It’s tough to articulate why celebrities starting alcohol companies cans seem irksome, but the fact remains: it often feels that way (for some folks anyway). One part of it is that famous people have the clout to leapfrog many of the industry’s gatekeepers. Another is that there have been enough celeb cash grabs to make us feel wary. But to call them all trash or appropriative or unnecessary? That discounts the hard work being done by some famous faces who really put passion into their booze brands. Plus, the “crash grabs” are the exception, not the rule, in a market this competitive.
Today, we’re looking at whiskey brands launched by household names. But to remove some of the label-stigma, we’re tasting them blind. This is really about ranking these bottles based on the criteria that truly counts — what’s inside — more than the name attached.
Part 1: The Taste
Each whiskey we’re tasting today is either owned, created, or endorsed by a famous person (or people), even more reason to run this test blind. Not that a connection to The Vampire Diaries would be likely to sway me. Still, by blindly nosing and tasting them I can judge which are worth trying and which you should avoid like a CW spin-off series.
- Virginia Black Whiskey
- Brother’s Bond Bourbon
- Mulholland American Whiskey
- Wolf Moon Bourbon
- Blackened American Whiskey
- Heaven’s Door Bourbon
- Sweetens Cove Bourbon
- Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon
Let’s dive into these celebrity-centric whiskey expressions!
The nose is surprisingly sweet with a ton of vanilla, caramel, toffee, and candied pecans. The palate is much more refined and nuanced — with caramel, dried fruits, a healthy hit of oak and wood char, and a nice gentle kiss of wood smoke. The finish is filled with warming heat, caramelized sugar, and just a wisp of barbecue smoke.
The nose is surprisingly light in aromas. There are the usual suspects of vanilla and sweet corn, but not much else. It’s pretty bland. Taking a sip, I found an overly sweet, almost cloying flavor with a ton of corn, vanilla, and a slight hint of orange peels.
From my notes: “Sugary and sweet without much substance.”
A lot is going on with this whiskey’s nose. I noticed the aromas of toffee, candied orange peels, and wood char right away. This was followed by vanilla beans and slight spice. Candied fruits, a nutty sweetness, dried orange peels, and vanilla beans highlight the palate. The finish is sweet and slightly dry.
A complex nose of maple candy, caramel corn, toasted vanilla beans, honey, and cinnamon greeted my senses. This was followed by a palate of oaky wood, dried cherries, candied pecans, peppery rye, and caramelized sugar. The finish is slightly spicy and filled with warming toffee and oak.
I was greeted by aromas of charred oak, clover honey, candied orange peel, vanilla, and candied pecans on the nose. Sipping this dram brought forth baking spices, dried cherries, vanilla beans, and more oaky wood. It all ends with a nice, warming, sweet finish.
The nose is loaded with delicate aromas of candy apples, caramel, charred oak, and vanilla beans. Sipping it offered up notes of dried cherries, sweet pecans, maple syrup, vanilla, oaky wood, and just a hint of peppery spice at the finish.
While light in appearance, this whiskey has a surprisingly complex nose of cinnamon, pipe tobacco, and caramel. The palate was loaded with clove, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla, and more caramel. It’s a nice mix of sweet and spicy. Though… not overly complex.
On the nose, I found heavy vanilla, caramel, and slight oak. Otherwise, the nose was fairly muted. The palate was nutty with caramel corn, slightly spiced, and a ton of sugary flavor.
Not the worst whiskey I’ve ever tasted, but definitely nowhere near the best.
Part 2: The Ranking
Of all the alcohol-based stories I write for Uproxx, none are as fun and exciting as blind taste tests. This is especially true when the spirit is whiskey. I love whiskey. Keep reading to see how it all turned out.
8) Wolf Moon Bourbon – Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean (Taste 2)
Average Price: $26
If you’re a fan of country music, you’ve probably heard of Florida Georgia Line and Jason Aldean. Wolf Moon Bourbon is a collaboration between the two musical acts to pay homage to their time touring together. Aged for four years in new, charred American oak barrels, it’s touted as having a mellow subtle flavor.
To be blunt, this isn’t a very good whiskey. If you prefer your whiskeys to taste like corn and sugar, this is the drink for you. Everyone else, stay away.
