Review: Kansas Spirit Whiskey

You’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy. Oh, wait, you are in Kansas, drinking Kansas whiskey.

Fittingly called Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey, this new brand from the newly-formed Fabulous American Beverages company (no, that’s the company’s name), is unconventional in just about every way. For starters, it’s from Kansas, not Kentucky, and it’s distilled in a column still, entirely from winter wheat, not corn. That alone isn’t that eyebrow-raising. Column stills are used everywhere in Kentucky, and 100% wheat whiskeys, while rare, exist. So far, so good.

But the inspiration for Kansas, per the company, is vodka, and the final product is meant to appeal to a younger club crowd instead of, well — as the advertising puts it — old dudes. After this distillation, this spirit is mixed with other (presumably aged) whiskey, and the final product — which does not appear to be aged further — is bottled.

Kansas has a very pale yellow color that looks more like a lightly aged tequila than a whiskey. The nose and body are something else altogether. Take a whiff and you get not wood and smoke but candy. Marshmallows and cotton candy, extremely sweet. And I hardly ever use italics. It literally pours out of the glass as you smell it, it’s that strong. Long finish, and not unpleasant, just bracing in its sweetness. Calling it “smooth” is a serious understatement.

Kansas may connote the heartland, but the whiskey comes across more like a flavored vodka. In fact, that may technically be what it is. After all, many a vodka is distilled from wheat in a column still. If it isn’t aged directly, is it whiskey? Even if some whiskey goes into it?

I’m a bit baffled as to what exactly to make of Kansas. As “whiskey” it’s a disaster, completely without any of the character that makes real whiskey so distinctive. Maybe I’m the “old guy” now, after all.

But as a vodka alternative it’s actually pretty intriguing, with lots of character that you don’t usually get in the vodkaverse. Whiskey-flavored vodka? That’s not far from the mark. I’m not sure that’s a good thing for the spirits world, but what can you do? Now it’s here.

I also have little idea what to do by way of a rating. Here’s my best attempt.

80 proof.

B / $30 / kansascleandistilled.com

UPDATE: Kansas Owner Paul Goldman responds:

Christopher,

Thank you for taking the time to review Kansas. Your palate doesn’t quite agree with the people who love our whiskey. That’s okay with us. However your readers may wish get a few facts straight so that they might have a better understanding of what Kansas Whiskey is all about.

You write that Kansas may be technically, a vodka.  I hope you were not attempting here to disparage our brand and that you were just misinformed in your assertion. Actually technically, Kansas is, and can only be a whiskey as defined by the US TTB, the US government body that establishes strict guidelines as to what a spirit, of any category may claim to be.  Spirit whiskey is one of a number of categories of whiskey, like bourbon whiskey, scotch whiskey, straight whiskey, Irish whiskey etc. Many whiskies contain various blends of neutral spirit. Other whiskies distill some percentages of one grain mash at a higher level to supply the alcohol content and leave their other grains at a lower alcohol content to define flavor. Despite the various methods of distillation we’re all still whiskies. 

You suggest that you’re “..a bit baffled of what to make of Kansas. As a whiskey it’s a disaster.” We’ll take “baffled” as a compliment actually. We’re new, we’re a category of whiskey that is entirely unchartered and we deliver an experience–to some like yourself, that is curious. 

But to suggest its a disaster is just a weird thing to say.  Disaster as what? A bourbon? A Rye? Scotch? Surely you’d never compare a single malt to the ryes you love. Or an Irish to a port finished bourbon. I’m curious as to the context in which you’re comparing our whiskey. If you’ve not had another Spirit Whiskey against which to compare Kansas then you’re not in a position to make such a claim. Such a description without context appears careless and vaguely spiteful for some reason. 

Your readers might wish to also know that while you perceive Kansas as being sweeter than other whiskies, Kansas actually has a Brix degree, (sugar content) less than many whiskies we tested. By removing nearly all the congeners inherent in most whiskies–resulting in the smoothness you recognized,  Kansas is left without the harshness found in other whiskies. Your palate may possibly perceive that lack of intervening harshness as being “Sweeter”. 

