They say, never look a gift horse in the mouth. The reason – in a horse, teeth are an indication of the age of the horse. The same may be said of gift whiskeys. I traded two bottles of Heaven Hill 6-year bourbon for a bottle from a friend. He mentioned that it came from a nearby distillery outside of Portland, Oregon. Let’s see who got the better deal.
We’ve talked a lot about bourbon and what makes a whiskey bourbon – but what exactly is spirit whiskey? The history of spirit whiskey traces to those dark days of Prohibition when fully aged whiskeys were often unavailable. Vodka was just beginning to come into vogue along with the cocktail to stretch limited supplies. By definition, spirit whiskey is a combination of neutral grain spirit and whiskey, consisting of at least 5% whiskey and no more than 20% straight whiskey.
The distiller of WhipperSnapper is Ransom Spirits in Sheridan, Oregon. Started by Tad Seestedt in 1997, the distillery has made grappa, eau de vie, brandy, and select wines, along with other grain-based spirits, including gin, vodka and whiskey.
Much of the ingredients are locally sourced from Ransom Farms in the Willamette Valley. The certified organic farm produces vines as well as some of the grains. Spirits are distilled in a French alembic pot still.
Many of us have fallen for the allure of a great looking, colorful label. You won’t find that with WhipperSnapper. It trends towards one of the wordier ones I’ve seen of late. It reads:
Hi-Falutin’ ● Admirably Superior and Well-Mannered
All good things take time. So the saying goes. And this juvenile got off to a real slow start. We took our sweet time selecting premium ingredients, meticulously milling the grains, working and fermenting the mash, and importantly, making well-considered ruthless cuts at the condensor. Pot distillation is a slow lengthy process that when done properly and patiently can take upwards of sixteen hours for one pass through the still. Rushing things usually leads to inaccuracy. On the other hand, critical decisions for making the right cuts need to be made within minutes, sometimes split seconds. This is likely where the wildness came from. Sometimes even the most well-thought out of plans seems to develop a mind of their own. Anyway, we kept and collected only the very best fraction of distillate and lovingly placed it in oak to mature. Over the next month and years, this infant spirit grew into a recognizable and lovely young whiskey. Taking on color, roundness and body from the cooperage, but still retaining the aromatics of cereal and vigor of the grains he came from. Normally, us older folks decide when the young’un is grown up and truly ready to face the world for the first time. But every now and then some crazy critter gets up jumpin’ and hollerin’, “Let me out of this dang barrel!”. Ah, impetuous youth. We let him out and named him the WhipperSnapper. “He’s a good kid”.
WhipperSnapper Oregon Spirit Whiskey is made from a mash bill 63% corn and 21% rye, and 16% malted barley. It is bottled at 84 proof and does not carry an age statement. This was exchanged for 2 bottles of Heaven Hill Green Label 6-year Bourbon, though I’ve spotted it on local shelves carrying a $42 price tag.
Eye: Very light copper with areas of translucence and wisps of orange.
Nose: As a young whiskey, this carries a grain-forward nose. There is also a mix of herbal botanicals in there, as well. An interesting mix.
Palate: Very thin and light. Some buttered corn and caramel, but there’s not a lot there. Very smooth; not harsh.
Finish: Medium with some more buttery corn and a little spice. Surprisingly, it lingers much longer than I expected.
Overall: My wife tells the story of a 4-H baking peanut butter cookie baking project. She had worked tirelessly to make the perfect batch of peanut butter cookies. The winning batch of cookies – burnt peanut butter cookies. Why, you ask? Because the judge hated peanut butter and when you burn the cookies, you remove much of the peanut butter flavor.
Why share that story? This would be great – if you don’t like bourbon. If you do, you’re likely to be disappointed. For a spirit whiskey – much like our review of cane spirit Patton Armored Diesel Fuel – this is a different kind of spirit, and to compare it to even a straight bourbon aged 2 years would be unfair.
This provides an interesting look at the craft spirit industry as well as a glimpse of what sneaking a pour of youthful spirits during Prohibition was really like. It’s light, smooth, easy drinking and uncomplicated. For those desiring to transition from vodkas and seltzers, this can be an attractive crossover point.