7) Virginia Black Whiskey – Drake (Taste 8)
Average Price: $37
Drake collaborated with beverage entrepreneur Brent Hocking (founder of DeLeon Tequila) to create Virginia Black Whiskey. Launched in 2016, it’s a blend of two, three, and four-year-old high-rye bourbons. It’s 80 proof and comes in one of the sleekest bottles on the market.
This is a fairly unexciting whiskey. It has all of the usual whiskey flavors, but doesn’t really have much depth and is a little too sweet to enjoy for an extended amount of time.
6) Brother’s Bond Bourbon – Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley (Taste 7)
Average Price: $39.99
If you’re a fan of CW vampire-filled teen angst-centric shows, you’re likely a fan of Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley. Otherwise, they might be completely unknown to you. Either way, their bond, forged while playing brothers on the show The Vampire Diaries, led to the creation of the aptly named Brother’s Bond Bourbon.
This is not a bad whiskey. It’s filled with caramel, brown sugar, and various spices. It’s sweet and spicy but it just doesn’t have much else going on.
5) Heaven’s Door Bourbon – Bob Dylan (Taste 3)
Average Price: $49.99
We all know Bob Dylan as a singer, but until a few years ago we didn’t know him as a whiskey maker. His Heaven’s Door brand makes a variety of expressions, but one of the best is the baseline Heaven’s Door Bourbon (though we rave about the rye far more often).
This award-winning whiskey was distilled in Tennessee and aged for at least six years in new, charred American oak casks.
I really enjoyed this whiskey. It began with a bold nose and worked its way into a mellow, easy to drink, flavorful palate, and eventually a nice, warming finish. Definitely a whiskey I’ll keep in my rotation.
4) Blackened American Whiskey – Metallica (Taste 5)
Average Price: $49
A few years ago, when Blackened American Whiskey was first released, it seemed like a gimmicky money grab. But this collaboration between the rock band and the late master distiller Dave Pickerell is more than that. It’s a whiskey made by blending bourbon and rye that’s at least eight years old that’s finished in brandy cask while being pummeled by Metallica’s music.
This whiskey was a great example of how mixing sweet flavors and spicy flavors can truly work in unison. It was loaded with caramel, oak, and vanilla that were perfectly tempered with slight rye spice and cinnamon.
3) Wild Turkey Longbranch Bourbon – Matthew McConaughey (Taste 1)
Average Price: $39.99
This is a little different than the other whiskeys on this list. Matthew McConaughey isn’t an owner of this brand. He’s simply the “Creative Director” — though that surely comes with some nice financial perks. But you won’t find many celebrities celebrating an expression more than McConaughey. There’s a reason for that and it’s spelled T-E-X-A-S. This wildly popular bourbon is small-batch eight-year-old bourbon that gets its flavor from Texas mesquite and oak charcoal filtration and was crafted to represent the actor’s beloved home state by way of Kentucky.
This whiskey is sweet, loaded with caramel flavors, slight spice, and features a nice hint of smoke at the finish. It’s a very unique and memorable whiskey that deserves another try.
2) Sweetens Cove Bourbon – Peyton Manning and Andy Roddick (Taste 6)
Average Price: $210
Peyton Manning, Andy Roddick, and Jim Nantz are co-owners of a Tennessee golf course called Sweetens Cove. The golf course gives out free shots of whiskey on the first hole. To pay homage to this unique tradition, crafting Sweetens Cove Bourbon only made sense. This blend of sourced 13-year-old Tennessee bourbons is the result.
This is a complex, flavorful whiskey. You can tell it has a high corn content based on the sweetness, but it’s not overly sugary. There’s a great deal of oak and spice as well. A really nice dram from three names that don’t really seem to fit together.
1) Mulholland American Whiskey – Walton Goggins (Taste 4)
Average Price: $29.99
If you’re a fan of the FX show Justified you’ve been acquainted with Walton Goggins for years. Otherwise, you’ve probably seen this talented character actor on CBS’s The Unicorn or HBO’s Vice Principals or in one of Uproxx writer Brian Grubb’s many odes to the man.
Well, guess what? Uncle Baby Billy also makes a damn good hooch, called Mulholland American Whiskey. This 94 percent corn, four percent rye, two percent malted barley 100 proof expression has racked up awards since its introduction a few years ago and is deserving of those accolades.
This is a fine example of a “celebrity” whiskey done right. It’s complex, rich, and loaded with nutty, sweet, slightly spicy flavors that all work together like the ensemble cast of your favorite SOON TO RETURN comedy.
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