Category Archives: Flavored Whiskey

Review: Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Canadian Whisky

Black Velvet Toasted Caramel 200x300 Review: Black Velvet Toasted Caramel Canadian WhiskyA funny thing happens when I try to type “Canadian.” I always mistype “Candian” instead. Never has that been a more apropos typo than with Black Velvet’s Toasted Caramel Whisky.

Flavored with a hefty dose of “natural toasted caramel flavor,” this sugar bomb is so dense with sugar it’s actually difficult to swallow it. The nose cues you in for what you’re about to get hit with, but the mouthfeel is something else. It’s so sugary I swear you can feel the grains of sugar grinding around in your mouth. The “toasted caramel” (which means what, exactly?) is something akin to burned Bananas Foster, and there’s a touch of a woody finish on the end that reminds you that this is indeed whisky and not caramel-flavored vodka.

Sweet tooths only need apply.

70 proof.

D+ / $11 / blackvelvetwhisky.com

Review: Georgetown Trading Co. Pow-Wow Botanical Rye

pow wow botanical rye 116x300 Review: Georgetown Trading Co. Pow Wow Botanical RyeFrom Georgetown Trading Company (the importer of the masterful John L. Sullivan Irish Whiskey), comes this extreme oddity — a flavored/infused rye whiskey.

Flavored whiskeys are growing in popularity as a category, but they’re mainly Bourbon or Irish, and honey and cinnamon are the predominant flavoring agents. Pow-Wow Botanical Rye is a straight rye whiskey that’s infused with saffron, orange peel, and other whole botanicals (not oils or other flavoring agents), which makes it doubly unique in the world o’ whiskey. (The specific mashbill is not specified, nor is the barrel aging program; the whiskey is warehoused in Kentucky.) Continue reading

Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn Whiskey

Shine Family Salted Caramel Whiskey 239x300 Review: XXX Shine Salted Caramel Corn WhiskeyHow do you take the edge off of white whiskey? You can put it in a barrel for 6 years or so, or you can drop in some flavoring and sell it tomorrow.

Shine (aka “XXX Shine”) makes a straight white dog, but it also makes two flavored versions, a tea flavored whiskey and this, a white dog flavored with salted caramel.

Continue reading

Review: Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky

crown royal maple finished 255x300 Review: Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky“Finished” has a particular meaning in the world of whisky, normally implying that a whisky has been moved from one type of barrel to another, usually a different type of wood or, more commonly, a barrel that once held another spirit or wine. “Maple finished” has actually been done before: Woodford Reserve made a maple-finished limited release Bourbon in 2010.

That’s not what Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian Whisky is.

Continue reading

Review: Early Times Fire Eater

early times fire eater 131x300 Review: Early Times Fire EaterEarly Times is a budget Kentucky whiskey, and recently the brand added its first flavored variety to its lineup. Early Times Fire Eater, as you might expect, joins the increasingly popular category of cinnamon-flavored whiskeys on the market.

There isn’t a lot of information available about the underlying spirit here — let’s assume it’s standard Early Times — but it is brought way down to 66 proof and spiced up with cinnamon. Continue reading

Review: Mickey Finn Irish Apple Whiskey

I’ve never quite understood the idea behind the Mickey Finn name. Yeah, it sounds Irish, but it really means a drink served to someone to knock them out (typically to take advantage of them in some way). Why you’d name your Irish whiskey brand after such a thing, I have no idea.

Mickey Finn makes an Irish whiskey (really, it’s made in Dublin) flavored with green apples (“natural apple flavors,” as the label explains). What’s the big idea with this? It is “fanciful,” also as the label suggests, to believe that in the Prohibition era whiskey was smuggled into the U.S. in apple barrels. I’m not sure how that translates to putting apple flavor into the whiskey itself, but I get the homage at least.

Mickey Finn looks like apple juice and tastes like what would happen if you put Apple Pucker into Irish whiskey. It is as difficult to drink as it is to fathom, two flavors that have no business being in the same glass together. The apple is overwhelming here, sour and chemical in character. The whiskey, barely there at all, almost a sweetish afterthought and hardly anything you’d identify with any authority.

Is this something I just “don’t get” or is it just the latest bad idea to come out of whiskeydom? You be the judge.

70 proof.

