Over on the edge of town,
Neon sign spinnin' round,
Like a cross over the lost and found."
It's that time of year when the world falls in love, only at the moment there's no mistletoe or caroling or pumpkin spice flavored whiskey to be found. We're standing here with the second in a line of seasonal whiskey releases, specifically a young, hopped whiskey from the craft distiller Sons of Liberty Spirits Company in Rhode Island. Yes, you read "hopped" correctly, it isn't just those tantalizing spring zephyrs going to your head. Time to put on your Five Fingers, unbutton the collar a bit, and embrace winsomely your significant other, because this is a whiskey that brings the seasons together.
First: "Cereal Alchemist, Y U NO WRITE ABOUT WHISKEY EVERYONE CAN BUY??"
Because it's boring. Why would I spend all of my time writing about spirits that you can acquire and try for yourself with $40 and ten minutes of driving? In that case I guarantee that you can make up your mind about it faster than I can blog about it, and would you rather be reading or dramming? It's science. Let's face it - time is your most precious resource, and you come here to find out what's happening in the most thrilling, innovative corners of spirit distillation. The idea behind our reviews is to give you a detailed analysis of craft, spirit, distiller, and terroir before you pay a premium or embark on some damned idealistic crusade like your father. Knowledge is power.
We're not going to blog about only the premium spirits, but they have their place in the cannon, and in many cases they provide a glimpse of the future.
Second: "I have nary an interest in reading your "spirit blog" if you're going to speak of these abominable flavored whiskies. You, sir, are an imposter (elite sniff - evil look through monocle)."
Sons of Liberty famously pioneers a very grain-forward whiskey in their distillation. Founder Mike "The Revolutionary" Reppucci graduated with distinction from a business school in London, and while he was there he acquired a taste for stout beers. And since all whiskey starts life as beer anyway, he thought "what would happen if we made the best beer possible and carried that over into the whiskey flavor profile?" He came back to the states, commissioned his own still design, and enlisted the help of Master Distiller David Pickerell (formerly of Maker's Mark) to get their enterprise off the ground. The result was Uprising Single Malt American whiskey, a spirit made from a combination of deep-roasted ("chocolate malt") and non-roasted barley - and aged less than a year in roasted oak. I thought the first batch release was rough - something close to a white dog whiskey (although certainly quite drinkable), but with skill and improved maturation this spirit has improved dramatically. We'll review Uprising on a later date, along with the rare and elusive "1765 Release".
In 2012, Sons of Liberty began their first in a line of "seasonal releases", which are essentially flavored craft whiskies based on the signature Uprising malt. Their winter release, Pumpkin Spice Whiskey, just garnered a Best in Category award from the American Distilling Institute. It makes a mean twist on a White Russian.
If all whiskey begins life as beer, what would a whiskey made from an IPA taste like? Yes, I am telling you that I guessed the release at least 2 months before reports hit open source. I was even *this close* to creating such a whiskey from a brew kit at home out of sheer curiosity, but Sons of Liberty did my work for me. They enlisted Cottrell Brewing for the wort, distilled it, aged it less than a year in 10-gallon oak barrels, and then actually dry hopped the whiskey itself before bottling it (Citra and Sorachi hops - brilliant!). So while it's labeled a "hop flavored whiskey", it is truly a hopped whiskey in the spirit of the craft.
On the nose we have pure, fresh-mown lawn without the lawnmower fumes. I'd like to call this "summer forward" instead of grain forward, all chlorophyll and honeysuckle, Vitamin D and cicadas. The cereal malt forms the perfect foundation, almost as if you can feel the barley grains mashing between your fingers. You know that opening scene from Gladiator, where Maximus is dreaming of being home (or heaven)? A sniff of this and you will be transported.
What that 40% ABV means for you is that you can choose to drink this neat if you want to. Really - I find 35-40% ABV to be the sweet spot anyway. But if you add just a little water, you will bring out those fruity, citrus notes - grapefruit, lemon, tangerine. Good stuff.
As the finish works its way out, leaving my breath smelling like Harpoon's latest iteration, I have an idea. What if we were to substitute the gin in a Negroni with Sons of Liberty's Hopped Ginny-Whiskey? This is a treat - just for those of you who've read this far.
A cocktail named after Count Negroni. You see, back in the last century Italians in Europe were greatly enjoying a popular drink called the Americano that was made with tonic water, bitters, and vermouth. Legend has it that one day the Count walks into a bar (not an joke setup) and decides he wants a little more oomph to his drink - smart man. The bartender substitutes gin for the tonic water and the Negroni was born! It's also popular now because Mad Men.
Recipe: Equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and Campari (an Italian bitters, and really, what bitters aren't Italian?). Stirred - although shaken is your prerogative - and poured into a martini glass. If garnish is desired, orange peel works quite well.
Like a cross over the lost and found.