I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve Bourbon Review

Too often secondary finishes are used to cover up mediocre juice and can leave an unbalanced sweetness with an unpleasant finish. This is not the case with the Cab Cask Reserve, and, to me, it tastes like a better-balanced, more nuanced Angel's Envy Port Finish.

I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve Bourbon Review
I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Cabernet Sauvignon Casks

I.W. Harper made an indelible mark on bourbon history. In 2015, the brand was resurrected in the U.S. by Diageo, and a Cabernet-finished product was released in 2022. This newest addition to the modern I.W. Harper lineup is an affordable and approachable whiskey that works both neat and in a cocktail. Plus, it comes in such a pretty bottle.

I.W. Harper is a truly historic name in the annals of bourbon whiskey. The brand's history dates back to 1872 when Isaac Wolfe Bernheim (yes, this Bernheim and that Bernheim) joined with his brother and a friend to forge the Bernheim Brothers liquor firm in Paducah, Kentucky. A few years later, in 1879, they launched a premium whiskey under the label of I.W. Harper. The brand was a 19th-century sourced product (See, folks? Nothing is truly new.), pulling barrels from Nelson County (i.e., Bardstown) and selling them to much success under their own make. Business boomed for the brothers, and they saw significant accolades, including medals from competitions at fairs and expos, leading the product to be marketed as "The Gold Medal Whiskey" (again, nothing is new!). Soon they outgrew their small spot in Paducah, moved to Lousiville, and were one of only ten distilleries in Kentucky that survived and operated throughout Prohibition.

Excerpt from a 1962 ad for I.W. Harper Whiskey

The Bernheim distillery changed hands a few times over the past century, first to the Schenley Distilling Company (then one of the largest liquor conglomerates in the nation) then to Heaven Hill in 1999. While owned by Schenley, the brand focused sales overseas, as the international market had developed a much more robust thirst for bourbon than drinkers did stateside. But in 2015, Diageo purchased the I.W. Harper label and relaunched this historic brand with a standard and 15-year expression. Then, just last year, in 2022, they introduced the subject of this article: the Cabernet Cask Reserve.



SHARE WITH: Lovers of Angel's Envy, Napa wine, and those who can't say no to a pretty bottle.

WORTH THE PRICE: $50 is entirely fair for a pour like this, especially when other wine-finished bourbons are on the market for well over $100. If you drink Angel's Envy, the I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask is the same MSRP.

BOTTLE, BAR OR BUST: Bottle if you are a wine finish person; Bar if you are drinking curiously. Either way, trying this won't break the bank. The gorgeous bottle will look lovely on a home bar and you can make a great cocktail with it (see below).

OVERALL: I first tried the 15-year expression in 2015 at an event in D.C. called the "Bourbon Barrel of Compromise," where I was in a room sipping whiskey with Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, Jimmy Russell, and many other well-known Kentuckians. The bourbon bar was packed with expressions from numerous brands, but the I.W. Harper caught my eye due to its beautiful beveled glass bottle. I honestly didn't care for it at the time, and when I asked Jimmy what I should drink next, he doused my glass with about five fingers of Kentucky Spirit (then in the iconic turkey-tail bottle). After my glass was full, we were all called to listen to speeches, and I was somehow shoved right into Boehner. I asked the then-Mr. Speaker what whiskey he was quaffing, but he refused to spill the tea. Politicians. Anyways, since that evening, the I.W. Harper brand never crossed my radar until I was offered a bottle of the Cab Cask Reserve.

The 2015 Bourbon Barrel of Compromise

As many may know, I am not the biggest fan of finished whiskeys. Too often secondary finishes are used to cover up mediocre juice and can leave an unbalanced sweetness with an unpleasant finish. This is not the case with the Cab Cask Reserve, and, to me, it tastes like a better-balanced, more nuanced Angel's Envy Port Finish. If asked to choose between the two, I would recommend the Cab Cask over the Angel's Envy.

This bourbon also makes a lovely cocktail. The brand shared an excellent recipe - the Cab Cask Sour - a version of the New York Sour. The drink features a California Cab float, which offers a lovely visual and is perfect for the holidays.



Over a century ago, I.W. Harper sought to create the world’s most refined bourbon: a timeless Kentucky Straight Bourbon that was a step above. Now I.W. Harper is modernizing this classic whiskey with exceptional style and substance.

Introducing I.W Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve. This spirit is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey aged for four years in new charred American oak barrels, then perfected in luxury California Cabernet Sauvignon casks and bottled at Stitzel-Weller Distillery, one of the true cathedrals of the American Whisky industry.

Our Cabernet Cask Reserve takes the distinct character of fine Cabernet wine and pairs with our bold bourbon to create a clean, dark fruit and wine-like aromatics, along with an exceptionally complex flavor.

Seeming contradictions come together to create an exquisite harmony of taste, resulting in a smooth and smoky taste of rich oak and vanilla out front, with a hint of dark fruit on the backbeat. While recommended to enjoy neat, I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve can be enjoyed on the rocks or mixed in a cocktail for complementary tastes, like the Boulevardier.


COLOR: Bright amber.
NOSE: Dark fruit, spice with wine-like aromas.
TASTE: A smooth and smoky taste of rich oak and vanilla out front, with a hint of dark fruit on the backbeat. FINAL: A clean, lingering, smooth finish.


Recommended neat, on the rocks, or in a cocktail, like the Boulevardier.



  • 1.5 oz I.W. Harper Cabernet Cask Reserve Bourbon
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup*
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/4 oz California Cabernet Wine


Combine whiskey, simple syrup, and lemon juice into a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake thoroughly for 30 seconds. Strain over ice into a rocks or Old Fashioned glass. Top the cocktail with the Cabernet. Garnish with an orange peel and Luxardo cherry.

Optional: for an even more festive preparation, garnish with fresh cranberries on a cocktail pick.

*To make Simple Syrup, heat 1 cup of water and dissolve in 1 cup of white granulated sugar. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved. Store in the fridge. For a richer, sweeter drink, my Rich Simple Syrup recipe is in my Ultimate Guide to the Old Fashioned.

Disclaimer: Bourbon & Banter received a sample of this product from the brand for review. We appreciate their willingness to allow us to review their products with no strings attached. Thank you.