Category Archives: 4 – Risky

Jim Beam – Rye (40%)

Jim Beam RyeThe label says this is “the world’s finest rye”. I’m not making this up. World’s. Finest. Thank god this economic downturn is finally over: the finest things in life are back to only costing $18, again. National crisis averted. I’m suddenly rich as hell and can stop spending all this money trying different rye whiskies, because here it is: the world’s finest rye. Adventure over.

Actually, this is the stuff fiscally-prude, wealthy people drink because they have no time to find out what good whisky actually tastes like. Oh, some food blogger who doesn’t try very many whiskies said it was really good? Well, that guy clearly has no idea what he’s talking about because this isn’t really good; it’s the finest goddamn rye in the entire world. It says so right there on the label.

In a brilliant marketing move, Jim Beam keeps their most terrible spirits in the bottle with their company’s actual name on it. I always wondered why distilleries did this. When I see Jim Beam in the print on any of their premium “small batch” brands I don’t think “hey, this must be their premium stuff”. Instead, I have flashbacks to my last brush with toxic shock syndrome after the most recent dose of Jim Beam I endured took its toll. I would think they would want to put their good stuff in the Beam bottles and silently release their most poisonous casks under another label, something like J Taylor M’Liversucks.

But I digress, things aren’t nearly as bad as I’m making them sound. The nose wasn’t poisonous. It was just really boring. “Is this really rye,” I found myself asking, “or is it decent Bourbon watered down with something from a mop bucket?” Nosing it next to almost any other rye at all makes it seem even worse, but tasting it was really where I decided to give this the lowest rating I could. Is it mixable? Well, it won’t ruin a drink but it’s not going to help it out any, either. If a recipe calls for rye, it’s asking you for something with flavor and this is not it. Is it affordable? Yes, but is that what whisky is really about? Because, silly me, I thought it was supposed to be about flavor.

Nose: Sliced whole wheat bread. No, not the good stuff, the stuff that people cut holes out of and smoosh their cat’s faces through to be funny. Faint pine sap brightness. A wet dish sponge with a drop of Dawn. A tiny bit of corn sweetness, but compared to almost any other rye this is extremely underwhelming.

Palate: It has a bitter base note. Fish food, orange zest, crushed multi-vitamins and pennies. The finish can’t go away fast enough. I would call it cheerless, like it’s mourning a lost family member.

Rating: RiskyJim Beam’s callin’ you a chump, sucka! If you want my advice, for an extra $3 you can get yourself a bottle of delicious Rittenhouse 100 and leave all this unpleasantness behind you.

Jura – 10, 16, Superstition and Prophecy

JuraIn 1946 a man named Eric Arthur Blair moved to the Isle of Jura to recover from a bout of then un-diagnosed tuberculosis. He had recently found a publisher for a bizarre fairy tale about warring clans of pigs with dogs which the poet T.S. Eliot refused to publish.

Eliot refused not on the basis that it was a terrible book, but rather the fiction made a convincing case that public-minded pigs would have disproved the allegory. One day it would overcome this temporary set-back and become a prominent enough novel that it would force high school English classes everywhere to have serious discussions about a pig named Snowball.

Once on Jura, Eric began penning what would be his final novel, a dystopian prediction of the world to come, published in 1949. The book was titled 1984, and hopefully by now you know that I’m talking about the man with the pen-name George Orwell.

Much like Orwell’s career, the distillery on the Isle of Jura has some painfully childish duds and some deliciously evil releases in its portfolio. The common thread between all of these releases are dank oceanic notes and a heady tobacco presence which ranges from great to wretched, depending on the bottle. The 10 and 16 are unpeated, unlike the NAS bottlings.


Jura – 10 yr (43%)

Nose: Ginger powder. Briny, unsweetened lemonade with muddled basil. Musty hay with a faint pine. Old, dry honey and a whiff of fresh cigarette tobacco with pencil shavings.

Palate: Musty hay. The ginger flattens out. There’s a meaty, funky flavor, kind of like the bloom on a good sopressata. The tobacco is drying and a little numbing. The palate is nicer than the nose and after you drink a little bit it helps the nose become richer.

Rating: Try itIf you really like this one but want to move up a step, I would recommend trying one of the Auchentoshan Valinch releases. They have the same meaty, gingery note, but layered over a much more interesting palate and at a much more attractive proof. The Jura 10 yo nose is a little flat for me.


