Few names in whiskey seem to spark a balance between fun and quality quite like Chattanooga Whiskey. 2022 was the distillery’s tenth year of operation, which was commemorated with a graciously priced LE. Nice as that release was, the Tennessee producer elicited raised eyebrows in other ways, including the introduction of their Barrel Finishing Series. These take their trademarked “Tennessee High Malt” bourbon, each made from at least 25% specialty malted grains, and finish it in casks.
The series debuted in 2021 with Chattanooga Port Cask, which started with six mash bills. These were chosen for their combination of fruit and wine-like characteristics. The mash bill codes and their corresponding descriptions are as follows:
B001 – Dried Fruit, Spice
B005 – Butterscotch, Pastry
SB055 – Chocolate, Brown Sugar
R18025 – Caramel, Honey, Citrus
R18016 – Toasted Oak, Red Fruit
R17113 – Dried Fruit, Jam
These were aged for at least 3 years in toasted and charred oak barrels (each batch being 6-7 barrels) before being transferred to 225-liter Tawny port casks from Douro Superior, where the whiskey was finished for over 6 months. The final product was non-chill filtered, bottled at 47.5% ABV, and sold for around $45. My bottle came from batch 21C25R.
Nose: Dark fruits galore with a musty undercurrent of corn and molasses. Dates, prunes, some vanilla and maple syrup. Ample brown sugar to go around. The corn actually helps offset the dense fruit profile. Occasionally get a faint, sulfuric breeze, but it’s quickly overtaken by a trace of pre-packaged cinnamon buns and concord grape juice.
Palate: Rich and musty. Jammy profile ripe with stewed blackberries and prunes, yet a surprisingly restrained sweetness. Dark brown sugar and vanilla with a slight, soft orange accent.
Finish: Building heat keeps some of the fruitiness at bay here. Fruity tobacco with hints of lightly candied and roasted pecans.
I shouldn’t like this as much as I do. Finished whiskey (bourbon in particular) isn’t often to my liking, especially when the finishing cask(s) are overpowering. Chattanooga Port Cask positively exudes this without apology. Between that and the still-apparent grain influence cutting through the hefty port exterior, this should be a slobbering mess.
And maybe it is. Yet I’ll be damned if this isn’t a fun expression with a surprise or two on offer.
The combination of dark, musty fruit from the Tawny port casks and earthy, grain-forward base whiskey work surprisingly well. They come together in a way that’s more curious than seamless, showcasing slight contrast while sparking nostalgic vibes. With the bourbon, it’s county fairs where you’re just close enough to the livestock. With the port, it’s a vague similarity to mulled wine during Halloween parties. Two disparate connections other than their inherent charm. And honestly? That’s more than enough to win over this sentimental guy.