Flavored anything alcoholic has traditionally not been my forte in my craft of writing about spirits. I much prefer the robust flavor of the whole grains without being covered up by corn sugar sweeteners, artificial colors and strange (at least to me) flavorings. Don’t even get me started on cake-flavored vodka. NO, I will not be reviewing that genre anytime soon.
Unfortunately the liquor industry as a whole is not interested in what I think is good to drink, nor have they ever asked me my opinion. But between you and me, there is a lot of garbage on the market, so much that it would take more than one article to expose it all to the careful drinker. If you at all intrigued by the far lower end of the liquor business visit the wholesale show, aka: WSWA, held each year in Orlando. I didn’t think there was that much flavored vodka on the market. I was very wrong. This is what most of America drinks and I’m pretty sure I know why.
It’s candy sweet!
The main reason behind the flavoring of whiskey is to introduce the formerly sweet wine drinker to grain based spirits. Cheap, whiskey-like products that fool the tastebuds could effectively accomplish this. That cinnamon-spice whiskey I see on every bar in America is a classic example of, “I’ll have that because it’s trendy” and that is just not good enough for me. I never want to drink anything that is covered up by sugary sweetness. Or dare I say, trendy.
This is too bad because even inexpensive whiskey needs to be savored, not slugged down, or covered up with incongruous flavorings.
Whiskey is history, not whimsy. It should be respected, admired, and honored.
Here is a list of the whiskeys that I’ve tried recently and really enjoyed sipping. Should you wonder why I haven’t included more flavored whiskey in this list, there are very few that I would even consider drinkable. In keeping with my “less is more” approach to flavor, I’ll let you decide which whiskeys are truly delicious to you. As always I NEVER assign a numerical score or a letter score to anything I review. It’s my palate, not yours so I won’t be telling you what to drink, or not to drink. That’s up to you. Everyone’s palate is different, so please understand I won’t be “dissing” your favorite brand just because I consider it undrinkable!
I just won’t write about it.
In no specific order of preference…
Four Roses Yellow Label: For my money there is no greater value on the market than the basic version of Four Roses. Why would I mix a much more expensive version of Four Roses into say, a Mint Julep which is filled with ice, mint and sugar?
Tuthilltown Baby Bourbon Whiskey: This is not a baby, but a robust mouthful of whiskey goodness. There is certain creaminess to the texture of this whiskey and it goes down easily. I love to drink it straight or in a pinch with a splash of seltzer and a squeeze of lemon zest. Simplicity is the key with good spirits. You certainly don’t need to cover up the inherent flavors of the grains with sugary soda. SO DON’T DO IT (unless, of course, you like it)!
Ancient Age: Distilled from corn, rye and barley, Ancient Age has been in production since 1946… And what is amazing is that I have a bottle of the 1947 sitting right in front of me. It’s soft in the mouth-feel, silky, and very sophisticated for an inexpensive bottling. It’s no Pappy Van Winkle, but if you didn’t know that it was made at Buffalo Trace (the maker of Pappy) you’d think it was much more expensive than it really is!
Pappy: Oh, get over it already… If you find some, please let me know. No, I can’t afford it or find it either other than in high-end restaurants and bars. There are fine bourbons and exceptional bourbon on the market… This is the latter. But I’m still not quite sure why it’s so expensive. This is probably because there is so little of it to go around? Makes sense from the standpoint of availability? Save your money and get some Buffalo Trace.
Buffalo Trace: This is what you should be drinking with as little embellishment as possible. Crafted from corn, rye, and barley malt, Buffalo Trace is elegance at a fair price. So far they haven’t come out with a honey flavored or maple flavored Buffalo Trace. That’s good!
Booker’s: Get a fire hose out… this stuff is seriously strong. Rolling in at over 130 proof, Booker’s is certainly not for beginners. It’s just magnificent in a glass with a splash of branch water, or spilled over a giant rounded cube of Glace Luxury Ice.
Hey, you can make your own giant ice cubes if you want with a Tupperware tray, a hammer and a chisel. Freeze double boiled distilled water in this tray and cut your cubes to the desired size. Booker’s needs water as much as it needs a large chunk of ice.
Knob Creek: This is my usual go-to for rye and certainly for their Nine Year Old Bourbon whiskey. This is sophisticated stuff. I’d be really surprised if they came out with a flavored whiskey. It’s just not their style! I love the rye with a bit of raw honey simple syrup (yeah, I added the sweetener, not the distillery) and some freshly squeezed orange juice… Simple, simple, simple.
Blanton’s Bourbon: If it’s flavor you’re looking for then you shouldn’t go any further than Warehouse H. Warehouse H is where the good stuff is from in the center of this venerable warehouse. Get some.
Spring Mill Bourbon: Bourbon from Indiana? Yes indeed. Colglazier & Hobson are responsible for this handcrafted product, brilliantly packaged not in glass but in stoneware! The bourbon is strong and memorable. Get some!
Catoctin Creek Rye: This is a hot pastrami on seeded rye slathered with mustard and half sours on the side. Sure you can have some coleslaw and of course some Russian dressing should you desire. What is this a liquor review or a sandwich order? You decide!
Dad’s Hat Rye: If you ask me, tasting their rye is one of the most poignant memories of 2012. Get some and experience what careful practice does to making rye whiskey.
Old Forester Birthday Bourbon,12 year old: I thought this bourbon needed more time in the barrel. It’s bright, hi-toned and very modern in approach with the charred barrel in focus from the first sips. Good luck finding it.
Willett’s: Pure luxury in bourbon. I only had some barrel samples, but oh, what samples.
EH Taylor: May I have some more of the rye please?
I did try a maple syrup laced whiskey; I think it was from Crown Royal. I’m sorry to say that it was pretty awful stuff. I should have taken my 10-year-old bottle of Crown (no, I don’t like it very much so it’s lasted 10 years in my bar) and added an ounce of my own maple syrup from Vermont. It would have tasted world’s better.
Fair Winds Press published Warren’s first book, Apothecary Cocktails, Restoratives from Yesterday and Today with forward from Paul Tuennerman in October 2013. http://www.cocktailwhisperer.com/
Warren Bobrow has published over 300 articles on food, wine, and cocktail mixology in just over three years. In addition to his popular blog, The Cocktail Whisperer, Warren is the “On Whiskey” columnist for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum in New Orleans. He has written for the Williams-Sonoma blog, Foodista.com, Voda Magazine, Saveur, Serious Eats, The Beverage Journal, Total Food Service Magazine and Edible New Jersey amongst many others globally.
Warren is on the Drink Careers 101 Advisory Board. He was a 2010 Ministry of Rum judge and an Iron Mixology judge at the Charleston Wine and Food Festival in 2012.Warren was the only journalist from the USA asked to participate in Fete de la Gastronomie 2012 for Atout France and the French National Tourist Board. In
September 2013 Warren traveled to Abruzzi, Italy to rediscover the terroir of the expressive local wines.