Jura – 16 yr (43%)

Nose: Much richer and a little sharper than the 10 yr. Perfumed stone takes over where the ocean from the 10 retreats. Sweet malt. A touch of Sambal Olek chili paste spice up some dried apricots and apples. For a few moments here and there you’ll find chick pea and falafel batter. The tobacco is more like a pack of cigarettes that once had a clip in it.

Palate: A little spicy with the same tobacco but it’s a tad sweeter and hotter than the 10. Not as drying. A little apple and leather in the finish. The nose is nicer than the palate. There’s a little wet dog running around here at times, but when she’s playing outside this can be a tasty dram for sure.

Rating: RecommendedThe nose is much nicer on the 16 year than the 10, that’s pretty obvious, but once you start drinking them I find it difficult to pick one that tastes better. One is rich spice (16 year) and one is meaty ginger (10 year).


Jura – Superstition (43%)

Nose: Stale ash tray tobacco and rotten peat. Yeasty with sour, Belgian-style beer. It’s a little bit like a dead seagull. It gets sweeter, like Fritos, once you smell it for a while, but it never gets too far away from that dead gull. Lemon tryst and the original Bod Man body spray smeared over the inside of a musty, bombed-out church at the end of a long, hot summer. More death.

Palate: Bitter at first and funky as it goes down, like I just swallowed a handful of dirty change or someone just snuffed a cigarette in my chest. This tastes a little bit like how an old lady smells without any perfume and lots of dirty pug-face in the finish.

Rating: RiskyCan’t talk now. Big brother is watching.



Jura – Prophecy (46%)

Nose: More piquant peat and deliciously coppery. Fresh fish, soot and star magnolia. Smoked marmalade. Not a whole lot of tobacco, but it’s pipe tobacco here. A little bit of eucalyptus and Murphy’s Oil. Pine and oak timbers. Kielbasa spice, candy corn and white pepper.

Palate: Tangy copper with a smokey finish. Numbing. Dried leaves and some phenolic notes not entirely unlike Listerine. The fresh fish from the nose is barbecued now. Polished wood, like you’re drinking a delicious church pew. A tad rubbery. A tad savory. The finish sticks around for a while.

Rating: RecommendedThe NAS peated Jura line moves a little farther from the ocean and into the peat bogs, but the brine is still wafting inland a little bit.


Most of Jura’s whisky is delicious… but you should definitely do yourself a favor and toss that Superstition right down the memoryhole. The 10 and 16 yo bottles also seem to be a higher proof in the US then what’s currently available at the distillery (both are 40% abv there).


Crown Royal – Maple Finished

Crown Royal Maple Finished Canadian WhiskyThis is, easily, the most disgusting thing I’ve drank this decade. I refuse to even humor it with actual notes. At the store I saw the words Maple Finished and mistakenly thought it meant finished in a maple barrel. Imagine my crushing disappointment when I realized that they actually meant injected with flavored maple cancer. Pity the souls who wander here. 

That there’s even a market for this is amazing to me. I understand the idea behind flavored vodka, but whisky?! Vodka has all the personality of a coma patient and tastes like rubbing alcohol. It could use a little character to hide the ethanol, but whisky has its own, much bolder character. If you like whisky then you don’t need to make it taste like anything other than good whisky. I feel like this product is indicative of two things: a national marketing paradigm that’s run out of good ideas, and a whisky market that needs a disciplined smack in the face. The effort that it would take to add actual maple syrup to your whisky, if that’s the awfulness you desire, is so insignificant that only an asshole would actually buy a bottle like this. For the difference between cost, you could buy a bottle of regular Crown Royal and a whole bottle of fake maple syrup with enough leftovers to put on your shitty pancakes tomorrow morning.

Rating: RiskyBut that’s not to say this bottle is completely worthless. You can use it to identify which of your friends are completely devoid of sensibility and good taste. If you see it on someone’s shelf you know that they have no idea what they’re talking about when it comes to whisky and you can hide your good stuff from them when they come over to visit.

Hood River Distillers – Pendleton Blended Canadian Whisky (40%)

Pendleton Blended Canadian WhiskyYou can’t blame the Canadians for this crap, at least not completely. There’s a team of clowns in Oregon who water it down and put it into bottles, too. I would blame them first, despite how this spirit was distilled and aged in Canada. Even the Hood River Distillers’ website is more interested in peddling belt buckles and talking about the rodeo they sponsor than pitching their awful whisky. Though there is a whole lot of info about their team of models, it all seems to say, “Don’t ask us about the quality of whisky you’re drinking. You and I both know it’s awful. Could we maybe offer you a free softcore boner, instead?”

