Editor’s Note: This whisk(e)y was provided to us as a review sample by the party behind it. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Those charmed by high proof are in for a treat as Hirsch releases a cognac barrel finished cask strength bourbon. A. H. Hirsch formed what is now Hirsh Selected Whiskeys in 1974. The brand had a somewhat round about history after that before (mostly) falling into the hands of Hotaling & Co. in 2020.
The Hirsch Selected Whiskeys The Cask Strength Bourbon Finished in Cognac Barrels is a blend of 54 barrels of 6-year-old bourbon. This is no shy puppy, clocking in at 62.5% ABV with a mash bill of 72% corn, 13% rye, 15% malted barley. The whiskey was finished for 18 months in 30-year-old Hine Cognac XO barrels. Hine is an ancient house in American time, having been founded in 1763 in the Grande Champagne region of Cognac.
Cognac is a spirit made from wine grapes grown in a specific region in France. It is typically made from Ugni Blanc, a variety better known by its Italian name, Trebbiano, which yields rather neutral white wines and is the perfect base for a spirit. As per cognac production requirements, the barrels are made from French Limousin oak.
XO is an age statement that originally required cognacs bearing the designation to be at least six years old, though the bar was raised to ten years in 2022. Obviously, at 30 years, the Hine barrels more than meet both minimums!
As a regular wine and spirits drinker, I adore cognac and was very much looking forward to tasting this. Cognac, especially with this much age, can offer up beautiful notes of white grapes, toasted nuts, refined vanilla spice, honey, and apples. I was especially interested to see how well balanced the nuances of the cognac play against the whiskey and its new American oak, especially at such a high ABV. Only 9,000 bottles were produced of this release, so this may be a tricky bottle to track down.
Vital Stats: Aged for six years in new American oak before finishing in XO cognac barrels for 18 months, 62.5% ABV, mash bill: 72% corn, 13% rye, 15% malted barley, SRP $199.99/ 750ml bottle.
Appearance: This is mahogany with a brown undertone.
Nose: At first muted, this offers up a touch of warm chocolate, wildflower honey, and molasses. There’s a suggestions of toasted brown bread. As it opens in the glass, it gives off bright citrus and floral notes that evokes Szechuan peppercorns, vanilla bean paste, maple sugar candies, and an earthy note like chopped fresh button mushrooms.
Palate: This offers notes of sweet, juicy pears and graham crackers with a savory character like a pinch of tomato paste. It has fine, lingering tannins and a fiery kick. This finishes on the palate with notes of roasted green tea, puffed rice cereal, and vanilla. Those who prefer their sipping whiskey a touch more reasonable in terms of ABV are encouraged to add a splash of water to tone it down.
Whiskey Review: Hirsch The Cask Strength Bourbon
This is not for the faint of heart, but those unafraid of the heat will enjoy the subtly and nuance of the cognac influence. This was a bit overwhelming at first, but captured my attention with its aromatics. It seems the perfect union between bourbon and cognac, offering up the boldness of the first with divine hints of the latter.
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Suzanne Bayard struck out to the West Coast with her now husband almost a decade ago to explore the intersection of wine and policy in its world-class wine regions. She manages a Portland, OR bottle shop by day as the wine buyer and newsletter editor. She is also the Director...