Review: The Spirits of Sugarlands Shine

Don’t look now, but one of the busiest distilleries in the country — based on tourism visits — is Sugarlands Distilling, in the Great Smoky Mountains of eastern Tennessee. A connection with the popular show Moonshiners doesn’t hurt, nor does the vast product lineup, which includes 21 varieties of moonshine, rum, and liqueurs, which range from a straight white rye to a peanut butter and jelly moonshine, all bottled in (incredibly messy) mason jars. Candy- and dessert-flavored ‘shines are a particularly specialty of the operation.

It’s impossible to keep on top of all of these flavors — there will be more by the time you read this — so consider this a representative sampling of what Sugarlands is up to. Thoughts follow.

Sugarlands Shine Silver Cloud Moonshine – This corn and cane sugar moonshine is the starting point for much of what Sugarlands makes, and it’s a fair enough ‘shine to get you going. Plenty popcorny at the start, particularly on the nose, the spirit offers hints of vanilla and cinnamon but otherwise drinks relatively flatly but cleanly, with a jet fuel-soaked finish — that classic moonshine pungency. 100 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Unaged Rye – Billed as a rye, though no mashbill information is available. This is a more classic white whiskey, loaded with popcorn and roasted grains, with a subtle undercoat of baking spice. Lacking the sugar of the moonshine, the finish is rougher and more rustic, with a mushroom and tobacco note, plus some hints of baked bread. 100 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine – Less sweet than many an apple pie moonshine, the raw cereal character of the spirit comes through more clearly. The fruit takes on an apple cider character, somewhat oxidized with a kind of butterscotch note that isn’t completely on the pie spectrum. The finish is reminscent not of apples but of cherries, particularly the cough syrup variety. 50 proof. C / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Hazelnut Rum – Nicely nutty on the nose, those hazelnuts roll over anything that’s particularly rummy in the mix. Some brown sugar notes and cloves at least offer a nod toward a spiced rum, with a touch of that funky petrol layering itself in underneath. The finish is a sustained nuttiness, with notes of toasted marshmallow. Hazelnuts are a smart choice to give this spirit a strong and unique flavor, but it drinks almost like a liqueur rather than a rum. 80 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Shine Root Beer Moonshine – Spot-on root beer aromas kick the nose off on this heavily flavored (and nearly opaque) ‘shine, which is heavy on the sassafras and baking spices. Alongside a healthy slug of sweet vanilla, the body sees more peppermint coming to the fore than I would like or expect, with surprisingly heavy clove character. These cloves endure for quite some time, eventually mellowing as the finish fades into a sort of charred wood character, which erases some of the excitement and nostalgia of what’s come before. 70 proof. B / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Butter Pecan Cream Liqueur – Not dark brown as the bottle would indicate, but rather a gentle, creamy tan. Extremely sweet on the nose, with light brown sugar the clearest component. The buttery, nutty pecan notes are a bit slightly clearer on the palate, but there’s so much sugar that it overwhelms just about all of it, leading to a milky finish akin to melted vanilla ice cream. 40 proof. B- / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

Sugarlands Appalachian Sippin’ Cream Dark Chocolate Coffee Cream Liqueur – The color of milk chocolate, with a nose that is a heavier blend of coffee with some chocolate syrup swirled in. Ample vanilla kicks off the palate, along with some butterscotch sweetness, before the relatively gentle coffee character arrives. There’s nothing really “dark” about the chocolate in this liqueur. As far as the cocoa goes, it’s about as milky as it gets. Nevertheless, it works fairly well. 40 proof. B+ / $25  [BUY IT NOW FROM CASKERS]

sugarlandsdistilling.com

Review: Heritage Distilling Rye and Bourbon Whiskies and Crisp Gin

Heritage Distilling makes a veritable ton of spirits in its Gig Harbor, Washington home, and by that I mean it actually makes them. This isn’t sourced or finished whiskey and gin, it’s the real deal, bringing in grains from the Pacific Northwest and Canada, mashed and fermented on site, and distilled in a copper column still. In other words: Everything here is a legit craft spirit.

Today we take a spin through a selection of Heritage’s product line, including five American whiskies as well as one of the company’s four gins.

