By Mike Thayer
Blended and flavored whiskeys are red hot right now, consumer demand for brown spirits continues to rise with American Whiskey in particular seeing some phenomenal sales growth.
Regular readers know that I am a fan of flavored whiskey, I've always got a bottle of something in my freezer for a chilled shot or flavored specialty in the liquor cabinet to enjoy on the rocks.
There is a HUGE variety of flavored whiskeys out there to choose from ranging from what arguably started the trend - honey, to perhaps the current popular choice of cinnamon.
I've sampled quite a few and by no means have I covered them all, but here's a pretty comprehensive list of what in my opinion are what NOT to try and what to buy.
So here's my list of worst to 'first', OK, best to be grammatically correct, starting off with the worst....
#21 - Evan Williams Peach: I'm not a fan. It's VERY peach forward, as in too forward, I might as well have been drinking peach schnapps! It's like the makers literally just poured a couple shots of bourbon into a peach schnapps bottle and called it a blended, flavored whiskey. The nose is peach, the taste is peach, the finish is peach with just an ever so slight hint of bourbon. I tried it neat, I tried it on the rocks and I was flat out disappointed with each tasting. It's SO peachy, I think it might be best served over vanilla ice cream. I wanted a peach flavored bourbon, not a peach schnapps with just a hint of bourbon in it. (2 stars)
#20 - Jesse James Spiced: This is a straight bourbon whiskey blended with vanilla, cinnamon and clove flavors according to the company website. They need to go back to the drawing board. This whiskey is WAY too spice forward. The nose when you swirl a neat glass is OK, but the taste is sharp and the finish is harsh rather than warm. I didn't enjoy this whiskey neat, I didn't enjoy it on the rocks, I don't care for it as a chilled shot. Like the Evan Williams Peach, this is a bad whiskey that will remain in chill status and might - key word 'might' - be used as a topping for some vanilla bean ice cream. (2 stars)
#19 - Jim Beam Maple: I sampled this whiskey just as Jim Beam suggested, in a straight shot and on the rocks. It's VERY maple forward. So forward, it comes up more maple than whiskey. It's in the swirl, the swallow and lingers in the finish. As I've mentioned in other flavored whiskey reviews before, I want the flavor to compliment the whiskey, not overpower it. Jim Beam's balance here is maple forward, too much so. It's more liqueur than straight bourbon whiskey. Costing me about $16 for a 750ml bottle, the price is reasonable but I will not buy it again. (2 stars)
#18 - Old Camp Peach Pecan: This stuff is overly sweet, coming off as more of a Peach Schnapps rather than a flavored whiskey. You do get the pecan in the finish, a redeeming quality, but overall, I'm regretting buying a fifth of this whiskey. The nose is too fruity, the swirl and swallow is overpowering peach with that hint of pecan in the finish. Costing me about $22 for a 750ml bottle, the price is NOT Bachelor on the Cheap friendly and it is NOT a repeat buy. (2 stars)
#17 - Bird Dog Strawberry Whiskey: Of note, this whiskey is 80 proof. Most other flavored whiskeys are 70 proof, so this has a little more 'kick' to it. I served up this whiskey in a straight shot and on the rocks. Bird Dog falls a bit short on this one. Contrary to the company line, this whiskey isn't good for sipping or shots, it's too strawberry forward, with an almost medicinal quality and unfortunately, the strawberry doesn't fade into a subtle warm bourbon finish. The strawberry lingers and not in a good way. (2 stars)
#16 - Jim Beam Peach: You get a hint of peach in the nose, but the swallow comes off as a bit medicinal, followed nicely however by the classic Jim Beam Bourbon finish. Jim Beam's approach with their flavored whiskeys doesn't seem to be targeted at guys like me and the occasional straight or chilled shot of a good whiskey at the house.... No, their real target is getting bars/restaurants/pubs stocked with the stuff, to be used in over-priced mixed drinks. (3 stars)
#15 - Jim Beam Red Stag: Their traditional 4-year-old oak aged whiskey infused with black cherry. This is an 80 proof whiskey, giving it a little more kick. Most flavored whiskeys are 70 proof. As usual, I served this up in a straight shot and on the rocks. You definitely get the cherry sweetness in the nose, but in the swirl and swallow this whiskey came off as a little medicinal for me, a.k.a., cough drop flavored. You do get the warm base bourbon in the finish but I think this whiskey is best used in a cocktail such as a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned. I'd rather have a different flavored whiskey in a chilled shot or on the rocks. (3 Stars)
#14 - Jim Beam Honey: The honey flavor is definitely there and you notice the vanilla note finish. But I will say this flavored whiskey comes up more honey than whiskey. As I've mentioned in other flavored whiskey reviews before, I want the flavor to compliment the whiskey, not overpower it. Jim Beam's balance here is honey forward. After sampling the shot and on the rocks, I did a mixed drink using my very own creation, the Hillbilly High as a base recipe. The Jim Beam is pretty darn good in a mixed drink. (3 stars)
#13 - Jesse James Honey: I wouldn't call this an incredibly smooth bourbon as the company website claims, but with that honey flavor in the nose and in the swallow, it's a pretty good shot. Not sweet at all, it's almost a bit harsh, but in a good way. The honey flavor is slight, just enough to compliment and take the edge off, providing for a nice, warm, bourbon finish. I'm thinking this is a better shot than just the straight Jesse James bourbon. I'll have to do a taste comparison to be sure, lol. (3 stars)
