Review: Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine

Popcorn Barrel Finished - TransparentPopcorn Sutton fans take note: A limited edition, barrel-finished version of the company’s moonshine is now arriving. This expression ages Popcorn’s white whiskey in a new oak barrel with a #3 char. No length of aging is stated, but the company does note that it includes no caramel color or grain neutral spirit added. You might expect otherwise, though, given the intense brown color of the resulting whiskey.

On the nose, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished Moonshine offers the traditional notes of a very young bourbon or other American whiskey — heavy wood influence, modest vanilla, and a touch of charred popcorn. Sweetness persists beneath all of this, more molasses than the cane sugar of straight Popcorn Sutton.

The body is in line with expectations, a mix of dusky charcoal notes, pure sugar, vanilla cream, and buttered popcorn. This all comes together more effectively than you’d expect, though the finish has a lot of that chalky, soot-laden character, indicating youth. At the same time, Popcorn Sutton Barrel Finished isn’t particularly rustic, its sweetness managing to smooth out the experience enough to at least make the spirit wholly approachable, if not exactly elevated.

Remember, of course, this is still moonshine — just moonshine that’s been given a taste of the “real” whiskey lifestyle.

92 proof.

B / $50 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Beach Whiskey Original and Island Coconut

beach whiskey

I say coconut-flavored spirit. You say… whiskey?

It’s hard to believe, particularly with a name like “Beach” and pastel-colored bottles, but this really is a corn-based product. A pure corn, white whiskey is the one in white. Red is a cinnamon spirit (not reviewed here) and blue is the coconut whiskey. Coconut whiskey. Still can’t get used to saying that.

Anyway, let’s give this Florida-born product a shot, if we can stop thinking about pina coladas for a minute.

Beach Whiskey Original – An unflavored moonshine. Fairly restrained on the nose, with a touch of kettle corn character — it’s both corny and lightly sweet. On the palate, the whiskey is surprisingly watery, with little more flavor than your typical shot of vodka. A slightly medicinal astringency only compounds that impression, though those corn chip notes come along more powerfully on the finish. A surprisingly harmless moonshine, this is a definitive white whiskey for anyone who’s been afraid to dip a toe in the category. 80 proof. B / $NA

Beach Whiskey Island Coconut – Coconut-flavored and watered down, you’d be forgiven for assuming this is Malibu based on the nose. Hints of pineapple add a touch of something different on the tongue, but it isn’t until the finish that a touch of that popcorn and brown butter character comes along to remind you that there’s whiskey at the core of this. At 26% abv, maybe not much whiskey, but enough to keep things from sliding into the rum world completely. 52 proof. B- / $NA

beachwhiskey.com

Review: Redemption White Rye, Rye, High-Rye Bourbon, and Straight Bourbon (2016)

redemption.pngIt’s been four years since we last checked in with Redemption Whiskey, one of the best-known bottlers of spirits sourced from Indiana-based MGP.

Redemption’s cylindrical bottles are as iconic as its rather singular focus: Rye whiskey, a category which Redemption was fanatical about before rye was cool. All of its products are rye-heavy, and even its “straight bourbon” is made from a mash of 21% rye, which is heavy when you look at the full market.

Things have changed a bit for Redemption over the years — the company was acquired by Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits in June of 2015 and it now markets a high-end line of cask strength whiskeys as well (reviews coming soon). The core line has evolved as well, and we’ll analyze some of these in the updated writeups below.

Let’s get going!

Redemption White Rye Batch 002 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley. This is essentially the straight rye, unaged. It’s surprisingly fruity on the nose, with strong notes of lemon and pineapple, alongside some roasted grains and coconut notes. That’s a lot for a white whiskey, but the palate keeps things rolling with more of that citrus, notes of coconut husks, and some mint. Hospital notes emerge with time — not uncommon for a white whiskey — but the finish of sugared grains, marshmallow, and menthol really take this in another direction. An unusually worthwhile example of a well-crafted white dog. 92 proof. B+ / $24

