Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey Review [In Depth]

Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey Details

Distillery: Savage and Cooke (but sourced from unknown distillery)

Type & Region: American whiskey, USA

Alcohol: 56.5%

Composition: 66% Corn, 30% Rye, 4% Malted Barley

Aged: At least 4 years old

Color: 1.4/2.0 on the color scale (tawny)

Price: $45-50

From the company website:

Each barrel was hand-selected for its unique attributes. The barrels were purchased by S&C in their youth and aged at the S&C distillery which provided the desired climate for development.

Ex-Bourbon barrels slowly and steadily aged the American Whiskey for a minimum of four years, and often longer. All aging is done on site in one of three locations, all with ideal yet different conditions relating to temperature, humidity, sunlight and air flow.

Once deemed mature by Master Distiller Jordan Via, a portion of the American Whiskey is transferred to Dave Phinney’s Zinfandel barrels for a period of about two months. This additional aging adds flavor, texture and character.

Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey overview

At least as of this review, I know little to nothing about Savage and Cooke. With a little bit of digging, I learned that they are responsible for Scottie Pippens’s whiskey, Digits. I’ve never had it so I can’t comment on it more than that, but I was surprised to learn that it came from them.
Savage and Cooke was founded by Dave Phinney, who apparently is a well known figure in wine. I clearly am not that much of a wine person because I had no idea who he was until now. He’s possibly best known for his work with Orin Swift Wineries and The Prisoner brand of wines. The Prisoner may ring some bells because those casks were used to finish Bardstown Bourbon Company’s Prisoner Finished Bourbon and High West’s Prisoner Cask Finished Whiskey.
He’s apparently a big enough deal and success that he apparently sold The Prisoner brand and Orin Swift Cellars for hundreds of millions of dollars. With some of those funds, he dove into whiskey, founding Savage and Cooke in 2016, all while continuing to work in wine. He must be a very busy man.
The distillery itself is located in Mare Island, California, which is sort of kind of close to San Francisco and Sacramento. It’s still close to California’s prime wine-growing regions, which makes sense given Dave’s experience.
At least in 2024, Savage and Cooke now has a core range of whiskeys, sourced and homemade, and all partially finished in wine casks. There’s bourbon, rye, and American whiskey…and as you know this review is about their American whiskey.
Here’s the summary – Savage and Cooke sourced American whiskey from an undisclosed source, and continued to age it in used-bourbon barrels for at least 4 years. FYI – because it’s aged in used bourbon casks, it cannot be called bourbon even though the mashbill itself could be used to make bourbon.
After that, some of the whiskey was finished in zinfandel casks for around 2 months. Because Dave Phinney is so well known and highly regarded in the wine industry, the assumption is that the wine casks are good and that he / the team know what they’re doing with wine finishes. That said, I’m surprised that only some (and not all) of it was finished. It is what it is.
Time for a brief wine less for you and I. Zinfandel is a red grape, just like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, tempranillo, and many others. And from my limited experience with Zinfandel, plus a little more reading for my own knowledge, the wine type is often known to be bold, sweet, smoky, and a little savory. It sounds like a fantastic addition to whiskey, and I’ve enjoyed it so far.
Let’s find out what an expert winemaker and his team can do with a Zinfandel wine finish in this Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American whiskey review.
Thank you to Savage and Cooke for providing this bottle. All opinions are still my own.
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As an FYI, I bought and use these Glencairn glasses for everything (they’re the best): Glencairn Crystal Whiskey Glass Set of 6, Set of 4Set of 2, or just one. Full transparency, this is an affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey smell

Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey starts with lightly musty and grainy caramel followed by vanilla, cherry, slightly soggy toasted oak, heavily baked red apple with cinnamon, freshly roasted grains, pumpernickel, and orange peel. This may be 4 years old, but the musty graininess screams young in my brain.
Still, the scents smell decent with good darkness, sweetness, and fruitiness (probably from the wine finish), but I can’t shake that youthful graininess that juts out and is hard to shake. The heat is very well controlled though.
After swirling and rest, I smell dark honey, stewed apples and cherries, a wall of earthy and roasty graininess, roasted oak, cinnamon, earthy caraway seed, and slightly soggy wood. The sweetness and fruitiness are a nice touch, courtesy of the wine finish, but the slight sogginess and noticeable roasty graininess pull this all down for me.
Overall, Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey smells mostly good, but it too often pulls me out of it with how young it smells. There’s some good, and a lot that needs to go away.
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Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey taste and aftertaste