Heritage Distilling BSB Brown Sugar Bourbon – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley, this whiskey is aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels, then cut to 30% abv, with natural brown sugar and cinnamon flavors added. Pure Christmas on the nose, with intense cinnamon, vanilla, and nutmeg notes, plus a clear brown sugar overtone. The palate is very sweet, just shy of being overwhelming, and the cinnamon and sugar notes are omnipresent from the start. This of course comes at the expense of being able to taste any of the whiskey itself, which is common with heavily flavored spirits like this, although there’s a nutty, lightly corny character on the back end that at least hints at the underlying spirit. No “fireball” heat here, mind you — the experience is closer to a liquified gingerbread house than anything approaching red hots. 60 proof. B+ / $34

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Bourbon Whiskey – Made from a mash of corn, rye, and malted barley (likely the same as in BSB), then aged for less than two years in new American Oak charred barrels. This whiskey comes across as a bit more mature than it actually is, though the very dry, popcorn-heavy nose pushes the focus to the barrel char underneath. On the palate, again it’s quite dry, with pushy lumberyard notes, forest floor and tree bark notes, and hints of gingerbread, Christmas cake, and dried fruit notes lingering as those pushy, wood-driven notes start to fade. The finish is a bit nutty — keeping the theme from the BSB bottling — but the lack of any real sweetness causes it to fade away a bit too quickly. This is clearly a well-made spirit, though it’s simply bottled too young. Would love to see this as a four year old. 92 proof. B / $30

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Rye Whiskey – Made from a mash of rye and barley (no corn), aged less than two years in charred oak barrels. While the Elk Rider Bourbon may be dry, this rye is over the top dusty, a sawdust-infused monster that offers a nose of spice-dusted lumber and a palate of the same. Here, the body takes those intense cloves and heavy barrel char and complements them with notes of menthol, bitter roots, rhubarb, and wet wool. Clearly a work in progress. 92 proof. C+ / $33

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Bourbon Whiskey – (These are sometimes denoted as the Double Barrel Collection but are otherwise the same.) The next two whiskeys start out much like their Elk Rider brethren above, but are then barreled for a second time in barrels that were previously used to age 15 pounds of pure vanilla beans. Lots of butterscotch on the nose here, with just a hint of barrel char and some surprising peanut butter aromas emerging. The palate offers considerably more sweetness than Elk Rider, and also more of those candylike notes, with notes of chocolate and Snickers bars layered atop toasty notes of brown butter and charred marshmallows. The wood-heavy barrel notes finally get their kicks in on the drying finish, which is equal parts sweet and savory. Overall, this whiskey is quite a surprise, and one of the better craft bourbons you’ll find on the market today. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Dual Barrel Collection Rye Whiskey – Aged the same way as the Dual Barrel Bourbon above. This whiskey is softer and sweeter than the Elk Rider version, though it still carries a modest barrel-driven character (particularly on the nose) as a backbone to a body that features plenty of that classic rye spice, heavy with cloves, spearmint, and some licorice character. This segues toward notes of caramel and milk chocolate on a finish that otherwise tends to keep things close to its barrel-driven roots taking the whiskey out with a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. Exclusive to Total Wine. 92 proof. B+ / $29

Heritage Distilling Elk Rider Crisp Gin – Distilled from 100% Washington grains, with traditional (but largely unrevealed) London Dry style botanicals. Especially medicinal on the nose, with heavy notes of camphor. Very herbal on the nose and on the tongue, it isn’t until the finish that some citrus notes finally push through, offering a touch of sweetness against what is otherwise an overwhelmingly pungent and savory experience. A tough nut to crack but one which might find the right home in, say, a Negroni. 94 proof. C / $28

heritagedistilling.com

Review: Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) and Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey

We’re late on catching up with Sons of Liberty’s annual release of its award-winning pumpkin spice flavored whiskey, but we’re making up for that with a look at a new product flavored with Gala apples, which was released for the first time in the fall. With many apologies for our delay, let’s dig in!

Both whiskeys are bottled at 80 proof.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice Flavored Whiskey (2016) – This is our third go-round with this seasonal release (see also 2015 and 2014), and my notes fall somewhere in between the two previous versions. Lots of cinnamon and cloves and a clear pumpkin character give this whiskey ample spiciness, and a gentle brown sugar backbone manages to toe the line between the sugar and the spice. The finish sees the emergence of more chewy pumpkin-ness and some lightly sour notes. The finish recalls overripe apples, dusted with cloves. B / $43