#12 - Crown Royal Regal Apple: I served up this whiskey in a straight shot and on the rocks. You definitely get the apple right off the bat in the nose. The swirl and swallow is smooth but almost bordering on being apple forward and you get some nice undertones of cinnamon and oak. But the most important thing in what you want in a good flavored whiskey, getting the base whiskey in the finish and it's there. Costing me $20 for a 750ml bottle, the price is reasonable and this whiskey is worth a repeat buy but is it as good as other apple flavored whiskeys? Nope. (4 stars)
#11 - Revel Stoke Roasted Pineapple: I wasn't sure about this one going in, c'mon, pineapple and whiskey? But I am a sucker for fresh pineapple and since Revel Stoke thought it was a good idea to combine pineapple and whiskey, it must be good and YES it is! Enjoying the whiskey on the rocks, which is the aficionado thing to do, the pineapple notes are nice and mellow, not overpowering at all like I thought it might be and you get the roast in the finish. This is a unique whiskey in a very good way. (4 stars)
#10 - Piehole Apple Pie: It's not just apple flavored, but apple pie flavored, yes, really. When buying it I feared it might be overly sweet, but it's not. It's got the fruity apple note you expect, but bonus - Piehole kicks things up a notch with a very nicely balanced element of a baked pie, an image of a fresh out-of-the oven pie crust dusted with that touch of cinnamon dances in your head when throwing back a shot of this stuff. This is a very nice flavored whiskey with a smooth, warm finish. No chaser needed. (4 stars)
#9 - Jim Beam Apple: You definitely get the apple sweetness in the nose, the aroma is quite noticeable as soon as the cap comes off the bottle. In the swirl and swallow the apple is pleasantly green apple tart but sweet. You also get the classic Jim Beam warm base bourbon in the finish. This whiskey is done right, with the apple complimenting the whiskey, rather than overpowering it. Best enjoyed as a chilled shot, this whiskey is quite good. (4 stars)
#8 - Black Velvet Toasted Caramel: The nose is a pleasant whiff of caramel and while it's a tad bit caramel forward, the website description is pretty accurate. You get toasted caramel in the swirl, the swallow and in the finish. It's a bit on the sweet side and as I've mentioned in other flavored whiskey reviews before, I want the flavor to compliment the whiskey, not overpower it. Black Velvet has done a fair job with this flavor. It's best as a chilled shot. Costing me about $12 for a 750ml bottle, the price is very reasonable and it's worth a repeat buy. (4 stars)
#7 - Revel Stoke Smoked Vanilla: Vanilla is an appealing pairing because it's strongly aromatic but yet has a warm and gentle flavor that simply compliments whatever it's paired with and that's what Revel Stoke has done expertly here with their Smoked Vanilla Whiskey. Enjoying the whiskey on the rocks, which is the aficionado thing to do, the vanilla notes are unmistakably present but subtle at the same time, actually enhancing the flavor of the whiskey. It finishes nice with a slight hint of smoke. This is a very good whiskey and most definitely deserves a spot in your liquor cabinet. (4 stars)
#6 - Bird Dog Blackberry: The nose is fruity, the color is inviting and you get all as advertised in the swirl and swallow. The best thing about this whiskey though is the finish, it's spot on. That slight sweetness says blackberry, yet BOURBON. That's exactly what you want in a flavored whiskey, a compliment. (4 stars)
#5 - Bird Dog Apple: This whiskey delivers as advertised 'Sweet apple fades into bourbon with a lingering warm, cinnamon zest.' The cinnamon notes come through on the back end and along with the base bourbon, it's a very nice finish. In my humble opinion, this is Bird Dog's best offering, definitely worth a repeat buy. Nice as a chilled shot, on-the-rocks, neat or served in a mixed drink. (4 stars)
#4 - Revel Stoke Roasted Pecan: Wow what a whiskey! Revel Stoke Pecan Whisky hits you with the essence of roasted pecan immediately, as soon as you screw off the cap. Enjoying this unique whiskey on the rocks, it goes down smooth and those roasted pecan notes linger warmly and finish nicely with a sweet hint of praline. I would call this a dessert whiskey, something to really enjoy after a fine meal. This is a whiskey you hold in reserve, for special occasions or when that sweet tooth gets the better of you. (4 stars)
#3 - Revel Stoke Roasted Apple: The roasted apple notes are in your face in a very good way. Like the Revel Stoke Spiced, the Revel Stoke Roasted Apple is also very smooooooooth..... The so smooth it's kind of dangerous kind of smooth.... Apple and whiskey is a great pairing, so good in fact, if you're not into whiskey, you will be if you try this apple flavored variety. (4 stars)
#2 - Revel Stoke Spiced: This was the first flavored whiskey I ever tried and the first time ever sampling the Revel Stoke brand. Revel Stoke Spiced is fantastic! It's a winner of the Spirits International Prestige Award and features hints of vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, coriander and cardamom. It was smooth and all those flavor notes made for a very nice finish. It's this whiskey, that got me into trying more flavored whiskeys and without question, I started doing so by tasting the entire Revel Stoke lineup. (5 stars)
#1 - Yukon Jack Jacapple: A blended whiskey with apple, spice and other natural flavors, Yukon Jack Jacapple is smoothly delicious. It's got the elements of a great cider, yet it's not too apple forward. There's that definite apple and spice nose when you swirl the glass and you also get those cider notes in the taste, but the finish and this is where Yukon Jack Jacapple is superior to Revel Stoke's Roasted Apple - It's a VERY smooooooooth and warm bourbon finish. (5 stars)
Of the 21 flavored whiskeys sampled, I have to say that in my humble tasting opinion neither peach or strawberry are good flavor pairings with whiskey. Of the fruits, apple is the best, with those whiskeys overall ranking pretty high on the list. And while Yukon Jack Jacapple is my overall favorite, the Revel Stoke lineup of whiskeys all ranked really well, you can't go wrong with any of those.
$pend Wisely My Friends.....