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.