Feeling frigid after shoveling the driveway or walking the dog this winter? I have the solution: a nice shot of whiskey. Alcohol is a vasodilator, meaning it increases blood flow to extremities like your fingers, toes and ears, making them feel warmer. And the higher the alcohol content of what you’re drinking, the more you’ll feel the effect, meaning a high-proof whiskey is the best choice.
Thankfully, high-strength spirits are trendy lately; more alcohol makes for more intense flavors, as well as better mixability—those intense flavors can stand up to mixers better than a standard 80-proof whiskey. Here are a few high-test bottles to try, none of them lower than 50 percent ABV.
MAKER’S MARK CASK STRENGTH BOURBON
$40 for 375 mL, makersmark.com
Maker’s Mark produced only one kind of bourbon for more than half a century, but recently it has started to branch out, beginning with the extra-aged Maker’s 46 in 2010 and continuing with this high-octane release last fall. Coming in anywhere between 108- and 114-proof depending on the batch, it offers the same toffee, citrus and cinnamon notes as the original, but appropriately amped-up.
GLEN GARIOCH THE RENAISSANCE 1ST CHAPTER SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKEY
During the whiskey doldrums of the ‘90s, the venerable Glen Garioch distillery (founded 1797) shut its doors, but thankfully the place was only offline for a couple years. This bottling is the first of the whiskey distilled after it reopened in 1997, aged for 15 years in former bourbon barrels and bottled at 51.9 percent alcohol. It offers the buttery and rich flavors you’d expect of a great Highland Scotch, like biting into a warm ginger cookie fresh out of the oven.
Way back in 1992, Jim Beam master distiller Booker Noe introduced one of the first-ever bourbons bottled undiluted straight from the barrel. He was certainly on to something. At over 120-proof, Booker’s is seriously intense, with typical bourbon sweetness on the front of the tongue backed up by a serious backbone of charcoal, pipe tobacco and dark chocolate. The finish is remarkably smooth for such a powerful dram.
OLD POTRERO 18TH CENTURY STYLE WHISKEY
Want to drink like the Founding Fathers did? Look to Anchor Distilling, a San Francisco craft distillery that’s been in operation since way back in 1993. This spirit starts with 100 percent rye grain (most modern ryes use a mix of rye with corn and barley) and is aged in toasted oak barrels (today’s ryes and bourbons usually age in charred oak) for only a few years, as whiskies were back in the 1700s. The resulting 102-proof brew is not for the faint of heart, rustic, spicy and redolent of grain and hay. It’s a rewarding tipple for real whiskey geeks to explore.
REDBREAST 12 CASK STRENGTH IRISH WHISKEY
While many Irish whiskies are a mix of clean and smooth column-distilled and funkier and robust pot still spirit, Redbreast uses only the latter, making for wonderfully complex bottling that connoisseurs love. This undiluted version of its 12-year-old whiskey is an absolute fruit extravaganza, with notes of figs, apples, raisins and even banana.
OLD GRAND-DAD 114 BOURBON
The no-frills label and rock-bottom price of Old Grand-Dad mask a bourbon that’s one of the best values out there. Skip the 86- and 100-proof versions and go for the big daddy instead. This 57-percent-ABV is surprisingly delicate, with subtle honey, vanilla and citrus notes followed by a nice oaky finish.
ARDBEG UIGEADAIL SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
“Silky-smooth” isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear about an Islay Scotch, but that’s exactly what you’ll get with this 108-proof beauty. Named for the loch where the Ardbeg Distillery gets its water, Uigeadail (it’s pronounced “ooga-doll”) supplies all the briny, coal-smoke-and-bacon flavors of a peated whisky, balanced by Christmas-cookie sweetness and spice that come from aging in sherry casks.
WILD TURKEY RARE BREED BOURBON
A mix of Wild Turkey’s 6-, 8- and 12-year old whiskies bottled at 56.2 percent alcohol (it was recently raised from 54 percent), Rare Breed brings the spicy character of Wild Turkey’s high-rye mashbill to the fore. Adding water really dilutes the cinnamon-and-clove flavors, so it’s best enjoyed neat, when its butterscotch sweetness is offset by that spice. In fact, master distiller Jimmy Russell says he keeps his bottle in the freezer, so he doesn’t have to add ice to enjoy it chilled.