Finally and on a personal note, I believe you were in receipt of our marketing materials. Indeed our marketing makes fun of the stodginess of the entire category of other whiskies. It should. Apart from a recent surge in Irish whiskey, (the result of a considerable spend), Whiskey is flat in sales and has been for 40 years. This has nothing to do with the delicious varieties of available whiskies and everything to do with their marketing people tripping behind their brands.  Its not the liquid’s fault that we see whiskey associated with old things, old labels old style bottles –which keeps the audience for whiskey firmly planted in middle aged men. 

But none of the observations we make, which make fun of competitor’s advertising and marketing of whiskey have anything to do with reviewers like yourself. That’s nuts. If you love whiskey, it doesn’t mean your old. It just means you’re in love. 

Our goal is spread that love just a little bit more.

Thanks again for your time, we just want to make sure everyone gets the facts straight.  

Best,

Paul Goldman
Owner, Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey

kansas spirit whiskey Review: Kansas Spirit Whiskey

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17 Responses to Review: Kansas Spirit Whiskey

  1. Travis Webster

    Where the heck in Kansas do they make this? As a Kansan, I am curious, as I demand a distillery tour.
    All I can find is New York contacts for the company…

  2. Travis – It is distilled in Atchison, Kansas. Tours are not available, sorry.

  3. It’s essentially a whiskey-flavored vodka. There are one or two other spirit whiskeys now being made. If anyone is wondering why there haven’t been more, it’s because the spirit whiskey category was only invented after Prohibition, when there were minimal aged whiskey stocks. Spirit whiskey is designed to allow the maker to stretch aged whiskey as far as possible (it only has to be 5% whiskey, and unlike blends, it doesn’t have to be straight whiskey). It’s inoffensive enough, but it mostly seems like a way for vodka drinkers to be able to call their drink whiskey, when really it’s vodka with a dash of whiskey added. Not a sin, but hardly thrilling either. There’s a reason spirit whiskey hasn’t been made in decades, those people (like me) who want whiskey want the real thing and not a pale imitation. Even though, as a way to add some flavor to a drink instead of plain vodka it’s fine, it really is a disaster as whiskey. It doesn’t (to me at least) have any of the soul or thrill that a good whiskey has.

  4. This cr*p truly is awful in every way! I am NOT middle aged. I just know what a whiskey is supposed to taste like and this TRIPE is not it! BLECH!

  5. Wow, what an obnoxious (and vaguely threatening) response from the owner of the company. I might have picked up a bottle for sheer novelty value, but I certainly won’t be doing so now.

  6. I don’t understand these comments. As stated by the owner of the company, this spirit whiskey is just that… A SPIRIT whiskey. Comparing it to a straight whiskey is not only unfair but incorrect. It is in a different category than a rye or Irish whiskey. When looking at two cars, one being a truck and one being a sports car, do you say the truck is a disaster because it can’t go 0-60 in 4 seconds? No! You recognize that a truck is for a different purpose than the sports car. When you look at this product in the way it is supposed to be looked at, you will see a clean drinking and interesting spirit that can be used in place of other alcohols, yes, such as vodka. This does not make this a vodka with whiskey flavoring. As i mentioned earlier (and CLEARLY stated on the product’s bottle) this spirit whiskey is quite good. I used it as a replacement for vodka in my take on the classic cosmopolitan. Kansas Spirit Whiskey brought the drink to a different and intriguing level. I mixed 1 1/4 oz Kansas with 3/4 oz of cointreau and 2 oz cranberry juice in a shaker and finished with a twist of lemon. Very delicious, albeit different from a nice glass of rye.

  7. I was at a bar this weekend in the KC area and they had a bottle of Kansas Whiskey. The bartender didn’t recommend it. He gave me a sample and I thought it was quite tasty. He was surprised when I just savored the flavor in my mouth for a bit instead of just downing and making a funny face. Lol. I approve of KS Whiskey.

    Maybe it is the name that confuses everyone. Maybe it should be called Kansas Clean Spirit or something like that to distance itself from traditional whiskey.

  8. I smell astroturfing…

  9. damn good

  10. I own a Kansas Liquor store in Mioford KS…named Some Beach. I have had customers come in and ask for KS Whiskey..they love it!! I woiuld love to carry it in my store!! Tell me how Chris Null:)

  11. The “straight” definition in the US is the equivalent of “single malt” in Scotland. It’s a stricter definition than those that don’t have that label.

