In Clay County, Florida, along the swampy banks of the St. John River, exists a little bitty city known as Green Cove Springs, population 9,784. During the late ’60s, the members of Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd, unable to practice in their hometown of Jacksonville, Florida due to noise complaints, would drive 20 miles down US 17 to that aforementioned little bitty city. There, original band member Ronnie Van Zant had a little bitty dockside shack where they’d jam and compose anthems like “Simple Man,” “Gimme Three Steps,” and eventually, “Free Bird.” It was cramped and it was hot as hell. They named this little bitty practice space Hell House.
Fifty-something years on from those halcyon days, Hell House is no more: It is simply a vacant lot in the corner of a private subdivision known as Edgewater Landing. After the untimely death of the property’s steward in the fall of 2022, followed by a protracted battle with Edgewater’s HOA over the placement of a historical marker in the spring of 2023, it’s most recently been reported that the property is going up for sale, presumably the future site of a condo or duplex.
But fear not, for the name lives on in the form of Hell House American Whiskey. A collaboration between the current incarnation of the band and proprietary rapid maturation specialists Bespoken Spirits, Hell House claims:
With a captivating honey-amber appearance, Hell House unleashes aromas of honeydew, sorbet, butterscotch, and allspice. The palate reveals cotton candy sweetness and floral hints of rose and lavender. Its oak-driven finish leaves a sweet and spicy lingering allure. Crafted for all to savor, experience the journey of Hell House Whiskey’s extraordinary flavors.
The label’s an admittedly classy presentation, lightly evocative of the Jack Daniel’s bottles seen in many of the band’s press and backstage photos (note: bandleader Van Zant’s drink of choice was J&B), while the liquid is a deeper, richer red than the above quote describes. It’s pretty, reminiscent of a cask strength, Port-finished bourbon.
On the nose is where it starts to unravel, and fast. It’s cloyingly sweet, all disparate butterscotch and light char that, together, come off as glutinous. The mashbill, a mouthwatering-on-paper 89% corn, 10% rye, and 1% barley, doesn’t have enough depth to support whatever “Tailored Wood Finishing” has been applied to it. This continues onto the palate, where whiffs of florality and licorice on the front palate and finish are overwhelmed by sweet, inorganic caramel and cocoa. A waxy, liqueur-filled chocolate egg by way of R.M. Palmer, the notes feel dissonant and insincere.
Not quite whiskey-flavored vodka, it reads like a facsimile of American whiskey – not interesting enough to be undrinkable, not drinkable enough to be interesting, as if someone asked Siri to tell ChatGPT to design them a bourbon.
Less of a Hell House, and more of a little bitty Hell Duplex.
D / $50 / hellhousewhiskey.com