Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey

sons of liberty Pumpkins with award

Pumpkin spice apparently knows no bounds. Now here it, in our whiskey!

Sons of Liberty is a craft distiller out of Rhode Island, focusing on American single malts as well as seasonal, flavored whiskies. In addition to a hop-flavored whiskey there’s this pumpkin one, which is focused on fall.

The base of the spirit is SoL’s single malt, a young NAS spirit, which is flavored with juice made from thousands of pounds of roasted, pressed pumpkins, plus a touch of traditional holiday spices — cloves, allspice, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange. When bottled, it is a deep, reddish brown, the color of very old brandy.

If you’re expecting a Starbucks-class sugar bomb, walk away. This is not a sweetened whiskey, but is quite literally a blend of young American malt with actual pumpkin juice and a bit of stuff from the spice rack. The nose is coffeelike, with a dusting of cloves, tea leaf, tobacco (cigars, really), and roasted grains. The pumpkin is much more evident on the body, where roasted gourds make a distinct — and unique — appearance. The combination of pure pumpkin and young whiskey makes for a bizarre experience in the mouth, with those vegetal squash notes waging war with brash, young malt character. Cinnamon comes along at the end, but it’s that coffee note that hits hardest on the finish, making for a reprise that feels a lot like you’re scooping out the dregs of the coffee maker at the office and taking a big bite out of sludge that’s in there.

This is an overwhelming style of whiskey but it’s wholly unique and worth experiencing, even if just to experience once what a madman can do with a copper still and a few tons of holiday squash.

80 proof. Reviewed: Batch #1.

B- / $40 / solspirits.com

Review: Kennedy Irish Whiskey “Spirit Drink” Complete Lineup

kennedy irish

Irish whiskey is all the rage right now — it’s the fastest growing spirit category there is — and there’s a mad rush going on in Ireland to build stills, increase production, and otherwise squeeze every dollar out of this market before everyone moves on to something else, probably rum.

Kennedy is a new launch of Irish Whiskey — er, “Spirit Drink.” I’m still trying to sort all this out, so bear with me. Here’s how the Kennedy label breaks out.

Upon a sticker stylized like an old Celtic helmet it reads KENNEDY in big letters, then ORIGINAL underneath. In delicate italics beneath that: Spirit Drink. Then in even smaller italics: “Oak Filtered & Hand Crafted using.” Then, larger block letters: “Whiskey with natural flavor & caramel.”

OK, so points for truth in labeling, I think, but points off for confusing the hell out of your consumer along the way. What is “oak filtered,” exactly? Check the back label and you’ll see that “Kennedy’s Spirit is a delicate fusion of the finest Celtic whiskies and malt to insure a unique, challenging and august drinking experience. Kennedy’s Spirit, handcrafted in West Cord, Ireland, is infused with Irish and Bourbon oak using a proprietary infusion process and steeped in malt through an artisan and near-forgotten technique.”

So, yeah.

Your guess is as good as mind about what all that means, but basically my deduction is this is a mix of various Irish whiskeys and grain spirits, somehow pressure treated with oak to artificially age it more quickly. Caramel is added liberally, based on the color, though your guess is as good as mine as to what the natural flavors referenced here are.

And that’s just the “original.” There are four flavored versions of the spirit available, too. Or, rather, more flavored.

So, with that out of the way, let’s taste them all!

Kennedy Original – A slight sugar character on the nose, with a malty, cereal character to it. Touches of honey and cinnamon dust the body, which is otherwise a soft caramel, lightly woody, mostly watery character to it. The overall impact is one of Irish whiskey that’s already been liberally doused with water. It goes down easy enough, but the finish is weak and a touch astringent, leaving behind a touch of hospital character as it fades. 80 proof. C+

Kennedy Spiced – Infused with visible, solid spices (including anise and cinnamon) floating around in the bottle. Tons of cinnamon on the nose. The body has an essence more akin to vanilla blended with dried apples — with that anise making a strong showing as a somewhat weird secondary note. I would have dropped the licorice components and pumped up the cloves, but that’s just me. At least there’s more going on here, even if it doesn’t come together the way you might hope. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Honeyed – Infused with vanilla and honey. Contains visible, fine sediment (but not big chunks like in the Spiced expression). It’s more hazelnut than honey on the nose, but the finish builds to more of an earthy honey character. Minimal whiskey character, though. 70 proof. B-

Kennedy Limed – Green, lime whiskey? Why not. Again, light sediment from flavoring involving vanilla and lime juice. Not as bad as you are expecting, but a bit like drinking a slug of Rose’s Lime Juice straight. Sweeter than most of the other whiskeys in this lineup, a necessity to offset the sour lime flavors. The color is beyond off-putting. Clearly this is designed exclusively as a mixer… but with what? When the label copy calls the product “intiguing,” you know something ain’t right. C-