Sons of Liberty Gala Apple Flavored Whiskey – “Sons of Liberty utilized more than 9,000 fresh Gala Apples from two Connecticut orchards, Blue Hills Orchard and Drazen Orchards, for its inaugural release of Gala Apple. The apples were brought to New England Cider Company where the apples were shredded into a sauce-like mash called pumice. This mash of apples was then pressed to extract as much juice as possible from the fresh fruit. The Sons of Liberty crew brought the delicious juice back to the distillery where they blended it with a barrel-aged whiskey they made specifically for this release.” The nose isn’t particularly heavy on fresh apples but rather sees a focus on cloves, barrel char, and something that initially comes across as a sort of dried apple character. The palate is a somewhat different animal, initially sweet with a cinnamon-laden applesauce character, and, oddly enough, lots of overripe banana notes. The finish finds light caramel and vanilla, with a weird dusting of cornmeal, toasted marshmallow, and some kind of strange Asian candy character that I can’t quite express in words. For better or worse. B- / $43

solspirits.com

Review: William Wolf Frisky and Coffee Whiskeys

Remember William Wolf? The pecan-flavored American bourbon made in… the Netherlands? Well Mr. Wolf has been busy expanding into other flavored whiskeys, with a total of four (plus an unflavored rye) now on the market.

Today we look at two of the newer products, “Frisky,” which is a vanilla/caramel-heavy whiskey, and “Coffee,” which is flavored with, er, coffee. Note that unlike the Pecan whiskey, these are not billed as having bourbon as their base but rather are made with just American whiskey. (I also can’t determine if there is any Holland connection any more; the labels merely say these were produced and bottled in William Wolf’s home state of South Carolina.)

Let’s take a quick peek at each of them.

Both are 70 proof.

William Wolf Frisky Whiskey – This vanilla- and caramel-flavored whiskey is as sticky as they come, a super-sweet concoction that combines a soda shop full of syrups to create a whiskey that is filled with vanilla, butterscotch, some coconut, and ripe banana. This actually is more appealing than it sounds, particularly as a dessert-class tipple, as the coconut notes (intended or otherwise) work well with the maple syrup sweetness of the underlying spirit. B- / $25

William Wolf Coffee Whiskey – It’s a good thing it says “whiskey” on the label, because otherwise you’d have no idea there was any whiskey in this heavily-flavored concoction, a mahogany-brown spirit that smells of well-sweetened coffee, and little else. Perhaps the lightest hint of vanilla gives this spirit any semblance of whiskey; feel free to use it as a considerably higher proof version of your favorite coffee liqueur in your next White Russian. B+ / $25

thinklikeawolf.com

Review: Sonoma County Distilling Cherrywood Rye (2016) and Black Truffle Rye

We looked at a few of the products of budding craft distiller Sonoma County Distilling Co. in 2015, and now we’re back with some fresh coverage, including a look at the second batch of SCDC’s Cherrywood Rye and a first encounter with a limited-edition rye flavored with… wait for it… truffles.

Thoughts on both whiskeys follow.

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Cherrywood Rye Whiskey (2016) – Our second look at this whiskey. Distilled from unmalted Canadian rye, unmalted Canadian wheat, and cherrywood-smoked malted barley from Wyoming. Double distilled in alembic pot stills and aged for one year in new, charred American oak. Designed to mimic the flavors of a Manhattan cocktail exclusively from the impact of the grain. My tasting notes are considerably different than last year’s edition. Heavily wood-forward on the nose, it’s got tons of youth, but also an ample focus on fresh grain, but also perfumed at times with floral notes. Cherry is hinted at aromatically, but it really hits its stride on the palate, where a burst of fruit hits the tongue before the wood component again muscles its way back to the fore. This wood character hangs around for some time, along with some light mushroom and forest floor notes that mingle with modest vanilla and caramel at times. As for the “Manhattan in a whiskey” mission? Well, it’s not quite accomplished… at least, not after just one year in barrel. Give it a few more years and let’s talk again. 95.6 proof. Reviewed: Batch #2. B- / $55

Sonoma County Distilling Co. Black Truffle Rye – This is something else, Somona County’s 100% rye infused with French black perigord truffles. The nose doesn’t give a lot of truffly hints, coming across with a raciness that borders on astringency. Give it some air and you catch notes of evergreen and cedar cigar box — not quite the mushroomy truffle, but headed in that direction. On the palate, a massively different experience awaits, offering a surprisingly gentle woodiness that is tempered by brown sugar, and nutmeg-heavy baking spice. As it develops on the tongue, the whiskey seems to change, evolving on the fly to reveal layers and layers of flavor — cut flowers, rhubarb, dried raspberry, and an insidious earthiness that, in the end, must be where the truffle finds its footing. This is a whiskey that’s almost impossible to digest and dissect in just one sitting. Give it time in glass, and ample time on your shelf, as you explore its many mysteries. 100 proof. A- / $75 (375ml)

sonomacountydistilling.com

Review: Ballotin Chocolate Whiskeys

If ever there was a time of year for chocolate-flavored whiskeys, well, you’re soaking in it.

