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What Craft Spirits Have Disappointed You?

The Atlantic is worried that the huge boom in craft distilling is causing quality to suffer. What craft spirits have you tried and been disappointed by?

I bought a bottle of Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky from Texas, and while it certainly does not taste bad, it's not quite what I'm looking for most nights, so I'd imagine this quote will continue to be true for me...

"But if the quality doesn’t measure up to the price, it’s not hard to imagine a nation of home bars each containing a single, largely untouched bottle of disappointing 'craft spirit.'"

via http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/a...

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  1. My wife bought a bottle of bourbon Eastside Distilling in Portland, Oregon. It was decent bourbon but it wasn't worth the price tag. She would have rather had a nice bottle of Knob Creek for $20 less.

    1. Roundstone Rye from Catoctin Creek Distillery (although, their Gin is pretty good). Went to their grand opening and had a tasting. I thought I liked the Rye, so I bought a bottle. However, the next day, I was pretty disappointed...ended up giving it away to my neighbor.

      B&E was also unimpressive to me.

      1. I have had better luck with craft gin and rum than aged whiskey. Established whiskey houses have a better clue of what their product will be like 4+ years in the barrel later than first timers... Gin and white rum are often more immediate and craft distillers can tinker quickly with no lag time to get a good product out the door.


        1 Reply
        1. re: yarm

          I agree. There are some wonderful craft gins, even great vodkas and good rums, but the whiskies are lacking a bit. The ones that are good are the result of blending, not based fully on craft, aged, stock.

        2. Although I have long enjoyed their eaux-de-vie and many other spirits, I have *never* liked the single malt whiskey produced by St. George Spirits in Alameda, California (http://www.stgeorgespirits.com) in any of its forms, nor their agave distillate (now discontinued, I think).

          While New Distillery in Portland, Oregon (http://www.newdealdistillery.com) makes some excellent gin and vodka, I find their Hot Monkey Pepper Vodka to be so harsh and raw as to be more suitable -- to my palate -- for the kitchen sink than a shot glass or cocktail shaker.

          1 Reply
          1. re: zin1953

            Huh, good to know. I've always intended to try out the St. George single malt as I really enjoy their gins. Maybe I'll try at a restaurant now first...

          2. I'm currently living in South Carolina, and while there are some good local products (such as some of High Wire's offerings), the bulk of the local or semi-local craft spirits that I see on the shelf at my go-to liquor store are "moonshines" and vodkas, many of them flavored. I haven't tried many because even one of the proprietors of the store selling them admits that they are almost without exception quite forgettable or even outright bad. It may be early days yet for these distilleries, but they seem to have taken a very different approach than the Brooklyn/Portland/etc. folks who seem largely to focus on gin and small-barrel whiskey at the beginning.

            2 Replies
            1. re: tristis

              Sounds like the problem is that the store buyers are buying poor spirits and not getting in the good craft spirits.

              1. re: tristis

                I rather like Dark Corner's absinthe out of Greenville. It may be that I don't have a particularly developed palate for the green fairy, but I'm a fan of theirs. I do second the notion though. Firefly is obnoxiously sweet.

              2. I agree with the OP - I've tried three of the Balcones whiskeys at my local whiskey bar and none of them were very good. The Campfire was downright awful. Thankfully I've never bought a bottle because the price sure suggests they make extremely good booze. Wigle Whiskey's Ginever is also pretty bad. Too malty to use as a gin and too gin-like to work well in recipes that call for actual genever. Luckily I was given the bottle by a friend who received it as a promo and didn't care for it either. I also second the critique of Catoctin. I wish them the best since they're local and seem to be really nice folks, but their booze is pretty rough and pretty pricey.

                Not sure if it would be considered "craft", and it's definitely not American, but Brokers Gin is wonderful stuff. All in all though, it's hard to think of a "craft" liquor that I've REALLY enjoyed, or which I found better than a well-established non-craft alternative.

                1 Reply
                1. re: The Big Crunch

                  I have had Stranahan's a couple times, and though I don't know if I would say I liked it better than similar established single malts, it was unique and good enough to be worth getting.

                2. I wanted to like this gin out of Minnesota [Bad Medicine], but could not get into it ... http://pantherdistillery.com/our-prod...