Kennedy Chilied – Bright red, it is flavored with chili pepper and paprika(!). Wow, this is intensely hot — far hotter than your typical “pepper vodka.” I can see this doing brisk business as frat kids make bets with each other and buy shots to dare each other to drink. It’s a fiery, habanero-style burn that singes the lips and sticks in the throat for minutes. A hint of honey sweetness helps temper the burn. Discriminating it ain’t, but daredevils should go for it. B

each about $17 / westcorkdistillers.com

Review: Wild Turkey American Honey Sting

stingIs the honey-flavored whiskey thing coming to an end? Now, Wild Turkey is releasing a limited edition flavored flavored whiskey: American Honey Sting, a crazy expression of the classic American Honey that is spiked with the infamous ghost pepper, the hottest chili pepper in the world. No relation to this guy.

Honey-flavored whiskies have rapidly become the most boring category of spirits on earth. Dump some honey into cheap bourbon, Canadian, Scotch, or Irish whiskey — all of these have honey expressions on the market now — and it sweetens things up while smoothing out the harsher elements of a lesser spirit. Sure, not all honey whiskies are made equal — a few are quite good, some are truly awful — but for the most part they are hard to distinguish from one another.

And so, with Sting, at least we’re getting something different. While it might foretell the end of the honey whiskey market, it might be the beginning of something entirely new in this space. Honey-plus whiskies. God help us.

As for Sting itself, there’s little up front to cue you in to anything out of the ordinary with this product. Even the name “Sting” on the bottle is understated. I expect many purchasers of this spirit won’t have any idea what they’re buying because there’s no picture of a cartoon chili pepper on the bottle.

That may not be such a problem, though. Despite the spooky threat of the ghost pepper, Sting is surprisingly understated. I’ve had far hotter spirits in the past, and some of those were flavored with little more than cayenne or jalapenos. The nose starts out with pure honey liqueur — and with just a touch of woody bourbon to it — with just a hint of heat if you breathe it in deep. Give it some time and it starts to singe the nostrils a bit, but it’s fully manageable. But that takes time. A cursory sniff reveals nothing out of the ordinary.

The body starts of with that well-oiled, thick honey sweetness — and then you figure you’ll wait for the heat to hit. You might be waiting for quite a while. In my experience with Sting, that heat was hit and miss. Some sips would offer none at all. Some would end with a pleasant warmth coating the back of the throat for about a minute. There’s nothing scorching or quick-give-me-some-milk burning, really, just a nice balance of sweet and hot — at least most of the time.

While the absence of heat in some encounters with Sting are a little strange, they don’t really impact the enjoyment of the spirit in a negative. In fact, they kind of make things fun. Will this round be simple honey… or will it come with a kick? I had fun with it, anyway.

71 proof.

A- / $23 / americanhoney.com

Review: William Wolf Pecan Bourbon

william wolf pecan bourbonWilliam Wolf Bourbon is made in Holland of all places, and it’s the only product under this curious brand so far. It’s made from American bourbon and infused with natural flavors — but otherwise we know almost nothing about the product except that there’s a cartoon wolf playing a banjo on the label. Presumably this is William.

There’s a really big nutty/sweet nose here, almost like a praline. The body starts off mildly sweet then quickly builds. What arises is a curious blend of dissolved sugar, pecan extract, and modest vanilla notes. It’s pleasant and fun, but a bit overwhelming after awhile. The initially modest sweetness quickly builds… and builds… to the point where the whiskey develops a candylike character. After half a glass the finish has gotten so sweet that it coats the palate with a nutty sweet unctuousness that’s tough to shake.

On the whole it’s a uniquely fun product that’s worth tasting — but my hunch is that it will work better as a (minor) cocktail ingredient.

60 proof.

B / $26 / thinklikeawolf.com

Review: Berentzen Bushel & Barrel Apple Whiskey and Icemint Schnapps

berentzen

Founded in 1758 in Haselünne, Germany, Berentzen is known for its eponymous apple liqueur, as well as some other fruit liqueurs. The company is expanding — hey, 250 years is long enough to wait — recently adding two new products to its lineup. We got ’em both, and put them to the Drinkhacker test.

