using words that have multiple meanings, like “finish.”

You can finish a book, a race, a movie or a game. You can complete an outdoor deck project by using a nice finish. Referring to your cousin in Helsinki as Finish is also correct.

But some bourbon purists object to a bourbon finished in a barrel or cask used by another beverage. I’m not talking about adding flavors like maple syrup, green apple, peanut butter or pumpkin spice. True bourbon does not have additives or flavors. But a bourbon that gets a short, subtle rest in a different environment after aging in its original new charred oak barrel can be a spectacular sip.

One of my all-time favorite bourbons is Jim Beam Distiller’s Masterpiece, which is finished in PX Sherry casks. It has always been expensive, in part because it comes in a fancy decanter placed in a wood and leather box that is nicer than my first house purchase. And now it’s also getting really hard to find.

I took the Jim Beam distillery tour in which the guide explained every detail of every aspect of their family of bourbons. At the end, I asked him about this high-quality offering, and he just shook his head to indicate he can’t even get it.

I’d put it up against any other bourbon. Belle Meade from Nashville has a pretty solid nine-year-old bourbon that is finished in casks that already had been used for 20 years to age oloroso Sherry. Angels Envy ages their fine bourbon from four to nine years and has a version that sits in a Sherry cast for two to three years. In all each case, they are careful to note on the bottle that it is either bourbon aged in Sherry casks, or they just call it whiskey.

There are a lot of bourbons that are finished in wine barrels. I’d steer you to Jefferson’s Reserve or Milwaukee’s Red Cabin, aged in cabernet wine casks, and Bardstown’s amazing series aged in French oak. And while red wines seem to meld with bourbon like Doug and Carrie Heffernan complement each other, I can suggest a few really interesting bourbons aged in white wine barrels, including Amador and Thomas S. Moore, both finished in chardonnay casks, or Three Chord Bourbon, which is finished in casks used to aged white pinots. The latter is the bourbon of Pat Benatar’s guitarist husband, Neil Giraldo.

There are also a few bourbons finished in rum and even tequila barrels.

I can also appreciate the poetic aspect of finishing bourbon in bourbon barrels, as is done by Woodford Reserve for their Double Oaked. I really like the additional flavors that come from the second dose of aging. I even have a bottle of their Double Double Oaked, which I haven’t yet opened or tried. I’m saving it to pair with a Double-Double the next time I am at an In-N-Out Burger.

Technicalities and choices aside, the best judge of a well finished bourbon is anything you like wherein you end up finishing the bottle.

Steve Palec is chief marketing officer of Milwaukee-based commercial real estate development firm Irgens. ‘The Good Life: Steve Palec on Bourbon’ lifestyle feature appears regularly at BizTimes.com.

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