Review: Ironclad Vessel Craft Coffee Cask

DSR – VA – 010: Ironclad Vessel Craft Coffee Cask

Company/Distillery: Ironclad Distillery Company

Location: Newport News, Virginia

Mash Bill: 70% corn, 10% wheat, 10% rye, and 10% malted barley

Age Statement: No Age Statement

Proof/ABV: 122 Proof/61% ABV

Color and Viscosity: Tawny in color. Thick and oily viscosity in the glass. Small drops form like little perforations on the viscous line as legs develop slowly and sluggishly slide down the belly of the tasting vessel.

Purchase Price: Rickhouse Ramblings was provided this bottle free of charge by Ironclad Distillery with no stings attached. A 375 ml bottle can be purchased for $55.99 from the distillery.

Bottle Label Information:

Front Label


“Vessel Craft Coffee Cask”

“Bourbon whiskey finished in coffee barrels”

“Handcrafted and bottled by Ironclad Distillery Co., Newport News, Virginia”

“Coffee Barrel Finished”

“Battle of 1862”


Distillery Background

Ironclad Distillery Co.

There is no denying that the state of Virginia is soaked in history. The state is home to the settlement of Jamestown (1607), boasts the title of being one of the original 13 colonies, and is the birthplace of 8 U.S. Presidents. Virginia is so rich in history that one could read for a month straight and still not scratch the surface on its history.

One chapter in the state’s history occurred on  March 9, 1862 just outside of the city of Hampton Roads. On this day, two naval vessels, the C.S.S. Virginia and the U.S.S. Merrimack, would battle for four hours, to a draw, in what is now referred to as the “Battle of the Ironclads”. (To read more about this famous battle, head on over to US National Park Service.)

It is from this Civil War battle in Virginia that the Ironclad Distillery takes its name. Established in 2015 by Stephen King (father), Owen King (son), and Kara King (daughter), Ironclad Distillery is located within eyesight of this battleground in the historic S.W. Holt & Co. Warehouse in downtown Newport News. The distillery has come a long way in a short amount of time. Ironclad Distillery began production in 2015, hitting Virginia ABC stores in late 2016 then going on to win a bronze medal in the 2017 American Distilling Institute Awards.

Vessel Craft Coffee Cask

Ironclad’s Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey is a 4-grain bourbon that uses 70% corn and 10% each of wheat, rye and malted barley in their mash bill. The entire process of fermentation, double-distillation, aging and bottling all occurs in the Newport News facility. The distillery ages its small batch bourbon an average of 14 to 16 months in 15 gallon new American oak charred barrels made by the McGinnis Cooperage out of Cuba, Missouri.

In order to make this offering of Vessel Craft Coffee Cask, Ironclad takes its bourbon whiskey and ages it an additional three months in a used Ironclad barrel that previously aged roasted coffee bean from Vessel Craft Coffee in Norfolk, Virginia. Vessel Craft Coffee, a social entrepreneurship specializing in ethically sourced coffee, fills old Ironclad barrels with freshly roasted espresso. For more information on Vessel Craft Coffee’s Bourbon Barrel Aged Coffee visit their website.

Other Ironclad Distillery Products:

  1. Ironclad Bourbon Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey
  2. Ironclad Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  3. Ironclad Bourbon Finished in Sweeter Creations Maple Syrup Casks
  4. Ironclad Bourbon Finished in AR’s Hot Southern Honey Casks
  5. Ironclad Bourbon Finished in Missouri Toasted Oak Cask
  6. Ironclad Bourbon Finished in Flying Fox Winery Cask

Tasting Notes

Tasting Date/Vessel: January 17, 2021 – Neat in Glencairn Glass; Few Drops of Distilled Water


Christian: Before jumping into a nice pour of this Ironclad Vessel Craft Coffee Cask, I take a quick nose directly from the bottle. At first it comes off very reminiscent of a standard bourbon offering, however, a second pass allows sweet hints of coffee, chocolate, and tobacco to sneak through. I pour a fair amount into my Glencairn glass and give a light swirl. The nose on this whiskey is so unique and fascinating. At first I pick up a decent amount of butterscotch and caramel corn with a slight bit of airplane modeling glue. As I swirl again and raise the glass upward to my nose, the aroma and spiciness of a fresh, unsmoked, cigar permeates my senses. There is a tiny bit of coffee present, however, it is muted behind the other aromas present. Adding a drop of distilled water really opens up this pour. Sweet honey and caramel become present. This is complimented by rich tobacco and dark chocolate.