Berentzen Bushel & Barrel is “straight bourbon whiskey, neutral spirits, caramel coloring, and natural flavors.” Made with the apple juice-based Berentzen liqueur, this is a credible apple-pie-in-a-glass beverage, featuring silky-sweet apple juice notes balanced by a healthy slug of vanilla, cinnamon, and cloves. Sweet, but not overwhelmingly so, and with just hints of those “neutral spirits” that provide a bit of a chemical character by way of aftertaste. Perfectly serviceable for those in love with apple cocktails, but you can approximate the same thing by splashing some standard bourbon into a glass of Berentzen if you don’t need a short cut. 60 proof. B / $22

Berentzen Icemint Schnapps is a “supermint” schnapps according to the company, and I’d say that’s fairly on point. I’m hardly an aficionado of peppermint schnapps, but Berentzen’s offering is surprisingly intriguing. The nose offers a light eucalyptus menthol note, and it’s surprisingly gentle. I couldn’t detect any real alcohol burn in it at all. On the palate it’s equally easygoing. The body is icy cool and appropriately minty, with wispy hints of chocolate, altogether coming across much like an after-dinner mint. It doesn’t drink at all like it’s overproof, which makes it a bit dangerous. Try sipping on a half-shot as a digestif. No more. No shooters. 100 proof. A / $25

berentzenusa.com

Review: American Born Moonshine

american born moonshine

Moonshine continues to grow as a category, and this Nashville-based producer, founded in 2012, is getting its first products on the market in its home state, plus four others. Featuring mason jar bottles with a custom pouring system built into the lid, the company aims to class up an (often intentionally) unsexy industry.

Purportedly made from a 200 year old recipe, American Born Moonshine uses a 100% corn mash that’s sweetened with sugar. Two flavored (and lower-proof) versions are also on the market. We tasted them all, straight out of mini Mason jars.

Thoughts follow.

American Born Moonshine Original White Lightning – Unaged and overproof, this moonshine is the legit stuff. Popcorn and cane sugar on the nose, it’s got a surprising level of refinement lacking from most moonshines, presenting some measure of balance from the start. On the tongue, the popcorn fades to reveal more sweetness, almost like that from grape juice, plus notes of toasted marshmallow, marzipan, and nougat. Sippable on its own, but more intriguing as a mixer, and one of the best white corn whiskeys you’ll find on the market right now. 103 proof. A-

American Born Moonshine Apple Pie – One of the most popular of flavors for moonshines these days, American Born’s apple pie flavored ‘shine is heavier on tart apple notes and lighter on those traditional apple spice characters like cinnamon and cloves. The nose hints at more, but the juicy body is more akin to cider than pie. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not exactly what’s on the label — and who wants a glass of juice when they could be eating pie? 83 proof. B

American Born Moonshine Dixie Sweet Tea – Tea flavoring has been fading from the vodka world for a while, but here it shows its face again. In fact, the company claims this is the first sweet tea-flavored moonshine on the market. ABM’s rendition is sweet first, tea second, though both components come through in spades. The slightly corny finish adds an interesting spin, but I can’t say I prefer it to a more straightforward tea-flavored vodka. As with its compatriots, it’s easily enjoyable on the whole. 83 proof. A-

each $25 / americanbornmoonshine.com

Review: Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur and Maple Bourbon

sapling

Maple syrup continues to grow as a cocktail trend, and enterprising Vermonters are using it directly to make their own spirits.

Enter Sapling, aka Saxtons River Distillery in Brattleboro, Vermont, which produces a maple syrup liqueur and a maple-infused Bourbon. (There’s also a maple-infused Rye, not reviewed here.) All are made from Grade A Vermont maple syrup from the state’s Green Mountains.

Thoughts follow.

Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur Whiskey – Three year old Bourbon is blended with maple syrup, then matured a second time in oak. The results are, well, maply. The nose is curious — a combination of Madeira, tawny Port, cinnamon, and rum raisin notes. On the body, the sugar level is nothing short of massive. Intense with brown/almost burnt sugar notes and plenty more of that madeirized wine character, the thick syrup character that makes up the body feels like it was just tapped from the tree. Whiskey is just a wispy hint in this spirit, a touch of vanilla that feels added into the mix an eyedrop at a time. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)

Sapling Vermont Maple Liqueur – Unsurprisingly, it’s extremely similar to the version blended with whiskey. Most of the same notes of the above — Madeira, port, cinnamon — are all in play here again, only on a more muted basis. If anything, this liqueur is a less overwhelming spirit, though it’s also a somewhat less intriguing one, as some of those more subtle vanilla and spice notes present in the former spirit come up short here. 70 proof. B / $36 (375ml)

saplingliqueur.com

Review: Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire

Jack Daniel's Tennessee Fire Bottle

JD jumped into the honey-flavored whiskey market and made massive waves. Why not try it again with cinnamon?

Tennessee Fire is a classic cinnamon-infused spirit, with a nose that’s immediately redolent of Red Hots, but not overpowering. The body is more quiet and candylike than, well, fiery. The palate starts off sweet, with vanilla caramel notes, essentially classic JD, with the attention of some apple cider character in the mid-palate. The cinnamon comes along later, well tempered with plenty of sugar to keep the cinnamon candy notes from searing the roof of your mouth. This is fine — no one is drinking these whiskeys because they enjoy pain — but Jack’s rendition ends up a little over-sweetened, the way too much Equal leaves a funky taste on your tongue.