    You will never find a single malt Scotch with neutral grain spirit (aka vodka) added. You will never find a straight whiskey from the US with neutral grain spirit added.

    Likewise, the more you distill an alcohol, the less taste it will have. Distill to more than 85% alcohol by volume (ABV) and you basically have Everclear (tasteless).

    Straight whiskey is governed by US law to be pretty strict (minimum 51% of a particular grain, distilled to only 80% ABV, aged in new oak barrels for 2 years at no more than 62.5% ABV, and no less than 80% proof in bottle). Aside from water to dilute, there are no colors, flavors, or neutral grain spirits (aka vodka) added. With all those rules, you still can get straight bourbons for less than $15 a bottle. But noone thinks they’re smooth. Aging in virgin charred oak for 2 years tends to add alot of flavor and color.

    You then get “blended whiskey” in the US where it has to be at a minimum of 20% straight whiskey. The rest can be caramel, flavorings, unaged whiskey, and almost always neutral grain spirit. One example is Seagram’s Seven.

    Then you have “spirit whiskey”. The only rule being that it has a minimum of 5% whiskey in it. Not even straight whiskey. It can be blended whiskey.

    So let’s look at KS Whiskey. It uses winter wheat. But it’s not claiming to be “straight wheat whiskey” like Bernheim. So there’s no distillation requirements, no barrel aging minimums, and certainly no restriction on additives. The color of the spirit implies that very little of it has seen the inside of an oak barrel. It’s still a spirit whiskey so by law, it has a minimum of 5% whiskey in there. But I’m sure KS Whiskey is at least 90% winter wheat vodka with sweetener and a bit of caramel added.

    I have no doubt it’s very smooth. But vodka usually is. KS sounds like three shots of Seagram’s Seven added to a bottle of Absolut.

  12. This is a good drinking liquor. Kansas whiskey is scary smooth. It is pretty hard not to like this stuff. This whiskey is not vodka! Vodka is way diffrent than this in body and taste. Kansas whskey makes an excellent whisky sour and is very good on the rocks and just to shoot. I have my local liquor store order it for me love this stuff.

  13. From a branding standpoint, I understand what KS is doing.

    Your typical spirit whiskey is crap. But KS is not interested in that low tier. They’re trying to compete in the $30/bottle zone: the ultra-premium-Patron-Grey-Goose-zone.

    It’s very hard to break into a super-premium vodka market when “Grey Goose” rolls off nearly every vodka drinker’s lips. And why deal with true aging when the effort makes the product less popular for their target market? So it seems that KS is trying to create a new market: the ultra-premium flavored vodka.

    But when compared with other flavored vodkas in the market, KS is very expensive. And being nearly 2x more expensive than your competitors (Absolut and Pinnacle) will price you into niche territory (e.g. St Germain). So KS has to find a way to justify the $30 price.

    Enter their marketing campaign. By claiming to be a whiskey instead of a vodka, KS takes advantage of whiskey’s “mystique”. To the drinker that doesn’t know the difference between Irish whiskey, scotch, and bourbon, whiskey making is more an art than industrial process. The renaming of a whiskey-flavored vodka to a “smooth” spirit whiskey is quite savvy. Referencing US law while not highlighting that “spirit whiskey” is the weakest requirement of whiskey is a neat way to dodge the question.

    Of course, that means that any reviews that describe the product as a vodka must be responded to. To lump KS with ultra-premium vodkas would mean unwanted competition (with folks with deeper pockets no less) . To compare KS with other flavored vodkas would raise uncomfortable questions about the product’s $30 price.

    So that’s why we see the comments claiming it’s “not vodka” or that it’s not “a vodka with whiskey flavoring”.

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  15. I don’t think his response was threatening just stating the facts and correcting someone’s poor opinion. I actually like the Whiskey! It has a very smooth taste. I like it! Alot of other whiskeys are too harsh and taste like what cologne would taste like if someone tried to drink it.

  16. I love the Kansas Clean Whiskey. I love it so much that I am doing tastings @ Top Cellars in Olathe KS for 2 – 3 months. In fact, I’m doing one this weekend. It does not cost $30 a bottle –but only $19.99. It is indeed smoothe and great to sip or mix!

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