The word blended on the label doesn’t mean the same thing it means on US whisky labels. In Canada, they use a higher proof neutral spirit than US law allows, so when they push it over the border, the US law also dictates that they must label it blended. If you ask me, style is a scapegoat that Canadian distillers hide behind when they make the purely economic decision to cram more spirit into a cask, because that’s what it really boils down to; a cask at 190 proof will yield more 80 proof bottles than a cask of 160 proof will.

Nose: Strawberry wart remover. Lots of ethanol and aftershave. Sandalwood, pine sap, chlorine and gunpowder. If you’ve ever gone camping in the desert this smells a little bit like that desert funk that comes home in your clothes. Rancid macadamia nuts. Some maple syrup if you water it down.

Palate: Wart remover again. Spent cigar butts. This is what I imagine tumbleweed tastes like. Pool water cut with moo goo gai pan. Pine sap and a weird, woody taste. Numbing like Listerine with Murphy’s Oil Soap that sticks around after you finish drinking it.

Rating: RiskyThis one gives me mental heartburn. I would rather listen to ten hours of that nasally, DayGlo shrew, Nicki Minaj, prattle on about how obsessed she is with pink glitter than ever drink this again.

Reisetbauer – Single Malt Whisky 7 years (43%)

I picked this one up in New York City specifically because I had never heard of an Austrian whisky. Turns out, Austria’s long history of commercial distilling extends all the way back to 1995. Sigh. That was a good year. Calvin and Hobbes strips were still being penned. Biggie, Tupac and Timothy Leary were all still alive. People knew what MS-DOS was and Microsoft operating systems were still in the golden age of backwards compatibility. Mississippi had just ratified the 13th Amendment (the one that banned slavery… yea, not joking). When a beautiful woman walked by you could say “schwingggg” and people would laugh. The term “butt munch” was still in the public lexicon. The Downward Spiral. The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Free Willy 2… okay, so they weren’t all good times. But really, that Austria hasn’t even been commercially distilling for twenty years is something to think about.

Originally a fruit brandy distiller who distilled produce from his orchards, Hans Reisetbauer has been in Austria’s commercial distilling scene since the beginning. Hans would later team up with Heinz Velich of the The Velich wine estate and the late Alois Kracher Jr. of the highly acclaimed Weinlaubenhof Kracher vineyard and California’s award winning Mr.K label, to acquire casks. The whisky matures in the vineyards’ Trockenbeerenauslese and Chardonnay casks. Trockenbeerenauslese, like Sauternes, is a sweet wine made from shriveled grapes that have been infected with the noble rot, botrytis. It’s also a super fun word to say to people who don’t speak German or know a lot about wine. Trockenbeerenauslese? Ja! Danke.

Nose: Dry German chocolate turns to Nutella after the initial funk airs out. Musky like an old lady’s basement. Light and perfumed applewood smoke. Hops. Very vegetal. Old butter smeared over a mossy rock. The blade on a rusty chainsaw. If you took all the sweet out of a Sauternes wine there’s some of that botrytis left in there. Smelly tennis shoes. The malt is very difficult to pull out of it for me but it is in there, too.

Palate: Apple with lots of feints. Broccoli!!! Sharp, sour and dry. Cereal and cocoa powder, it actually gets more chocolaty the more you drink. Cheddar, if you really look for it… or maybe that’s the broccoli loudly wishing it had a friend.  Astringent. A little bit of the botrytis comes through. A hoppy finish with clove cigarettes that takes me back to a time when I owned a black duster and listened exclusively to music that terrified my grandmother.

Well, they said they were trying to make something different. I guess my rating on this one suffers from it’s complete uniqueness. I wouldn’t advocate trying this one to the beginner, but if you’re an adventurous soul with curiosity and almost $100 to burn… save your money.

Rating: Risky

Ransom Spirits – Whippersnapper Oregon Spirit Whisky (42%)

Here’s a great way to weed out the spirits reviewers you should trust and the ones you should ignore: See if your reviewer has reviewed this whisky. If they have, do they make a comment about how this is some magical hybrid style of whisky? Do they whine about how hard the bottle was to open? Either yes is a red flag. Browsing through what people think of this one is painful; I’ve seen these two comments so many times that I’m a half a bottle of Zoloft away from losing my marbles and writing them in squirrel blood over all the walls of my home: It’s like a Bourbon, a Scotch AND an Irish whisky!!! Bottle won’t open!!! Bourbon Scotch Irish… won’t open… won’t… open… won’t… Bourbon Scotch… muaaaahahahahahahaaaa! Whippersnapperrrrrr!!!!!

