A growing category in American bourbon is double-oaked bourbons. As most of our readership will likely know all bourbon to be able to be called bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels. From those lovely, charred vessels, the wood imparts the color of the bourbon as well as the varied tasting notes, such as vanilla or caramel, and to some extent, all depending, the mouthfeel. The barrel is the centerpiece of and pivotal to the bourbon we all love and enjoy.
Just as the name implies, double-oaked bourbon is bourbon that has benefited from time in a second barrel. This second barreling isn't to be confused however with a similar process called finishing whereby distillers move matured bourbon to a used barrel that previously had sherry, port, red wine or other similar spirits in them. For double-oaked bourbons, another new charred oak barrel is utilized which ramps up the intensity of oak flavors in the dram. Sounds easy enough, but in reality, you risk in this second barreling process the bourbon going too far in the wrong direction and becoming tannic...of course, you also have the opportunity to create something amazing. Below we list out our top six double oak bourbons you should consider stocking for your home bar or garage bar!
At the bottom of our short list is Jim Beam's Double Oak. It clocks in at 86 proof and sure, it has enough going on to suggest it's seen some extra wood but it's not going to have you running out to the store to buy a case. It's an easy drinker and for those who are new to the world of double oaked bourbons, this may be a great entry point.
A step up in intensity from the Jim Beam Double Oak in proof (94 proof) and flavor, is Heaven Hill's Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel bourbon. It's the only toasted finish on this list but the second barrel was both toasted and charred. Similar to the Jim Beam Double Oak bourbon, Elijah Craig puts forward this relatively easy breezy bourbon that fits that smooth, sweet profile with enough of a smoky char to give it a little something something.
Bringing the heat to the party at 122.8 proof, Texas's Rebecca Creek Distillery delivers a unique double oaked bourbon with its Double Barrel offering. Aged for four years in Spanish oak before taking another two in American oak, the distillery attempts to impart a taste and color of a whiskey that's twice it's age. The Spanish oak is a softer wood with wider grains that absorb more bourbon than the typical American oak, helping pull forward a stronger wood palate. What you can expect is a pretty complex bourbon that packs some heat with a strong vanilla and oak presence, with the oak not being overdone.
At 104 proof and number three on our list, we offer another intriguing barreling situation, the newly launched in late 2022 2XO "The Pheonix Blend." The brand name, "2XO" stands for "two times oak" suggestive that most everything that we'll see from this brand is going to have a center of gravity in this double barrel space. There isn't any age statement for this release, but we do know this is a blend of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskies from two distilleries with two different mashbills. Following blending, they were re-barreled into new charred oak barrels. The result is a complex dram that doesn't have the same intensity of the Rebecca Creek for example and is quite approachable. Oak comes through will full force with a backdrop of sweetness, dark fruits and a touch of spice.
Released every fall at cask strength (108.7 proof, but proof varies by batch) Peerless knocks it straight out of the park with their double oak bourbon which is barreled "when it is ready." With a very unique mouthfeel, almost chewy, there's a lot of amazing things going on with this dram. Expect the oak to hit heavy on this one, and for those of you that haven't quite warmed up to the love of a wood-driven flavor profile this may be a polarizing drink for you. But for those who are ready to unpackage something special in the double barrel department, this should be quite the treat!
Debuting in 2012 with one of the earlier entries to the market in the double barrel department, Woodford Reserve's Double Oaked Bourbon at 90.4 proof remains the leader of the pack. One of my favorite pours, and what I affectionately refer to as "home base" this is an all around great pour that balances with great skill the various flavors while bringing forward just the right amount of wood. There's also a yearly released "double double oaked" offering from Woodford Reserve for those of you who simply cannot get enough oak...of course, you could always just venture out to your back yard and find a stick to chew on.
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