Redemption Rye Batch 189 – 95% rye, 5% malted barley, aged in new oak “less than 4 years.” Redemption’s best-known product, it does not appear to have undergone significant changes, offering a light body, ample granary character, and hospital overtones. Some menthol develops on the palate late in the game, with bittersweet cocoa powder notes on the back end. I like this less today than I did four years ago, but whether that is my palate or the spirit in the bottle is up for debate. 92 proof. B- / $27 [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption High-Rye Bourbon Batch 094 – 36% rye, 4% malted barley, and 60% corn, aged “no less than 500 days.” This product has changed a bit since 2011, when it was 38.2% rye and 1.8% barley, aged over two years. So: a touch less rye, a touch less age. They’re different on the palate, too. I still have Batch 010 on hand and it has a depth that 094 is missing to a degree. There’s nothing wrong with this bourbon, but it certainly drinks young. Lots of granary character kicks things off, though there’s burnt sugar, licorice, cloves, and some mint to spice things up. A bit of toasted coconut on the finish adds more nuance, but the overall impression remains one of youth. Redemption clearly has a demand to fill and buyers who don’t mind drinking a very young spirit, but there’s no question that this whiskey would see much improvement after another few years in barrel — economics be damned. 92 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Redemption Straight Bourbon Whiskey Batch 004 – This used to be called Temptation Bourbon, but otherwise looked exactly like the Redemption bottles, only with a green label. Now it’s all just Redemption, and this one’s made from 21% rye, 4% malted barley, and 75% corn, aged over two years. Lower in proof than all of the above. Traditional in structure, this bourbon offers fresh vanilla, caramel, and a bit of barrel char right on the nose. A bit dusky, clove notes emerge with sustained sniffing. On the tongue, the lighter alcohol level is immediately noticeable, giving the whiskey a softer attack and a gentleness that the punchier high-rye formulation lacks. That’s just fine with me, as it lets the sweetness, some baking spice, black tea, and little hints of orange peel come to the fore. The finish is a bit muddy, but otherwise it’s a worthwhile endeavor for a whiskey that’s clearly quite young. 84 proof. B+ / $26  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

redemptionrye.com

Review: Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey – Orange Peel and Spiced Apple

bonnie roseIt hasn’t taken long, but flavored white whiskeys — most visibly in the form of brightly-colored flavored moonshines — are starting to gain in the marketplace as producers look for a way to make these very young spirits palatable to a wider audience.

Bonnie Rose is white Tennessee whiskey (which alone is unusual), and it isn’t even available at all in an unflavored version. We got both flavors — orange peel and spiced apple — to put through the paces. Thoughts follow.

Both are 70 proof.

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Orange Peel Flavor – Very strong on the nose with notes of orange candies (not so much “peel”). On the tongue, a similar citrus-forward sweetness emerges — and endures for the long haul. There’s only a modest graininess underpinning the sweet sugar notes up top, effectively wiped away by the flavoring elements. Nothing shocking here. B-

Bonnie Rose Tennessee White Whiskey Spiced Apple Flavor – Heavy cinnamon-applesauce notes fill the air as soon as this is uncorked, and it offers dense and largely pleasant apple cider notes on the nose when the glass is poured. Though less immediately sweet than the Orange Peel expression, this whiskey is equally effective at masking the granary notes with flavoring agents, although the finish has moments of astringency and some bursts of popcorn. B

each $17 / bonnierosewhiskey.com

Review: Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine

popcorn suttonDon’t know Popcorn Sutton? Pshaw! The man wrote the book — literally, and he self-published it — on how to make moonshine. Sutton passed away in 2009, but you can still get a copy of Me and My Likker for, oh, $500.

If you’ve never seen a picture of Sutton, stop and click this link. The better to understand the kind of man we’re talking about, and the kind of product we’re dealing with. By all accounts, Sutton was a fanatic — about one thing: Making moonshine. Out in the hills of Tennessee, he’d work grain and sugar into sparkling sugar shine and, again by all accounts, that was it. The man had no use for the trappings of modern society (though he did manage to get married). He kept his future casket in his living room and the footstone of his own design, reading “Popcorn Said Fuck You,” be placed on his grave when he died. The family ignored the request — Sutton committed suicide to avoid going to prison for, of course, making moonshine.