First, just grab the cap with a little gusto. Give it a good turn. The seal will break. If you have little-child hands use one of those rubber dealies to get a better grip. Some of my peers felt like they needed to grab razors or screwdrivers to open it. I read another review where the guy claims he couldn’t open it without melting the wax with his lighter. It’s just wax, people. I hate to sound like a dick (that’s a total lie; I’m completely shameless) but if it takes you more than two minutes to open this bottle, consider it a sign that you probably shouldn’t be drinking. You probably shouldn’t be playing with a lighter, either.

As for the marketing aficionados who recite the company’s claim about hybridization, the actual differences between Irish and Scotch Whisky are mostly geographical. Both have to be made with grain and 3 years old, made and matured in their respective countries. There are very specific subsets of these styles with which you may find procedural parallels, but really, the contributions that any of these make are completely undone when you try and Frankenstein them together. The same goes for Bourbon, which requires it to be aged exclusively in virgin oak. This is not a hybrid of whisky styles any more than a Cuba Libre is a hybrid of Rum and Cola. Stop trying to put lipstick on that pig!

So what is Whippersnapper? Blended American Whisky. Case closed. Predictably, the answer the distillery gives is a lot fluffier. They start by buying corn whisky from someone else. Then they strip all the flavor out of it by re-distilling it to a proof that exceeds the maximum strength allowed by the federal code to be called whisky. This neutral spirit (let’s call it what it is) makes up 76% of the spirit that goes to cask. The rest is a mix of malted and unmalted barley spirit. They age these in a bunch of barrels, some new and used American white oak and some Pinot Noir barrels, for an “average of 18 months,” a time span which is more of a finish than an actual maturation. Then they choose eight barrels and blend them for each release.

If this whisky imitated any style of whisky it would be Canadian, where they use a cask-aged neutral spirit as a base and spike it with a more flavorful, true whisky to give it depth. This neutral, cask aged spirit is why many Canadian whiskies are forced to add the word “blended” to their labels  for their product to be imported into the US. Still, even the Canadians have the sense to age their neutral spirit for at least three years before calling it whisky.

Nose: The chemical new make smell has only had time to dampen into a mild solvent. The malt is rotten. Corn fritters fried in dirty oil. Coal and lots of rough edges. Very, very grainy. Not unlike a wet stump. Blueberry. Traces of stale smoke. Feints. Not a whole lot of soul either. 

Palate: Bitter. Ethanol finish covering a tiny bit of red wine. Burnt toast and that dry taste you get when you drink too much beer. Leaf compost. Those little cardboard cards you spray cologne on, after the stench has been applied. It tastes like what it is: a new make that was only finished in oak and adulterated with a tiny splash of actual whisky to give it some dimension… some horrible, horrible dimension.

But if it’s a Blended Whisky why do they call it a Spirit Whisky?

Short answer: The TTB let these guys slip through on a technicality because the company thought Spirit Whisky sounded better than Blended Whisky.

Long answer: The Spirit Whisky designation was originally created after Prohibition ended. Foreign competitors had been operating, uninterrupted by American politics, so the US legislators of the time tried to give their countrymen an advantage when they resumed production. In an attempt to help local distillers make more whisky, the government created a new class of whisky. Blended Whisky only has to have 20% actual whisky in it, the other 80% can be “blending materials” like grain alcohol. For the new Spirit Whisky, they lowered the amount of real whisky you needed to put the W-word on the label down to 5% but gave it a modifier that would still distinguish it in hopes that, when the need was over, people would go back to making the good stuff. The way the TTB views neutral spirits today has a little grey area where it can be matured in a cask, but because it’s distilled to a neutral proof, it is still not considered whisky. The whole thing is a bit like how a square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not always a square. The rectangle here is Blended Whisky and the square is Spirit Whisky. Really, to those in the know, Spirit Whisky is of lower whisky quality than Blended Whisky, it’s just that most people don’t know what the former is and have justifiably awful preconceptions about the latter. This is merely a case of them labeling their square whisky as rectangular to convert ignorance to marketability.

Rating: Risky