Flavored whiskeys are very hit-and-miss. As someone who tastes, judges, and writes about whiskey for a living, I can tell you it usually goes one of three ways in flavored whiskey. Either you’re going to get a super sweet sugar bomb that maybe has a hint of what’s promised on the label flavorwise; or it’ll be sort of blank and pointless (maybe too sweet or not sweet at all); or the bottlers will absolutely nail what’s promised on the label in a way that truly represents the flavor they’re chasing.
Frankly, more often than not you’ll end up with a bottle that’s overly sweet and little else. That sucks.
To help you avoid the shit out there, I’m pulling in eight bottles of flavored whiskey and blind tasting them. This is a very straightforward tasting. I’m looking at the level of sweetness and whether or not it’s crystal clear from the jump what “flavor” the whiskey is. Basically, I’m looking for which bottle delivers something distinct and doesn’t overdo the sweetness.
Our lineup today is as follows:
- Stillhouse America’s Finest Spiced Cherry Whiskey
- Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Coffee Old-Fashioned
- Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey Peanut Butter Chocolate
- Breckenridge Rum Cask Finish Batch no. 12
- Arcane Alpha American Whiskey with Hops
- Duke & Dame Salted Caramel Flavored Whiskey
- Southern Comfort Original
- Whiskeysmith Co. Blood Orange Flavored Whiskey
Let’s dive in!
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Part 1: The Tasting
There’s a clear sense of dark and woody winter spices — clove, anise, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg — on the nose with a black cherry soda syrup vibe. The palate is largely the same with a clear woody spice tied to dark cherry that leads to flat root beer on the end.
This started off strong and sweet then veered off into flat soda territory pretty quickly.
Coffee grounds, orange peels, and cherry dominate the nose. The palate really leans into the orange and spice before hitting a soft drip coffee vibe at the end.
Overall, this was pretty good, distinct, and not too sweet.
Sweet peanuts come through strongly on the nose with a hint of dried cacao powder. The palate is amazingly sweet and hits on a Reese’s Peanut Cup vibe and that’s about it.
This was shockingly sweet but did deliver a crystal clear sense of peanut butter and chocolate.
This is very light on the nose, I maybe get some apple and cinnamon but that’s about it. The palate has a spicy essence that’s tied to a bit of dried fruit and maybe some allspice and chocolate but that’s about it.
This was very blank. It wasn’t overly whiskey-like or sweet at all.
Woah! This is dank AF with a citrus-forward hoppiness on the nose that’s undeniable. That darkness carries through on the palate with a bit of tart red berries and light pine resin next to a dash of holiday baking spices and maybe some vanilla.
This was … interesting. It wasn’t too sweet but felt like it wasn’t too much of anything — a whiskey, flavored whiskey, dank IPA, or otherwise.
This is clearly salted caramel on the nose with a mild sweetness and a hint of vanilla and spice. The palate is buttery and, well, full of salted caramel. The end is very sweet but that sweetness stays attached to that caramel all the way.
This was very sweet but that sweetness made sense because it was attached to caramel (you know, melted butter, sugar, and cream). This pour has made the most sense so far.
SoCo! There you are! This is so distinctly Southern Comfort with a light fruity nose that leans toward apple and raisin with a cinnamon candy vibe. The palate veers a little toward black licorice and cherry candy with a winter spice edge.
Shit. This wasn’t bad. It certainly wasn’t overly sweet (on this panel anyway).
Orange, orange, orange! The nose is a bridge between fresh orange rinds and marmalade with a hint of vanilla cake and maybe some soft winter spices. The palate is so orange and overly sweet that it feels like you’re drinking orange bar syrup straight from the bottle.
This is clearly orange but so sickly sweet that it barely matters.
Part 2: The Ranking
8. Breckenridge Rum Cask Finish Batch no. 12 — Taste 4
Average Price: $48
This whiskey is labeled and a high-rye bourbon that’s aged in Colorado rum casks with “natural flavors” added.
This was just kind of blank. I didn’t get rum or bourbon. This is a hard pass from me.
7. Arcane Alpha American Whiskey with Hops — Taste 5
Average Price: $46
Arcane is known for making full-on craft beer and then distilling that hopped beer into whiskey. In this case, they did that with a triple IPA and then added some hops to the barrels for extra hoppiness.
This was 100% hopped like a ridiculous IPA. It was fine overall but really didn’t balance on the palate as well as it could have. Plus, I can’t see what I’d ever use this in.
6. Whiskeysmith Co. Blood Orange Flavored Whiskey — Taste 8
Average Price: $25
This whiskey comes out of Old Elk Distillery in Colorado. Beyond that, not much else is known about the fidelity of what’s in the bottle.
This was clearly orange and nearly great but then got so goddamn sweet on the palate that all was lost. I could see watering this down with some bubbly water and plenty of ice though. So it’s not a total loss.
5. Stillhouse America’s Finest Spiced Cherry Whiskey — Taste 1
Average Price: $27
This whiskey starts off with Stillhouse’s 100% clear corn whiskey that’s then infused with black cherry, a mix of wintry spices, and some vanilla.
This was clearly spiced cherry. That’s a win. However, it was very sweet but then kind of petered out on that flat root beer finish.
4. Southern Comfort Original — Taste 7
Average Price: $11
Southern Comfort is made from whiskeys sourced from Sazerac Company’s many distilleries. Those barrels are spiked with fruit and spices during maturation and then bottled with plenty of proofing water.
This was (shockingly) not as bad as I remembered. There was a sense of balance, fruit, and spice, and it wasn’t too sweet. Don’t get me wrong, it was still very sweet. But I could see drinking this with some fizzy water and an orange slice.
3. Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey Peanut Butter Chocolate — Taste 3
Average Price: $25
This is whiskey blended with “all-natural” chocolate and peanut butter “flavors.”
This delivered a clear and concise nose and palate. It was very sweet but hit the nail on the head with a peanut butter chocolate whiskey. All of that said, I’d probably use this to make pancake syrup or in cookies maybe.
2. Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Coffee Old-Fashioned — Taste 2
Average Price: $25
This is a blend of straight rye whiskey, Intelligentsia Coffee, raw honey, demerara sugar, Angostura Bitters, and orange peel, creating a black-as-night whiskey in the bottle.
Again, this delivered a very clear profile. Also, it wasn’t overly sweet. I don’t think I’d ever drink it (I’m not a coffee drinker) but I respect it.
1. Duke & Dame Salted Caramel Flavored Whiskey — Taste 6
Average Price: $25
This starts with a blend of 100 percent corn whiskeys with a couple of two-year-old bourbons. That juice is mixed with “natural flavors” of salted caramel to create the final product. Amazingly, they’ve made a sweet-flavored whiskey that holds to 1 gram of sugar per serving as well.
This was the clearest of the flavored whiskeys, and the sweetness made 100% sense here. This was concise and tasted really nostalgic. I don’t for the life of me know when I’d ever reach for this outside of baking, but I do know it’s a quality product that delivers exactly what it promises.
Part 3: Final Thoughts
I was sort of surprised by the quality of most of these (well, the top five anyway). And I get it, these are for folks looking for a soft landing in a whiskey with a familiar flavor profile as a shooter or mixer. That’s totally cool.
In the end, I think there’s value in this sector. And while I would never reach for these (even the “not that sweet” ones are too sweet for me), I can see using them for baking or mixing into heavy batched winter cocktails.