The bottom line: JD may have mastered honey, and Tennessee Fire is mostly harmless, but I think other cinnamon whiskeys do this style better.

The test launch of “Jack Fire” (as you are invited to call it) begins in April in Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.

70 proof.

B+ / $22 / jackdaniels.com

Review: Sinfire Cinnamon Whisky

SinFire _New_BottleOregon-based Hood River Distillers has recently rebranded Sinfire, a cinnamon whisky (no “e” on this one) that was launched only two years ago in February 2012. The highlight of the relaunch: “Best served as a 32-degree shot, Sinfire now features a thermochromic temperature-triggered color-changing label to help consumers know exactly when it reaches optimum temperature. The label also incorporates photochromic ink, which brightens the logo when exposed to UV lights.”

Well, then!

We’ve never sampled Sinfire (tagline: “an evil spirit”), so what better time than the present to give it a go?

Cinnamon-flavored whiskey doesn’t typically involve a ton of nuance, and Sinfire is pretty straightforward from the start. The nose is quite mild, more cinnamon toast than cinnamon straight from the jar. On the palate, it’s remarkably easygoing, with one of the lowest overall levels of spice I’ve encountered in this type of spirit. Oddly, it’s not as overwhelmingly sweet as you might expect but rather uses its buttery, creamy body to smooth out the roughness that’s typical of cinnamon whiskeys. The sweetness hits you mid-palate, more of a brown sugar, and the cinnamon pops up most presently on the moderately racy endgame.

Surprisingly well-made, Sinfire proves that you don’t have to blast out your customers’ sinuses with spices in order to craft a rich and soothing spirit. Hardly evil.

70 proof.

A- / $18 / hrdspirits.com

Review: Chicken Cock Flavored Whiskeys

chicken-cock-whiskey

Chicken Cock!

I can’t do the origin story justice. Here it is in the distiller’s own words.

Originally established in 1856 in Paris, Kentucky, Chicken Cock quickly became a significant 19th century Bourbon brand. Forced to move production to Canada during Prohibition, Chicken Cock was smuggled across the border in tin cans, where it rose to fame as a popular pour at some of the era’s most famous speakeasies, including the eminent Cotton Club in Harlem. When patrons ordered a “Chicken Cock,” waiters would present the tin can tableside and ceremoniously open it to reveal the bottle of Chicken Cock Whiskey inside. With an aluminum package and bold, new flavors, Chicken Cock Whiskey is back to once again bend the rules in the 21st Century.

Returning to its southern roots, Chicken Cock is bottled in Charleston, South Carolina in three different varieties – Chicken Cock Southern Spiced Whiskey, Chicken Cock Cinnamon Whiskey, and Chicken Cock Root Beer Whiskey.  Each is a flavorful blend of all natural ingredients and 86 Proof American Whiskey. A salute to the legendary tin cans, the bottles are made of 100% aluminum to facilitate and retain the optimal temperature for sipping chilled shots or mixing signature cocktails. Whether in a Southern Spiked Tea (Southern Spiced & Sweet Tea), a Root Beer Julep, or a Chicken’s Inferno (Cinnamon & Ginger Beer), Chicken Cock is adding a new dimension of flavor and quality to Southern classics.

These three narrow aluminum cans o’ unspecified, flavored whiskey make quite a statement, with their boasting rooster and that unforgettable name emblazoned at the top. Here’s how they shake out. As noted above, each is bottled at 86 proof.

Chicken Cock Root Beer Flavored Whiskey – The nose is a perfect recreation of root beer, but the body mixes it in with some standard-grade, heavy-wood whiskey… and as you sip on it the whiskey takes over. What starts with a nicely biting, root beer character fades into little more than sawdusty lumberyard notes. It’s not unpleasant, and I expect root beer fans will get a little kick out of this, considering how easy it goes down in the end, although it ultimately has little of substance to say. B-

Chicken Cock Southern Spiced Flavored Whiskey – The spices in question appear to be vanilla and ginger, maybe a touch of cinnamon, giving this a bit of a pumpkin pie spice character to it. Not bad, and it’s more balanced with the whiskey than the root beer version, offering a sweet ‘n’ savoriness that’s pleasant on its own but blends well with mixers. B

Chicken Cock Cinnamon Flavored Whiskey – A quite credible cinnamon whiskey. The spice is present but not overwhelming and mouth-scorching like so many cinnamon-focused spirits. Again, the nose is strong and focused, with the body a looser conflagration of cinnamon spice and moderate wood notes. But here the cinnamon wins out, kicked with a touch of vanilla that complements the spicier notes well. B+

each $20 / chickencockwhiskey.com