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First, let’s establish the actual bourbon proofing guidelines. Bourbon cannot be distilled at higher than 160 proof, and it must go into the barrel at 125 proof or lower. As bourbon ages and the angels begin to take their share of the barrel, in the most desirable conditions, its proof rises. Higher proof bourbon also indicates that less or no excess water has been added to the spirit to proof it down. So obviously, you should expect that these expressions will have a more intense flavor along with a little extra kick from the proof!    

We’ve all probably observed that different distilleries use different verbiage to describe their full-strength or higher proof offerings on different bottles, and maybe even scratched our heads in wonderment! These include an array of names including batch proof, barrel proof, cask strength, full proof, more recently rickhouse proof, and more! But what distinguishes them from one another and do they share any traits or proof points? Let’s dive in and explore the subtle differences!

Barrel Proof, Batch Proof and Cask Strength

When a spirit is bottled without adding water to the finished product, it is referred to as barrel proof, cask strength, or batch proof. This can also be a marketing tactic that also stands to help distinguish each distillery or certain bottles from the others by using a variation in their full-strength names. For example, some producers like to refer to their expressions as “Cask Strength” when a single barrel (store pick/private barrel) has been dumped and bottled.

However, brands can use the words batch proof, cask strength, and barrel proof synonymously. Distillers are not actually given any requirements by law, and they are also not required to use any particular phrase or wording. In short, the proof point of a product doesn’t influence which of these names it’s called and may cause one to wonder why the proofs vary so greatly?

The Two Primary Variables: Humidity and Temperature

For instance, imagine that a distillery employs a barrel entry proof of 125 proof for each and every barrel. This indicates that the spirit is 125 proof when it enters each barrel. This may cause you to wonder how it goes from 125 proof to 120 or to as high as 130-140 proof when it’s bottled?  Numerous elements come into play, including evaporation, the warehouse floor where the barrels are kept, how long they are kept there, and so forth. 

The two primary variables are humidity and temperature. Over time, more alcohol or more water will evaporate depending on the humidity level. Because the air is already saturated with water in a highly humid environment, less water will evaporate, causing more alcohol to evaporate and lowering the proof. The proof increases if it is in a drier area because more water will evaporate in these conditions.  

Understanding Full Proof

What then is Full Proof? Simply another term used in marketing to describe expressions that, when put into the barrel, are deemed to be “full proof.” This means that, for example, it is put into the barrel at 125 proof and subsequently lowered with water to the same proof level. Each distillery establishes its own standards, therefore other producers’ products may enter the barrel at 114 proof and then be diluted before bottling to match the “Full Proof” point it was initially barreled at, and again, there’s no proof requirement for “Full Proof.”

Over Entry Proof Points

Why certain distilleries, like Branch & Barrel, have such low barrel proof points is also a legitimate question! We instead, employ over entry proof points. Meaning there will be less water added when bottling, since more water is added at the beginning of the aging process. Why? This simply gives the spirits more time to mix with the water when added to the barrel at a lower proof. A richer, fuller-bodied expression is produced by the addition of water at the beginning and its prolonged aging in the barrel. Consider all of the tastes you are losing when all of the water is added at the end instead!

Introducing Branch & Barrel Cask Strength

Our Single Barrel Bourbon #7 is the seventh iteration of the Branch & Barrel single barrel bourbon series. These premium selections are chosen for their outstanding individual character, and are bottled “cask strength”, bypassing any proofing or blending, going straight from barrel to bottle. Affectionately known as our “Caramel Turtle Barrel,” this particular bourbon expression maintains supreme drinkability at 51% ABV as it presents notes of peach, vanilla custard, caramel cream, chocolate, honeyed pecans, dark cherries, and nougat. Decidedly decadent, it’s difficult to make an argument for enjoying this any other way than neat or with a drop or two of water. If you love this bottle as much as we do, we recommend stocking up – once it’s gone it’s gone for good!

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