Right. So, my weekend off from writing means that what was supposed to be a week of whisky posts is now extended into a second week. Let’s just pretend, shall we?
I’ll start this one by stating right up front that I don’t hold much truck with flavoured versions of traditionally unflavoured spirits. I make an exception for booze that’s house-infused at fancy bars, since they’re generally working with natural ingredients, and doing interesting things with the end result. But store bought hooch that’s spiked with artificial flavouring? Call me crazy, but when I drink gin or rum or bourbon, I usually want to taste gin or rum or bourbon.
So when a bottle of Red Stag by Jim Beam (LCBO 198200 – $26.95/750 mL) arrived last week, and I saw “Black Cherry Flavoured Bourbon Whiskey” emblazoned on the label, I’ll admit that I was predisposed to dislike it even before I opened it. Seeing “Sugar” and “Artificial Flavour(s)” * on the ingredients list didn’t do much to alleviate my concern.
* Yes, the bottle in the photo above says “Infused with Natural Flavors”. It’s from the U.S. website. So either they’re using a different formula south of the border, or the rules about what’s “Natural” are looser down there.
But as always, I did my best to tamp down my prejudgment so I could approach and review this new-to-Canada product as fairly as possible.
(See what I do for you people? I really hope you appreciate it.)
From the first crack of the bottle, there’s no question of this being a cherry-flavoured beverage. The scent of cherry candy soaked in bourbon wafts from the neck immediately, threatening sugar shock before I even take a sip.
Taken straight, it’s… well, sweet. Really, REALLY sweet. I’m tempted to use the “tastes like cherry cough syrup!” descriptor that comes in handy for most cherry-flavoured alcohol, but there’s not enough of a medicinal tang to make that comparison completely valid. Really, it’s just a whole lot more of the cherry candy suggested by the aroma, with the typical bourbon flavours (vanilla, caramel, oak) playing second fiddle.
It’s quickly obvious that this stuff will work better as a mixer, and a couple of cocktail recipes were provided. One is for a Red Manhattan, made with both sweet and dry vermouth, but as I have neither on hand – and have a personal preference for rye over bourbon in my Manhattans, anyway – I took a pass.
Another suggested drink called a Brass Buck Shot just seems odd: equal parts Red Stag and ginger ale in a shot glass, presumably to be downed like a shooter. But while searching for a photo, I found a longer list of recipes that suggests the PR company accidentally combined the Brass Buck (Red Stag and ginger ale in a highball on ice) and the Back Shot (50:50 shot of Red Stag and Jägermeister).
Since I’m in my 40s and no longer hang out at the Bovine, the Jäger concoction was out of the question, but the Brass Buck seemed worth a try. And – eh, not so much. The booze is still too sweet, overpowering any crisp and refreshing characteristics you’d expect from the ginger ale.
Finally, I tried the one mix that I really expected would work: Red Stag and Coke, aka the Red Buck. I’m not much of a Coke drinker nowadays, but in my black leather jacket clad youth, good ol’ Jack & Coke (or during my time as a TAD fan, Jack & Pepsi) was a regular drink for me. So even if I didn’t like it, I figured I’d get a kick out of it.
Surprisingly, though, I quite enjoyed it. The cherry and Coke are an obvious and classic combo, but with the vanilla notes from the bourbon in the mix as well, it ended up being a kissing cousin to Dr. Pepper, one of the few sodas that I still drink from time to time.
The 22 year-old me would have had no problem throwing back a few.
The 42 year-old me, however, stopped after one, when my teeth started to hurt.
Bottom line: Red Stag did little to cure my flavoured booze bigotry. But for those young’uns who like their drinks to taste like sody pop – just as I did a couple of decades ago – it’ll probably suit them just fine.