Former Brown-Forman exec Paul Tuell is the man behind Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey, a set of four flavored whiskeys with chocolate as the connecting thread among them. Each expression starts with aged American whiskey (origin and variety unstated, but these are bottled in Louisville, for what it’s worth) and is flavored with “all-natural essences of classic and contemporary chocolate favorites.” The goal: To create a product that “tastes like a “bourbon expression” of your favorite chocolate indulgences.”

Well, let’s see how they did with that goal. 

Each expression is bottled at 60 proof.

Ballotin Original Chocolate Whiskey – Bittersweet chocolate with a bit of vanilla and just a hint of cinnamon hits the nose first. On the palate, the chocolate is front and center, lingering for a few seconds before the more traditional whiskey notes push their way through, bringing both ample heat and an oaky, vanilla-heavy rush of flavor. The ultimate experience is closer to two different drinks experienced one after another, a silky Mexican chocolate up front, followed by a hit of whiskey — admittedly somewhat anonymous whiskey, but enjoyable nonetheless. A-

Ballotin Bourbon Ball Whiskey – A stronger vanilla profile touched with a lightly toasted almond note kick things off here, giving this a strong amaretto character. Chocolate is restrained and relegated to the back end, after the almond-whiskey mix fades out. B

Ballotin Chocolate Mint Whiskey – Fairly self-explanatory, smells like an Andes mint. This is a nostalgic whiskey, mint-forward up front, with the soothing chocolate notes rolling over you from there. The combination works very well — what’s missing, however, is any real sense of whiskey in this one. Though, to be honest, I think if it was more present, that might ruin some of the fun. B+

Ballotin Caramel Turtle Whiskey – Strong pecan notes give this a straightforward praline nose, and the palate follows suit with nuts first and foremost. The finish sees some whiskey-driven vanilla and caramel, but this time it’s the chocolate that doesn’t ever quite show its face. Quite a departure from most of the above, but not at all unpleasant, with light notes of nutmeg and gingerbread lingering on the back end. B+

each $30 / ballotinwhiskey.com

Review: Crown Royal Vanilla Canadian Whisky

crown-royal-vanilla_bag-box

Crown Royal continues to experiment with flavored whiskies, its latest expression being a natural whisky fit: Vanilla. The product is described as “a blend of hand-selected Crown Royal whiskies infused with the rich flavor of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla.”

If you like vanilla and you like Canadian whisky, well, you’ll love Crown Royal Vanilla, which is a “best of both worlds” experience. Mind you, it’s nothing you’ll be writing postcards about, but rather a vanilla-heavy experience that borders on marshmallow-sweet (and -flavored) at times. The heavy sugariness of the experience isn’t a deal-breaker, and given the intention of this whisky to be used as a mixer, not a sipper, it’ll fit right in with cola or another simple combo. (See below for more cocktail ideas.) Light mixed berry notes add a touch of complexity on the back end, along with some simple milk chocolate character and just the lightest hint of woody barrel char — but by and large this is a showcase for sweet vanilla syrup from start to finish. That’s not a bad thing, I suppose. All told, this is nothing that will blow your mind, but there’s nothing not to like here, either.

70 proof.

B / $26 / crownroyal.com

Below please find some recipes that Crown Royal suggests, in partnership with Hella Company and Cocktail Courier (which will deliver all the ingredients you need to make both of these in one kit). They’re both quite pungent, so feel free to work with the proportions liberally.

Crown Vanilla and Hella Cola
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
1 oz. Hella Cola cocktail syrup
3.5 oz. club soda
whole vanilla bean*

Mix in a highball glass filled with ice. Use vanilla bean as a stirrer and leave bean in glass as if a straw. Garnish with an unsqueezed lime wedge if desired.

* yes, they mean a pod, not a whole bean

Vanilla Old Fashioned
1.5 oz. Crown Royal Vanilla
0.5 oz Woods Boiled Cider
3 dashes Hella Orange Bitters

In a double rocks glass add all ingredients, then add ice to above the level of liquid. Stir for 10 seconds. Garnish with thick orange peel if desired.

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