D / $24 / mickeyfinnwhiskey.com

Mickey Finn Apple Whiskey Review: Mickey Finn Irish Apple Whiskey

Review: Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky

The name says it all, pretty much: Canadian Rye whisky (a blend of whiskys aged 3 to 7 years — the 3, 5, and 7 refer to barrel ages) blended with Quebecois Canada 1 Light maple syrup (and caramel color). Distilled four times, it is aged in used Bourbon barrels and bottled at an odd 81 proof.

Results are significantly heavier on the Maple than the Rye. Deceptively light in color, the nose exudes the rich aroma of the forest, smoldering coals, pine cones, and wet leaves, all backed up with maple syrupy sweetness. This character hangs with you for a long while. Consumed neat, it’s got an epic finish you won’t soon forget.

There is whiskey character here, but it’s tough to peg it as Canadian rye — or any rye, or anything else specific, for that matter. Instead it comes off with more of a vague graininess somewhere in the middle of the experience, almost more like a dark beer extract than whiskey. But hey, maple syrup is a tough thing to do battle with.

Consumed solo this is all a bit much, but I can see how Tap 357 would make an exemplary ingredient for one of those modern cocktails where the sweetness comes from something other than simple sugar.

81 proof.

B / $36 / tap357.com [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

 Review: Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky

Review: Barenjager Honey & Bourbon

You just can’t kill this honey+whiskey trend. It’s so popular that now they’re coming at it from the honey side: Barenjager, one of the original honey-flavored liqueurs (if not the original honey liqueur), is adding Bourbon (from Kentucky, but of otherwise unknown origin) to its recipe to create a hybrid spirit just like, well, all the whiskey distilleries.

As expected, the German (nee Prussian) liqueur keeps the focus squarely on the honey, quite the opposite of most of these spirits, which let the whiskey do most of the talking. The honey flavor is rich and authentic, sweet and lightly smoky/woody, almost like hanging around a smoldering campfire. What’s missing is actually the Bourbon.  You get the lightest touch of it up front, just a little taste of whiskey on the tip of your tongue, but nothing at all that’s distinctly Bourbon. Whatever the case, the recipe does at least provide for a good balance of flavors. The body may be on the thick side, but it’s not overtly sweet or cloying.

But hey, it’s actually pretty good stuff. It’s a far cry from Tennessee Honey and other whiskey-heavy honey liqueurs, but if you’re looking for a bigger honey kick in your cocktail — or even want to sip something honey-flavored straight (it’s for my cold, ma!) — this new release does the trick quite nicely.

70 proof.

A- / $29 / barenjagerhoney.com

Barenjager Honey Bourbon Review: Barenjager Honey & Bourbon

Review: Bushmills Irish Honey

Now the Irish are getting into the honey whiskey thing. Bushmills Irish Honey is the first honey-flavored spirit (to my knowledge) from the Emerald Isle, a simple blend of original Bushmills, Irish honey, and Irish water, bottled in the traditionally squared Bushmills-style bottle.

The results are solid. As Jack Daniels proved with its Tennessee Honey liqueur, the key to getting this category right is going easy on the honey. Really easy.

Here, the whiskey does the bulk of the talking, as it should, and the honey hangs in the background, always there but never pushing its way to the forefront. Instead it’s really more like a light bodied whiskey that has honey as its primary character.

Beyond that, however, there’s not much to report. Like standard Bushmills the whiskey component is youthful and uncomplicated, heavy with grain character, cereal, and heather. The honey itself doesn’t offer any clues as to its heritage — no orange character, and so on — just a pleasant sweetness. Put together it’s like a grown-up, liquified version of Honeycomb cereal. I mean that in the best possible way imaginable.

70 proof.

A- / $25 / bushmills.com

bushmills irish honey Review: Bushmills Irish Honey

Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Honey Tea and Red Stag Spiced with Cinnamon

Red Stag — black cherry flavored Bourbon whiskey — was a bit pioneering on its own. And while it isn’t the only flavored whiskey we’ve encountered, now try this on: Two new versions of Red Stag (which is still based on a standard, four-year-old Bourbon), one with honey and tea flavors, one with cinnamon. I can’t be sure, but I believe this is the first flavored flavored whiskey to hit the market. We got an early taste of both of the new varieties. Here’s what we thought.

