What Does It Mean When A Distillery Says It 'Finished' A Whiskey?

Whiskey (or whisky if it's born in Scotland) loves to cause confusion. At the liquor store, you'll see bourbon, whiskey, or Scotch, and then there are particular regional varieties, such as Irish whiskey, Tennessee whiskey, and Japanese whisky. Are they all one big happy family, or are there differences? Well, yes — but also, yes.

Each one — bourbon, Scotch, and of course anything named whiskey (or whisky) — is indeed whiskey, per Copenhagen distillery. To earn specific labels, a bottle must meet certain requirements. Those requirements make the differences, such as the grains used, where it's made, the proof, barrel choices, and how long each one is aged.

However, no matter which type you choose, when it comes to tasting any whiskey, the process is the same. Shots Box explains that after the pour, the drink is sniffed for aromas, then sipped, chewed (meaning the whiskey is rolled around in the mouth, so every tastebud gets the flavor), and finally, swallowed. Even after the swallow, the tasting continues as whiskey tends to leave even more flavors as a finish once it's off the tongue. It certainly isn't a simple drink.

There is another use of the word, finish, however, in the whiskey distilling process. When a distiller finishes a whiskey, those who taste it are in for a treat.

What is the finish?

The distilling process of any whiskey is fascinating. So much care, precision, and time are taken to create a warm, amber-colored spirit, with its own unique notes. No two whiskeys are the same, and each is to be enjoyed in mixed drinks or served neat, on the rocks, or with a splash of water.

Designer Dram writes that the basic beginning distilling process includes the mash bill (the grain mix), malting the grains, milling, which turns the grains into flour, mashing (the cooking process), fermenting, aging in a barrel, and finally, proofing. Those are the basics for most whiskeys. However, sometimes, a distillery takes it to another level with the finish.

According to Punch Drink, the finish is when a whiskey has gone through the entire distilling process, and it is then aged even longer in a second, different barrel. In the past, the second barrels were nearly always sherry barrels, which gives the whiskey a smooth finish. Today, however, distillers are more creative and try other barrels, such as brandy, port wine, or even tabasco, to create unique flavor profiles.

Finished whiskeys are a fun change, and when it comes to tastings, they add another level of notes. Still, some purists feel that finishing takes away from the true whiskey, masking alcohol that would otherwise be of lesser quality. Of course, the only way to find out for yourself is to do a little tasting.