American Whiskey: Restoring The Romance (Plus A Spiced Pumpkin Bread Recipe)

This is the second part of a two-part post on American whiskey and its current state. For a little more context, jump back to part one, “Is American Whiskey Love Without Romance?”. If you want to jump directly to the spirits tasting and pumpkin bread recipe in this post, have at it. What follows will still make sense.

I believe there are only two ways to drink whiskey. Let me elaborate. In the broad sense there are two ways – relaxing as you casually savor the experience with the company you are in, and in an intellectual manner where you geek out. The previous post on the state of American whiskey was the result of one of those conversations about whiskey where you discuss and learn. Jared Jordan of MixCo was generous enough to walk me through an American whiskey flight that featured some whiskeys that I had yet to experience. It was this flight that sent me on a search for even more knowledge than was able to be discussed over a four-spirit whiskey flight.

The four American whiskeys sampled were Sam Houston American Straight Whiskey, Kinnickinnic, Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10, and Baker’s 7. I had previously enjoyed the Russell’s Reserve, but I wasn’t familiar with the other three. After researching these brands I found no evidence that any of them come from MGP, however, I couldn’t find any information on where Kinnickinnic sources the bourbon for their whiskey blend. All their website states is that it’s “sourced from one of America’s finest distilleries”. Without further ado, here is the rundown.

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Sam Houston
43% ABV
~$22

Sam Houston was the first up in the flight and ended up being my third preferred. I did some research and learned that Sam Houston used to be bottled as straight bourbon, and now it’s bottled as straight whiskey. This is neither a pro or a con, just something to be aware of, particularly if you’ve had it in the past and it seems different. Just like the title of bonded, the term straight is regulated by law. In the U.S., straight whiskey must be created by distilling fermented cereal grain to a spirit that is no more than 80% ABV, aged for a minimum of two years with an initial ABV of no more than 62.5%.

The Sam Houston was oaky with notes of what I’d describe as “sweet medicine” and iodine. It’s pleasantly aromatic on the nose and has a bit of an alcohol burn in the finish. I’d give this one a pass.

Kinnickinnic
43% ABV
~$30

Kinnickinnic is an Ojibwe word that means a blend of tobacco and other plants. This naming makes sense because it’s a blended whiskey. Something I didn’t previously know about blended whiskeys is that they can contain grain neutral spirits, which basically means vodka (a grain neutral spirit) is used as a filler to lower the cost of production. One thing that sets Kinnickinnic apart is that although it’s blended, they only use whiskeys. The straight bourbon they use is sourced, while the malt whiskey and the rye is produced in house at the Great Lakes Distillery.

The Kinnickinnic was fruit forward on the nose with fig, apricot, apple and Fall spices. On the palate there was an unexpected subtle smokiness, but I found it flat overall. The aroma didn’t match the taste at all, and this was my least preferred of the four.

Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10
45% ABV
~$26

Russell’s Reserve was my preference on this flight. This bourbon is made by Jimmy Russell (Master Distiller, Wild Turkey) and his son Eddie. Jimmy Russell is the longest-tenured, active master distiller in the world, and when combined with his son’s experience that’s nearly 100 years of knowledge put into making this product. It has heavy notes of baking spice, oak, and vanilla, and is a smooth sipper. At around $26 it’s a great value bottle that I like to keep on hand.

Baker’s 7
53.5% ABV
~$39

The Baker’s 7 was the last one we tasted in the flight because of its high ABV. This whiskey packs a punch, but it’s not hot on the palate like I’d expect. On the palate it has a certain dryness to it, along with oak and good level of complexity. This Baker’s was my second preferred dram of the night. While there are some high ABV drams I can enjoy served neat, I’d cut this one with a little water or use it in a cocktail where other ingredients can stand up to it.

Consider all of this a primer to your own conversation about American whiskey. What are you currently enjoying? Is there a bottle you’re looking to splurge on for the holidays? Also, don’t forget about those great bottles you’ve enjoyed in the past. I was excited last week when a local bartender poured me some Michter’s American Whiskey, which I haven’t had in over a year. I miss their Toasted Barrel Release, but their standard American Whiskey is a downright pleasant dram. You can imagine the shock when I discovered that they are another non-distiller producer (NDP) that only bottles and labels. However, rather than let that break my heart, I accepted it for the good whiskey that it is and did some research. I now have more hope for the future of American whiskey because Michter’s own distillery just opened in October in Shively, Kentucky. It will be a couple of years before their product comes from that distillery, but it’s a step in the right direction. With brands taking action to restore the primary element of trust, I think the relationship with American whiskey can be mended and the romance of whiskey making restored.

Cheers!

Notes:
Mixed Company (MixCo) is located at 3rd and Denver, Tulsa, OK. They have a solid whiskey selection, and often host tastings and events. The best place to check up on these is their Facebook page. They also host live jazz every Wednesday, as well as several other nights with live or curated music. Be sure to check them out on Instagram and Twitter too.

Wait! With cooler weather upon us, I can’t forget to include the pumpkin bread recipe. This recipe is one that I’ve pieced together over the years. It has gone through a few iterations, but this is the recipe I used last night to bake the pumpkin bread I’m sharing with my coworkers today. I’d encourage you to also make the two loaves, sharing one. Enjoy.

 

Andrew's Spiced Pumpkin Bread
 
Prep Time
Cook Time
Total Time
 
Recipe Type: baking
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¾ cup vegetable oil
  • ¼ butter
  • 4 eggs
  • 15 ounces solid pack pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray with oil and line two 9” x 5” x 3” loaf pans with a narrow strip of parchment paper.
  2. Combine sugar, oil, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl.
  3. Mix in the eggs and pumpkin.
  4. Into another large bowl, sift dry ingredients flour, nutmeg, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  5. Combine the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry and mix.
  6. Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Bake, testing periodically with a baking tester until done (Approximately 60-70 minutes.).
  7. Using a butter knife, trace around the edges of the pumpkin bread, and use the parchment paper to gently lift out the loaves.
  8. Transfer to a cooling rack and let stand 10 minutes.
 

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