UPDATE: John, in the comments below, is correct. “Red Stag” is a new brand name, not an indicator of black cherry. So, no, there shouldn’t be black cherry notes in these. My bad.

Red Stag Honey Tea shouldn’t really surprise anyone — honey and tea are the two biggest flavors in the whiskey world right now. Now putting them together and adding them to whiskey that’s already black cherry flavored isn’t something I would have thought of. Sure enough, this is a convoluted spirit with a lot going on. The honey comes through the strongest, surprising me, and beating back the tea character handily. It’s a whole lot to deal with, but not entirely unpleasant. Basically, you should consider this to be Beam’s entry into the honey-flavored Bourbon category (everyone else in Kentucky has one) and less an expansion of the Red Stag line. B+

Red Stag Spiced with Cinnamon – Again, fairly self-explanatory? The cinnamon notes are strongest here, offering a light, Hot Tamales character to this spirit, punching aside just about everything else. There are some fruit notes in the nose, oddly enough, which is where the cinnamon barely comes through at all. Again, think of this one as cinnamon first, whiskey second. Not at all bad. B+

Both are 80 proof and arrive on shelves early this year.

each $18 / jimbeam.com

Red Stag Honey Tea and Spiced with Cinnamon Review: Jim Beam Red Stag Honey Tea and Red Stag Spiced with Cinnamon

Review: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

“It tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”

Cinnamon spice isn’t usually what people have in mind when they say a whiskey “burns,” but this 66-proof flavored oddity, made in Canada and bottled by Kentucky’s Sazerac Company, certainly doesn’t have much going on in the alco-burn department. But if you’re a fan of Hot Tamales candy and over the age of 21, you’re in luck: Fireball has managed to create a dead solid rendition of that confection.

There’s just no mistaking this whisky from the get-go. The nose is full of grated cinnamon and little else. This carries over to the body: Full of spice, a nice slug of sugar, and a long, lingering, cinnamon burn. Imagine crushing up Red Hots and steeping them in lower-proof alcohol — any alcohol will do, as Fireball doesn’t have a distinct whisky taste aside from a bit of brown sugar — and drink.

And yet, surprisingly, this isn’t a half-bad spirit. It’s not much of a departure from cinnamon schnapps, but the balance is right and the tastes are authentic. Candy-coated, to be sure, but with a week to go ’til Christmas, who’s complaining?

B+ / $17 / fireballwhisky.com

fireball cinnamon whisky Review: Fireball Cinnamon Whisky

Review: Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon

Firefly’s Sweet Tea Vodka was a pioneer in the tea-flavored vodka space. The South Carolina-based company has since expanded with multiple varieties (peach, mint, lemon, low-cal)… and now there’s this: Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon.

This category already exists (Jeremiah Weed has a stellar one), so the company has competition. Firefly’s version blend’s Buffalo Trace whiskey with real sweet tea (no vodka in this one, apparently), but bottles it at a mere 60 proof instead of 70, like regular Firefly. The result is, frankly, on the weak side, and a bit out of balance. The tea could be stronger, the Bourbon could be punchier, the combo a little more interesting. Instead, I get a kind of sugary wood character that doesn’t really taste like either of these great flavors. But I think the very heavy sugar finish is what undoes it the most.

Still, not an unpalatable quaff, and the nose is actually pretty spot-on, heavy with tea notes and a touch of Bourbon’s vanilla and wood character. It’s just too bad it doesn’t follow-through perhaps the way it could when it actually comes time to drink it.

B+ / $18 / fireflyvodka.com

Cocktail ideas from Firefly…

The Sweet Shot

1 part Firefly Sweet Tea Flavored Bourbon
½ part Firefly Raspberry Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka

Shake with ice and strain into a shot glass

Igniter Martini

In a shaker with ice mix:

2 parts Firefly Sweet Tea Flavored Bourbon
1/2 part cinnamon schnapps
Splash of cherry juice

Pour into chilled martini glass, sprinkle with cinnamon, add cherry garnish

Firefly Sunrise 

Fill a tall rocks glass with ice. Add:

1 part Firefly Sweet Tea Flavored Bourbon
½ part triple sec
Splash or orange juice
Splash of cranberry juice

Add orange wedge and a cherry garnish

Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon Review: Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon

Review: Drambuie 15 Liqueur

The original whiskey liqueur is as unmistakable as it is classic: Drambuie may not be a spirit for all tastes, but, like Galliano or Campari, it’s a staple you can’t help but admire, if for no other reason than sheer longevity.