Mike: As I gently swirl the glass and it approaches my nose, I get a rush of caramel coated popcorn. The aroma is fantastic! Muted notes of dark roasted coffee beans emerge then transitions to an interesting tang of tabasco peppers and vinegar. This reminds me of Texas Pete Pepper Sauce, those little green peppers steeped in white vinegar. A heavy swirl of the glass releases a soft perfume of a cigar wrapper and fresh cocoa powder. The addition of water brings forward flavors of honey roasted peanuts then bouquets of brown sugar in the nose.


Christian: As I begin to take a sip of this whiskey I note a mouth feel that is thin and smooth. A slight surprise given the appearance of the beads and legs on the glass. This pour has an interesting opening statement on my tongue. My very first taste is of a very slight hint of smokiness and cigar. As I continue to drink, there’s a quick transition to a heavy espresso flavor that is accompanied by dark chocolate cocoa powder and leather. The whiskey does have a wood component, reminding me of pine. Adding water to my glass allows the mouth feel to become silky. Some of the other flavors really take a backseat to the coffee which starts to shine through with a touch of leather.

Mike: Sumatra coffee is noticed first sip and again, the heat of tabasco peppers slaps the back of the palate. The heat I’m getting in this pour is very intriguing and definitely something I have not experienced, nor prepared for, considering this is a coffee cask finish. With that said, I really enjoy the uniqueness it brings. There is also a soft spiciness reminiscent of Spanish cedar used in cigar humidors and the cigar wrapper flavors linger delicately in the mouth. The distilled water allows toffee candy and deeper coffee flavors to materialize in the mouth.


Christian: Wow, this finish is loooooong!! The proof of 122 seemed to be able to hide itself a bit in the nose and mouth, but, boy does it announce its arrival in the finish. This pour is hot and peppery. The heat is like that of a fresh jalapeno or cracked red pepper. A warming sensation starts near the back of the throat and works its way all the way into the chest at a slow pace. Lots of dark roasted coffee, both in flavor and bitterness, on the finish. As I allow things to calm down a bit I notice a little hint of mango jam sneaking onto my palate. The addition of the water does not extinguish the hot peppery finish, however, it does control it a bit. I notice a bit more black pepper now along with the coffee and mango from before.

Mike: The finish is surprisingly smooth for me. It starts out mild then finishes long and deep into the chest. Roasted cocoa beans and dark roast coffee beans gently linger in the palate. The drops of water allows the finish to offer some spiciness but it is sweeter and softer overall.

Our Rating

Final Thoughts

Christian: I am a fan of Ironclad’s Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey that we previously reviewed and was excited to try this offering. Ironclad is unique in its own right and has a bit of brininess (not in a negative kind of way) or salted flavor to it – perhaps due to its close proximity to the ocean. That uniqueness carries over to the Vessel Craft Coffee Cask as that brininess is there. Ironclad’s Vessel Craft Coffee Cask is intense in flavor and fiery in the finish. I don’t think you will hear me say this often, however, I do believe this whiskey would be a bit more approachable proofed down some. I felt the whiskey really took a step forward after it had a few minutes to breath and had a few drops of distilled water added. Don’t get me wrong, I love barrel proof whiskey, however the young age on this offering coupled with the high proof just needed a little help to tame. The combination of coffee and cigars present, in both the nose and palate, are delightful and blend nicely with the dark chocolate notes throughout the pour.

If you haven’t yet, I recommend giving Ironclad’s products a shot. All of the variations may not be your cup of tea, however, I do think you will find something that fits your palate and is really enjoyable. I look forward to reviewing some of their other offerings in the near future.

Rating: 2.385 Rickhouses

Mike: The Vessel Craft Coffee Cask is a very unique offering from Ironclad. Whatever I was expecting when we started this tasting was not what I experienced, in a good way. The tabasco spice was an interesting surprise and the coffee notes were present but absolutely not overwhelming. This does not carry any traditional bourbon flavors from start to finish but I find it appealing to the palate. I do not find this whiskey to be an everyday pour but unquestionably something I would enjoy regularly. 

Ironclad offerings are unconventional and that is what sets them apart and makes them a must try.

Rating: 3.5 Rickhouses


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