In the last few months, a few new kinds of flavored whiskey have trickled down here to Columbia (AKA the bottom of the distribution chain). Adding flavors is, of course, nothing new; I’ll save my rant on all the kinds of Kool-Aid that have been poured into vodka for another day. As far as whiskey (or whisky, depending on… oh, don’t get me started), however, there have already been offerings from some major distillers with flavors like cherry, honey, and cinnamon. But this new flavor that has come to us is an interesting choice for sure.
I’m not sure if it’s a seasonal marketing push or if these will be sticking around for a while, but the maple flavors are here. I guess I should be thankful that there isn’t more pumpkin syrup being dumped into other spirits (I’m looking at you, Pinnacle). The combination of maple syrup and whiskey seems like a good one, right? The dark-sugar and caramel notes of maple syrup should make a great compliment alongside the smoky (smokey? Another ‘e’? Let’s not bother) wood and smoother caramel side of many a good whiskey.
For our consideration tonight, we’ve got three options: Crown Royal Maple (out of Canada), Cabin Fever (also from the Great White North), and Jim Beam Maple (from Kentucky). For contrast, I warmed up some Trader Joe’s Grade A Maple Syrup and combined it with a healthy dose of Larceny. This approach is only mirrored by two of these offerings, though; according to the information on the website, Crown Royal ages the spirit in “maple-toasted oak” instead of infusing the syrup right into the whiskey. Let’s see if it makes a difference, yes?
Of the four contenders here, the home version of syrup and bourbon is the darkest, but this might have more to do with my lack of measurement than the contents. I did, however, make sure to sip some maple syrup by itself first, just to put myself in the mood. The Crown Royal and the Cabin Fever were both the mid-amber color of a milder whiskey, about the shade of Barenjager but definitely not the deep, rich color of maple syrup. The Beam was lighter still, almost the color of an average single-malt. Finally, my home concoction, about three parts bourbon to one part syrup, was almost as dark as the maple syrup itself. This lead me to wonder how much aging or blending the whiskey had gone through on the first three to produce such a light hue, even after the addition of maple syrup!
My first deep sniff of the Crown Royal hit me right in the nostalgia region of my brain. Not for any consumption of booze or pancakes as a child, but it right away reminded me of the maple creme sticks (think of a skinny eclair, in Ohio we called them creme sticks) I would eat on Saturday mornings after youth bowling league. Sure, it was maple-ish, but not quite the full-on maple odor I was expecting. Not too much burn in the nostrils, due to there not being much whiskey to smell there.
The Cabin Fever was a similar smell, but a little more astringent and even less maple. That little bit of alcohol in my nose was offset by a lighter maple component, but not because of the sweetness. It seemed to be lighter without being sweeter. This one I had trouble placing until I got to tasting it.
The Jim Beam had a slightly more smoky smell and a better (read: lower) alcohol level in the smell. Still a little bit of maple to it, but still not much sign of whiskey. There was the usual signs of maple syrup in the sugar, caramel hints, and butter.
The TJ’s/Larceny maple I made smelled like bourbon all the way until the end of the inhale, when you could pick up a slight ping of that sweetness and deliciousness. There was far more of this than what I portioned out of the mini-bottles, so I knew there was more to be done with this one. Perhaps it needed more maple, but this might not be an experiment that I try again anytime soon.
Finally, the Flavor
The Crown Royal came through in the taste in much the same way as the nose. The taste is light and sugary, not with a brown sugar taste, but with a confectionery kind of sweetness that still reminds me of the Krispy Kreme donuts from childhood. It is tasty and light, but not in the way that maple syrup is. It’s probably a result of the way that the maple flavor was added, but it tasted more like an alcoholic maple candy than syrup.
The Cabin Fever was sweeter still, but had more of a buttery, brown-sugar kind of mojo happening. It comes across less like maple than the Crown, and more like a Werther’s Original. A lot like those butterscotch-ish candies, actually. Again, maybe it was the thin nature of the spirit, but this is more of a maple confection flavor than maple syrup.
Jim Beam’s offering managed to get a lot closer to what I *thought* I was in for. Jim was thicker in consistency and had a legitimate maple syrup note to it with less sugar. But being less sweet didn’t increase the burn; it actually went down rather smoothly. The taste rolls across the tongue with a tip-of sharpness that bring to mind the idea that a tree somewhere was very, very drunk. This was the most straightforward of the three.
My unmeasured homemade version was the only one with an actual whiskey flavor to it, much less a bourbon taste. It tasted like exactly what it was, but helped me nail down the missing whiskey flavor from the other three.
Which one of these to choose really depends what you are looking for. I tried mixing some of this into a whiskey-and-coke, but the maple was lost… as well as the whiskey. If anything, it just made the Coke even sweeter with little other contribution. I did not try to make a familiar whiskey cocktail with these out of a suspicion that I would over-sweeten the drink without picking up any maple. The solution might have been to over-pour the maple whiskey to get it to stand out… but I have a feeling these were not made for mixing. Feel free to experiment and let me know how it goes!
I may yet experiment more with the remainders of these mini-bottles, but not this day. I’ve got lots more to say about whiskey in general, and about The Great American Whiskey Fair! Next time…