Now Drambuie is launching a line extension — not its first, but the first I’ve ever seen — Drambuie 15, created with higher-end Scotch, namely 15-year-old Speyside malts, along with the usual honey and herbs to sweeten up the liqueur.

Darker than standard Drambuie, Drambuie 15 is immediately obvious as something different: The nose of regular Drambuie is cloyingly sweet. Drambuie 15 is much closer to a quality Scotch whisky. Just a hint of sweetness in there, really night and day compared to its big brother.

On the palate: Beautiful. Malty and rich, the Scotch base shines with nougat, citrus, and light honey notes. Sweet, for sure: It’s light and sugary on the finish, but the overall effect is one of a sweetened Scotch, rather, as is the case with original Drambuie, Scotch-flavored sugar.

What Drambuie has created here is actually a perfect Rusty Nail cocktail, prebottled and ready to go. At 86 proof it is dangerous and misleading — on the palate, the touch of sweetness masks the alcohol completely — so tread lightly.

The bottom line: I’d turn to Drambuie 15 in a heartbeat when your sweet tooth calls for it. Easily it’s one of my favorite whiskey liqueurs on the market now. Watch for it on store shelves soon.

A / $56 (one liter) / drambuie.com

Drambuie 15 Review: Drambuie 15 Liqueur

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Liqueur

Gotta say, Jack Daniel’s knows how to launch a product. The sample bottle of its new honey-and-whiskey liqueur came in a refrigerated box, for no particular reason — it certainly doesn’t need to be kept chilled at all times — except that it is intended to be served cold.

Well, it’s been in my fridge ever since. I figure if they’re going to go to that kind of trouble, I better do as I’m told.

Honey+whiskey liqueurs have been coming out in absurd quantities over the last few years, so it comes as no surprise that JD would get in the game. Its version is as credible as anyone else’s: Honey kills the whiskey, but the whiskey leaves its mark. JD’s 70 proof version is pretty light on the honey — this is more of a smooth bourbon than a syrupy liqueur — but the adulteration makes it clear what the aspiration is here: Rocks, after dinner, maybe an ingredient in a cocktail.

The palate offers more than just honey: There is wood, vanilla, lavender, and notable lemon character as the finish fades away. Charcoal touches come on as the finish disappears completely. As honey liqueurs go, this has a lot going on, and that’s, as they say, a good thing. Who would’ve thought that in the realm of honey liqueur, it would be Jack that came up with the best of the lot.

A / $22 / jackdaniels.com

Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Review: Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey Liqueur

Review: Jeremiah Weed Country Peach Sweet Tea Vodka and Sweet Tea Bourbon

We’ve discussed at length the obliviatory powers of Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Vodka, and now the company is back with a couple of extensions to the line. Get ready to rock, tea-sip style.

Both are 70 proof.

The first is unsurprising: Jeremiah Weed Country Peach Sweet Tea Vodka. I’ve never much understood the connection, but peaches and tea have gone hand in hand for decades, so it makes sense they’d be conjoined here in a flavored vodka. Like standard Jeremiah Weed, the Country Peach version looks like tea and smells a lot like it too. The difference: It’s considerably fruitier on the nose, though the peach is hard to peg, and on first taste it doesn’t scream tea leaves but very sweet fruit. I found the original Jeremiah Weed considerably more satisfying — its tea character is powerful and quite delicious — as the peach isn’t 100% convincing and leaves a lingering aftertaste that coats the mouth. B+ / $18

And now for something completely different… If you can flavor vodka, why not flavor Bourbon? Jeremiah Weed figured it would take two great southern tastes and put them together with Jeremiah Weed Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka & Bourbon Whiskey. The result: A winner. The nose is muted, giving few clues to the experience ahead, but the body offers the best of both worlds: Big sweet tea character, and a touch of bourbon’s sweetness and wood. To be honest, the overall effect is not dramatically different from Jeremiah Weed’s standard vodka, as the tea component is by far the strongest part of the blend and it still has vodka in the mix. For something just a little bit different, though, it’s a hit. A / $18

jeremiahweed.com

Review: Irish Mist Liqueur

By my count the sixth whiskey+honey combo liqueur we’ve discussed on this website, Irish Mist is as old as the hills… but updated and rebranded for the ’10s. The new bottle isn’t going to wow anyone with its uniqueness (hey, flared base!), but what’s inside may do the trick for you.

