In Defense of "Flavored": Why Flavored Whiskey doesn't have to suck...

  “Flavored whiskey"Just mention it around any true whiskey lover and watch the eyes roll and grimaces spread. But it doesn’t have to be that way. At its most basic level, whiskey is, in fact a flavored spirit. Pour any novice a dram of white dog, fresh off the still, and ask them to identify said spirit. Very few will indeed say whiskey. The majority of whiskey’s flavor comes from the barrel. Now, what if, instead of relying solely on the barrel to impart the desired flavors and letting precious time work its magic, other flavors were introduced in the distilling phase. Whiskey and Gin share a common ancestor in the Dutch spirit that is Genever, Gin’s predecessor. Genever originally retained much of the original malt flavor with only subtle hints of Juniper and other botanicals. These were to help along the young spirit that was typically consumed not too long after being distilled. Fast forward to today’s craft spirit renaissance and what do you have? Young spirits being consumed almost as fast as they are produced. However, unlike Genever, or other flavored products, these are produced the way more popular, mainstream whiskies are produced with one caveat. They’re meant to compete with nowhere near the amount of time the big guys have to let their spirit mature. While the “Flavored Whiskey” most of us know and abhor is meant to introduce non whiskey drinkers to the spirit and the lore of being a “whiskey drinker” who’s to say that things can’t be done in a better way?This was the question I found myself facing when starting up my own distillery. Would we produce a Bourbon? Of course not. Not because I don’t love Bourbon ( I do.) But because...a: Why would I make something that already exists. (Millions of gallons in fact) and..b: How would we compete with the big producers in Kentucky? (Holders of said million gallons) To start off with I came up with a mashbill I had not seen anyone else produce. Most whiskey mashes are comprised of a majority one grain with few, if any, supporting grains. Our mash combines near equal parts barley and rye along with a smaller portion of oats. However, rather than just using simple barley and rye I took cues both from traditional Irish Pot Still Whiskey and the world of beer and used both malted and un-malted barley along with two types of roasted barley. The logic behind this was simple. I love the deeper, earthier flavors found in older whiskies but knew we did not have time on our side. This theory worked out but something was missing.file-sep-15-4-24-57-pm          "Enter the realm of “Flavored” Most flavored whiskey contains some whiskey along with a whole lot of sugar and a cocktail of mystery flavoring agents developed in a lab somewhere unknown. What I did however was take a portion of our un-barreled whiskey and re-distill it with some smoked apples. The result was delicious (think apple Mezcal), but not something I thought most people would appreciate, so this was blended with the barrel rested version of the base spirit and our whiskey was born.file-sep-15-4-31-50-pmfile-sep-15-4-29-44-pm     “Our Flavored Whiskey”  Sadly there seems to be little “Craft” in today’s craft distilling world. Many distilleries are mere marketing firms but if you look you’ll find people out there. Sincere people pushing the boundaries, actually innovating, and redefining what it means to be “Craft”. Changing people’s perceptions of what whiskey is and can be. Distilleries like Corsair in Nashville, Letherbee in Chicago and Lost Spirits in California. As for me, I just want to keep producing new spirits and hope to find myself in good company as time goes by.