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Highest Proof Bourbon: A Guide to the Strongest Bottles on the Market

thewhiskylady - 2024-01-17
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The world of bourbon is vast and varied, with countless options to choose from. One aspect that sets bourbons apart is their proof, which refers to the percentage of alcohol in the bottle. The higher the proof, the stronger the bourbon, and many aficionados seek out the highest proof bourbons for their bold, complex flavors.

There are many reasons to seek out high proof bourbons. Some enjoy the intense, warming sensation that comes with a higher alcohol content, while others appreciate the way that high proof bourbons can stand up to mixers and other ingredients in cocktails. Additionally, high proof bourbons often have unique flavor profiles that set them apart from lower proof options. However, it’s important to note that high proof bourbons can be quite strong and may not be the best choice for those who prefer a milder drinking experience.

Understanding Proof and Alcohol By Volume (ABV)

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that is distilled from a fermented mash of grains, primarily corn. The alcohol content of bourbon is measured in two ways: proof and alcohol by volume (ABV).

Proof is a measure of the alcohol content of a distilled beverage and is twice the percentage of alcohol by volume. For example, a bourbon with 50% ABV is 100 proof. The higher the proof, the higher the alcohol content.

ABV is a measure of the amount of alcohol in a beverage expressed as a percentage of the total volume of the beverage. Bourbon must contain a minimum of 40% ABV (80 proof) to be considered bourbon.

It is important to note that the proof or ABV of a bourbon can vary depending on factors such as the length of time it is aged, the type of barrel it is aged in, and whether it is watered down before bottling.

Consumers should be aware of the proof or ABV of the bourbon they are consuming, as it can affect the taste and potency of the drink. It is also important to drink responsibly and in moderation.

Here is a table that shows the relationship between proof and ABV:

Proof ABV
80 40%
90 45%
100 50%
110 55%
120 60%
130 65%
140 70%

As shown, the higher the proof, the higher the ABV. It is important to note that bourbons with higher ABV or proof can be more expensive due to the additional distillation process required to achieve a higher alcohol content.

High proof bourbonphoto credit:

History of High-Proof Bourbon

The history of high-proof bourbon can be traced back to the early days of American whiskey production. Distillers often bottled their whiskey at a higher proof to make it more shelf-stable and to prevent it from spoiling. This was especially important during the long, hot summers in the southern United States, where whiskey was often stored in unconditioned warehouses.

Over time, high-proof bourbon became more popular among whiskey enthusiasts. Many people believe that higher proof bourbons have a richer, more complex flavor profile than their lower proof counterparts. Additionally, high-proof bourbons are often used in cocktails, as they can stand up to other strong flavors and hold their own.

Today, there are many high-proof bourbons on the market, ranging from 100 proof to over 140 proof. Some of the most popular high-proof bourbons include Booker’s, Stagg Jr., and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof. These bourbons are often sought after by collectors and connoisseurs alike, as they are considered to be some of the best examples of high-proof bourbon available.

Legal Requirements for Bourbon

Bourbon is a type of whiskey that has a specific set of legal requirements that must be met in order for it to be considered bourbon. These requirements are set forth by the United States government and are designed to ensure that bourbon is made to a high standard.

The legal requirements for bourbon include:

  • Geographic Origin: Bourbon must be made in the United States.
  • Mash Bill: The mash bill for bourbon must contain at least 51% corn.
  • Aging: Bourbon must be aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Proof: Bourbon must be distilled to no more than 80% alcohol by volume (ABV), or 160 proof, and barreled at no more than 62.5% ABV, or 125 proof.
  • Nothing can be added to bourbon except for water once it comes out of the barrel.

These requirements ensure that bourbon is made to a high standard and that it has a consistent flavor and quality. The use of new, charred oak barrels gives bourbon its distinctive flavor and color, while the mash bill and aging process contribute to its complexity and depth of flavor.

Current Highest Proof Bourbons

When it comes to the highest proof bourbons, there are a few notable brands that stand out from the rest. These bourbons are known for their intense flavor and high alcohol content, making them a favorite among whiskey enthusiasts. In this section, we’ll take a closer look at some of the current highest proof bourbons available on the market.

George T. Stagg

George T. Stagg is a popular brand of bourbon known for its high proof and rich flavor profile. The current release of George T. Stagg clocks in at an impressive 130.4 proof, making it one of the strongest bourbons on the market. This bourbon is aged for over 15 years and is known for its complex flavors of caramel, vanilla, and dark fruit.