Of all the honey-flavored liqueurs I’ve tried, Irish Mist is probably the mildest around. It’s Irish whiskey imbued with honey and “natural aromatic spices,” but the flavor is quite muted. A touch of honey, maybe some cinnamon and cloves, all on a very mild whiskey base. It’s kind of surprising that it’s a full 70 proof — but served on the rocks it certainly helps out with ailments of the throat (guilty!).

A bit expensive at $28 a bottle, by the by.

B / $28 / irishmist.com

irish mist Review: Irish Mist Liqueur

Review: Evan Williams Honey Reserve Liqueur

Watch out American Honey, there’s another bourbon-inspired honey liqueur on the market, and it’s gonna be breathing down your neck but quick.

Evan Williams has turned in its own rendition on the honey-flavored liqueur, this one with the promise of “extra-aged bourbon” in the mix. It can’t be much — the color of this liqueur is a delicate gold — but it sure comes across on the tongue.

The nose really just hints at honey: The initial aroma is strong with citrus and a little bit of whiskey in there, too. The palate again reveals lots of orange character, and a moderate amount of honey. And then that extra-aged whiskey kicks in — a relatively straightforward, but rich, bourbon finish that plays on the tongue until the honey comes back for a final round.

Very smooth and easygoing, Honey Reserve is a powerful competitor to Wild Turkey’s version, again not too sweet and not too syrupy and definitely worth a try as an after-dinner digestif, on the rocks of course. Which is my favorite? By golly it’s neck and neck but, in the end, I have to give the slight nod to the newcomer, Evan Williams Honey Reserve.

70 proof. Arriving on shelves this month.

A- / $15 / evanwilliams.com

evan williams honey reserve Review: Evan Williams Honey Reserve Liqueur

Review: Red Stag by Jim Beam Black Cherry Bourbon

I don’t know what deer have to do with cherries, but you try coming up with a name for you black cherry-infused whiskey, OK?

Red Stag — which is Jim Beam bourbon “infused with natural flavors” (predominantly black cherry, one would assume) — is as good a name as any for what Beam has come up with here. We received one of only ten preview bottles distributed — and to be blunt, Red Stag tastes pretty much exactly how you’re expecting: It’s heavy on the cherry flavor, sweet to the point where it’s almost cloying, and the classic Jim Beam bourbon character takes a seat considerably further back in the bus.

The concoction — though a full 80 proof, unusual for a flavored spirit — is clearly targeted at the more novice whiskey drinker. There’s really no point in drinking this straight and, though it’s perfectly tolerable on its own (if a bit syrupy), it’s far more suited for mixing. It almost goes without saying that Coke is the obvious and natural companion for a cherry-flavored whiskey, and that’s definitely the way I’d recommend you try drinking it — or better yet, using it to woo bourbon neophytes toward sampling the elixir.

Don’t run to stores to grab a bottle just yet: It’s set to be officially released this June.

B / $18 / jimbeam.com

red stag by jim beam Review: Red Stag by Jim Beam Black Cherry Bourbon

Review: Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur

Honey- and whiskey-based liqueuers are nothing new. Drambuie, of course, is the classic by which others are measured. There’s also another honey+Scotch spirit called Lochan Ora, and one from Macallan called Amber (which is actually flavored with maple syrup instead of honey).

American Honey is the first American version of this spirit that I’ve seen: A blend of Wild Turkey whiskey and real honey to give you, well, honey-flavored whiskey.

At 71 proof, you get an idea going in how much honey is in the blend, and overall I think it’s a success. The honey isn’t overpowering but you can still get a good taste of it, and it’s not too viscous and sweet, a common complaint with Drambuie.

Mind you, it’s still a honey-sweet experience, though the nose doesn’t really suggest such. There are some flowery herbs (lavender?) in the finish, but it’s a real hunt to find them. I could see all manner of dessert drinks coming out of this spirit, but it was just fine consumed straight… just leave a good gap between your dram and dinner. It really blows out the palate if you’re planning on having something savory later on.

B+ / $22 / wildturkeybourbon.com

wild turkey american honey Review: Wild Turkey American Honey Liqueur