The flavors start with dark honey, a lot of roasted grains, roasted oak, cinnamon, cherry, a lot of earthy caraway seed and pumpernickel, vanilla, baked red apples, dry oak, and more roasted grain everywhere. There is so much roasted graininess that it’s borderline overpowering. On top of that, it’s quite bitter and oaky in the back. Sure, there’s a little bite, but it’s nothing unexpected.
It seems like the zinfandel finish doesn’t do nearly enough to keep the base whiskey in check, and I suspect that the base whiskey is not that good. It just screams young and it smacks me in the face. The heat itself is surprisingly fine, but the lack of any finesse is glaringly obvious. Oh no I don’t like this already.
The thing is, young whiskey doesn’t have to taste young, just look at what Still Austin is doing with 2-3 year old bourbon. Still Austin Cask Strength is fantastic at 3ish years old.
With “chewing”, I taste honey, cherry, so much roasted grain and oak, cinnamon, caraway seed, pumpernickel, red apple, dry oak, and a little bit of raisin and candied ginger. Oh boy, the agitation pulls the earthiness, oakiness, and graininess to the front, and that is not good.
The finish has honey, roasted grains and even more roasted grains, dry oak, cherry, vanilla, caraway seed, pumpernickel, and orange peel with lingering dry oak and earthiness. It’s more or less the same after “chewing”, and leaves a lingering dry oakiness, earthiness, and this musty / soggy note.
This is overpoweringly young, even at 4 years old. There’s some sweetness and wine-influenced dark fruits, but it all gets shoved aside by whiskey that isn’t close to being ready.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent parts to this, especially the fruitiness that comes from the wine. On the flip side, this definitely needed the finish to be drinkable.
I’ve unfortunately lost some Glencairn’s while in transit, and that made me very sad. So, I wised up and bought this Glencairn Travel Case that comes also comes with 2 glasses so I don’t need to worry so much about them breaking. I think it’s great, and I think you’ll love it too. Seriously, if you already have glasses, protect them.

Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey Rating

Mid Shelf
Oh boy, Savage and Cooke Cask Strength American Whiskey is a mess, but it’s not a complete disaster hence the rating. I’ll get this out of the way first, the pleasant sweetness and fruitiness are the saving grace that keeps this from being “Bottom Shelf+”, although I seriously considered it. Believe me, I’m not happy with this rating and I don’t like giving it either.
The wine finish is the saving grace because it adds a good amount of sweetness and fruitiness that elevates the whiskey. The problem is that the wine finish usually loses to the not so good base whiskey, which does not do me any favors when I drink it. It just makes it challenging to drink, but not in a good way.
The reason that this isn’t “Bottom Shelf+” is because I generally prefer this over Jim Beam White and Jack Daniel’s, which are what I associate with “Bottom Shelf+” bourbons (but I strongly prefer Jim Beam White because I compared them). And with that train of thought, this is not quite that type of cheap bourbon. There definitely is more good character here, but there’s just as much “weird” and “young” to knock it down.
The base whiskey, especially how it tastes, is borderline overpoweringly earthy and grainy with less prominent mustiness and sogginess. I’ve had this general feeling before when drinking some other (but not all) craft whiskeys. I have a tough time enjoying it as much as I’d like. I don’t know the source of this whiskey, but yikes.
Now to the American whiskey. As I mentioned before, this uses a bourbon mash but is aged in used oak so it cannot be called bourbon. Regardless, 4 years was not close to enough time for the whiskey to provide a good first impression for Savage and Cooke. I’ve had great whiskeys that were 2, 3, or 4 years old. Young does not inherently mean bad or immature, but it does if it’s not done right like this one.
I hate writing reviews like this. I don’t go into a review with the intention of giving a bad rating, but I am compelled to do so based on how I feel after drinking it. If you haven’t already figured it out by now, I think that you should avoid this whiskey. It is not ready for prime time and not ready to be in your glass. The wine finish definitely helps, but I’d rather spend $20-30 on a whole slew of other things.
Savage and Cooke, if you’re reading this, I hope you will take this as feedback. You don’t pay me to write this, but I do mean it in hopes that you can learn from it. Go back to the drawing board and figure out why the underlying American whiskey is the way it is, because it is bad. That is the source of the problem. The silver lining is that you’re not distilling this whiskey, so you don’t have to overhaul your entire distillation and aging process.
At the end of the day, someone decided that I should get a bottle and give my honest opinion…and there you have it.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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Shattered glass really sucks, so if you’re on the move, this Glencairn-like stainless steel snifter glass should survive your travels. Full transparency, this is an Amazon affiliate link, so I may earn a commission if you buy this or something else from Amazon.

BrüMate NOS’R, Double-Wall Stainless Steel Whiskey Nosing Glass – 7oz (Matte Black)