Bacardi 151

While not technically a bourbon, Bacardi 151 is a high-proof rum that is often used as a substitute in cocktails that call for bourbon. This rum boasts an impressive 151 proof, making it one of the strongest spirits available. Bacardi 151 is known for its intense flavor and is often used in flaming cocktails and shots.

Sunset Very Strong Rum

Another high-proof rum, Sunset Very Strong Rum is a favorite among rum enthusiasts. This rum is aged for over three years and boasts an impressive 84.5% ABV. Sunset Very Strong Rum is known for its rich, complex flavor profile and is often sipped neat or used in cocktails that call for a strong, flavorful rum.

Serving and Consumption Recommendations

When it comes to serving and consuming high-proof bourbon, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure the best possible experience. Here are some recommendations:

1. Dilute with Water

High-proof bourbon can be quite intense, with a strong alcohol burn that can overwhelm the palate. To help tame the heat and bring out the flavors, it’s recommended to dilute the bourbon with a small amount of water. This can be done by adding a splash of water to the glass or by using an ice cube to slowly melt and dilute the bourbon over time.

2. Use a Proper Glass

To fully appreciate the aromas and flavors of high-proof bourbon, it’s important to use a proper glass. A tulip-shaped glass, such as a Glencairn glass, is ideal as it helps concentrate the aromas and allows for easy swirling and sniffing. A rocks glass or tumbler can also be used, but it may not provide the same level of sensory experience.

3. Sip Slowly

High-proof bourbon is meant to be sipped slowly and savored, not chugged like a shot. Take small sips and let the bourbon linger on the tongue for a few seconds before swallowing. This will allow the flavors to fully develop and provide a more enjoyable drinking experience.

4. Pair with Food

To balance out the bold flavors and high alcohol content of high-proof bourbon, it’s recommended to pair it with food. Rich, fatty foods such as steak, cheese, and dark chocolate can help cut through the alcohol and complement the flavors of the bourbon. It’s also important to drink plenty of water and eat food while consuming high-proof bourbon to avoid overindulging and experiencing negative effects such as a hangover.

Health and Safety Considerations

When it comes to high-proof bourbon, it is important to keep health and safety considerations in mind. Drinking alcohol in excess can lead to a range of health problems, including liver damage, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cancer. Therefore, it is recommended to drink high-proof bourbon in moderation and to never drive after consuming alcohol.

In addition to health concerns, there are also safety concerns when handling high-proof bourbon. Due to its high alcohol content, bourbon is highly flammable and should be kept away from open flames or other sources of heat. It is also important to store bourbon in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight to prevent spoilage.

When drinking high-proof bourbon, it is recommended to use a small glass and to sip slowly, savoring the flavors and aromas of the bourbon. It is also important to drink plenty of water and to eat food while drinking to help absorb the alcohol and prevent dehydration.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the top cask strength bourbons available?

Cask strength bourbons are highly sought after by whiskey enthusiasts for their intense flavors and high alcohol content. Some of the top cask strength bourbons available include Booker’s Bourbon, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon, and Stagg Jr. Barrel Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon. These bourbons are known for their robust flavors and are often bottled at over 120 proof.

How does bourbon proof affect its flavor and character?

Bourbon proof refers to the alcohol content of the whiskey and can greatly affect its flavor and character. Higher proof bourbons are generally more intense and have a stronger alcohol burn, while lower proof bourbons are smoother and have a milder taste. Additionally, the aging process can also affect the flavor and character of bourbon, with longer aging times resulting in more complex and nuanced flavors.

What is the legal maximum proof for bourbon?

According to the U.S. government, bourbon must be distilled to no more than 160 proof and bottled at no less than 80 proof. However, there is no legal maximum proof for bourbon, and many distilleries choose to release high proof bourbons that exceed 130 proof.

Are there any bourbons available over 130 proof?

Yes, there are several bourbons available over 130 proof, including George T. Stagg Bourbon, William Larue Weller Bourbon, and Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon. These bourbons are highly sought after by collectors and whiskey enthusiasts for their intense flavors and high alcohol content.

What should I consider when purchasing a high proof bourbon?

When purchasing a high proof bourbon, it is important to consider your personal taste preferences and tolerance for high alcohol content. Additionally, it is important to consider the price and availability of the bourbon, as some high proof bourbons can be quite expensive and difficult to find. Finally, it is important to consider the reputation and quality of the distillery, as this can greatly affect the overall flavor and character of the bourbon.


High-proof bourbons are a great option for those who enjoy the bold and intense flavor of bourbon. While they may not be for everyone, those who appreciate the unique taste of high-proof bourbon will find a wide variety of options available to them.

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