And so we get to his namesake, Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe Moonshine. With Sutton dead and buried, enterprising types have taken to commercializing his work. In 2010, Hank Williams Jr. and Sutton’s widow Pam joined forces to produce a commercial moonshine called Popcorn Sutton’s Tennessee White Whiskey. The product was a big hit, but after a suit with Jack Daniel’s (since settled), namely over the bottle design, the spirit was relaunched as Popcorn Sutton Small Batch Recipe in late 2015. (The production and spirit inside have not changed, however, and it is still reportedly made according to his recipe, just a few miles from Sutton’s old home.)

Things are moving for the brand. Last year, George Dickel master distiller John Lunn took over as Popcorn Sutton’s head distiller. If you’ve ever met or seen Lunn, you know he’s about as far from Sutton as you can get, but one has to assume he’s keeping the fires lit the way Popcorn wanted them.

So, on to the tasting…

The heavy grain and milder petrol notes on the nose of Popcorn Sutton are indistinct and could be tasting notes for just about any white whiskey. While the aroma is nothing special, the body is about as good as white lightning gets. Initially quite sweet — Sutton likely uses a lot of sugar in the recipe — it ping-pongs from notes of popcorn and rolled oats to fresh simple syrup. A touch grassy, it finishes on a note of bitter tree bark, which I can only imagine Sutton chawing on while he stokes the fires of his stills. Otherwise it leaves things fairly fresh and clean, which may come as a surprise to drinkers expecting a firebomb on their tongue. All in all, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘shine. Guess the man knew what he was doing.

88 proof.

B+ / $25 / popcornsutton.com

Review: Anchor Distilling Christmas Spirit White Whiskey 2015

christmas spiritEvery year, the folks at Anchor Distilling take the prior year’s Anchor Christmas Ale, distill it, and turn it into an unaged white whiskey. Last year it was known as Christmas Spirit, as it is again for 2015.

The 2015 Christmas Spirit is classic white whiskey, cut with notes of seasonally appropriate herbs and pine needles. Moderately rubbery — a commonality found in most white whiskeys — the body showcases milk chocolate notes, more evergreen, and a touch of citrus at times. The finish is heavy with both rubber and petrol notes, and it goes out on a surprisingly heavy bitter note.

This 2015 bottling is definitely the most white whiskey-like of the three renditions of this spirit I’ve sampled to date (which invariably veer in the direction of gin). And that is not necessarily a compliment.

90 proof. Available in California only until December 31.

B- / $55 / anchordistilling.com

Review: Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskeys

lovell bros Georgia Sour Mash WhiskeyAs the story goes, this line of “sour mash whiskeys” — basically liquor made from corn that’s cut with a little malted barley — got its start in Mt. Airy, Georgia thanks to Carlos Lovell, the son of a son of a son of a moonshiner who finally decided to take the 150-year-old family business legit. Lovell Bros. was officially launched in 2012 — when Carlos was 84 years old.

What you’re looking at is fancy moonshine, though Carlos would probably bristle at that term. Both of these products — one straight white dog, one lightly aged — are the real deal and incredible bargains alike.

Let’s taste.

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash (White Whiskey) – Rustic on the nose, this unaged whiskey feels like it’s going to be a moon-shiny heat bomb, but those aromas of grain and petrol lead to some surprising places. Namely, there’s lots of fruit on the palate of this white spirit, apples and peaches and coconut — before some gentle notes of roasted grains wash over the lot. The finish is warming and lengthy with hints of chocolate, soothing and coming across as anything but the firewater you might expect. As good a white whiskey as you’re going to find on the market today. 95 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. A- / $23

Lovell Bros. Georgia Sour Mash Whiskey – Take the above and age it for an unstated amount of time in old Jack Daniel’s barrels and you have this, distinguished by the brown color and the addition of the word “whiskey” to the name. A surprising degree of lumberyard wafts across the nose, washing back much of the inherent grain character present in the white dog. Some baking spice and vanilla notes mingle with the wood, too. But as with the white whiskey, the body again tells a different tale than the nose. Here we find stronger baking spices, more baked apples than fresh ones, and a woodsy, frontier character that arrives almost with a smoky note. Very young, but surprisingly easy to sip on — and with none of the lingering heat of the white dog. 86 proof. Reviewed: Batch #5. B+ / $23

lovellbroswhiskey.com