                  1. Tried all the Hudson baby products and didn't like 'em one bit. They tasted "green" to me

                    1. It would be easier to list the craft spirits that haven't disappointed me.

                      1. Some craft spirits I like in the gin category:
                        Tuthilltown Half Moon Orchard gin
                        Knickerbocker gin
                        Greenhook gin
                        Barr Hill gin
                        Bluecoat gin
                        All the NY Distilling gins- Dorothy Parker American gin, Perry's Tot Navy Strength gin, and Gowanus New-Netherland gic
                        All the North Shore Distilling gins- No. 6, No.11, Mighty gin, and their Private Reserve Aquavit is one of the best Aquavit I have ever had.
                        Great Lakes Distillery Rehorst Premium Gin

                        11 Replies
                        1. re: JMF

                          Bluecoat gin is great, but the only product from that distillery that my wife and I like. They also make Vieux Carre absinthe and Penn 1681 vodka which are supposed to be good, but we're not fans of those spirits in general. The product they've been trying to push lately is Shine XXX, a 100% corn liquor that tastes like cereal and gasoline- or worse, sweet tea-flavored and salted caramel-flavored corn liquor. No thanks.

                          1. re: carnicero

                            I think their absinthe is pretty good. I use it when a cocktail calls for absinthe. It's much better than some of the big brands out there.

                            I don't care for their shine xxx.

                          2. re: JMF

                            Bluecoat is my go to gin, though it's getting more expensive in SF lately.

                            I'll make sure to try some of the other gins you listed as well.

                            1. re: patsully

                              I use Tuthilltown Half Moon Orchard gin and New Holland Knickerbocker gin as my house gins at the last three cocktail bars I consulted to, and use them in several cocktails.

                              1. re: patsully

                                Hitime wine has a good price on Bluecoat, $18 - and flat rate $9.99 shipping for up to 12 bottles to California.

                                1. re: ncyankee101

                                  That's actually pretty incredible. I was shocked to find Bluecoat had recently been bumped up to $29.99 in San Francisco.

                              2. re: JMF

                                Great list.

                                I like Seneca Drums gin from Finger Lakes Distilling. The bottle label gives it a cheap look but the taste is well balanced between juniper, citrus and other herbs. Seneca Drums makes a great martini.


                                Not a fan of Brooklyn Gin.

                                1. re: Foody4life

                                  Different tastes for different folks. I like Brooklyn gin, but hate Breuckelen gin, and I think the Seneca gin is only ok.

                                  1. re: JMF

                                    I'll add Letherbee gin to the list of those I'm not a fan of. Received a gift bottle last night and will be looking for ways to use.

                                    Too much finishing heat to enjoy as a martini. The louche brings out a lot of spiced flavor (fennel, anise, licorice) that overpowers the juniper. Will try again tonight in a G&T or maybe a Negroni.

                                2. re: JMF

                                  I asked around a shop for anything new and unusual and he uncorked a bottle of the Barr Hill vodka under my nose. I was seduced, but my wallet wasn't. I really want to buy it and like it, but not for a price that goes beyond even premium gimmick vodka. Quality it may be, but rich I am not.

                                  1. re: LittleTeapott

                                    I can't remember if I said it earlier, but the Barr Hill Gin is very good.

                                3. I really enjoy the St George gin and absinthe (not a big vodka drinker). That said, I don't think the Breaking & Entering (B&E) bourbon is worth it compared to my usual major distillery bourbons. Visiting the distillery in Alameda was way cool (and quite a pilgrimage for me, as it involved many miles of walking that day).

                                  The Charred Oak bourbon is maybe OK as a mixer.

                                  Buffalo Trace's white dog gives me a headache just by looking at it.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: ted

                                    The Buffalo Trace White Dog isn't made to be drunk young, and so is pretty nasty. Also, it isn't a "Craft" spirit. There are some great Artisanal white whiskeys, that are made to be drunk that way, by careful and conservative distilling.

                                    1. re: ted

                                      I like the Ryan & Wood Knockabout Gin, although I'm not as much of a fan of their Folly Cove Rum or their Rye. I have been impressed with both Privateer and Ipswich rums. I too like the Chief Gowanus Gin -- and does Ransom count as a craft spirit, 'cause I like that a lot, too (both useful when spinning whiskey cocktails towards gin). Up here in New England, I'm afraid I find the Barr Hill gin undrinkably floral (so it isn't that I just like all gins!).

                                      I grew up in Appalachia, so when it comes to white whiskey/white dog/moonshine, if a headache is the worst you get from it, you're doing pretty well. And I certainly don't know why I should pay a premium (!) price for the privilege of having the distiller not invest in barrel-aging.

                                      And (just so I can finish my usual round of ranting), I agree with those who say small barrels don't mean faster aging-- they mean inferior whiskey.

                                      1. re: johncb

                                        I just bought High West Silver OMG Pure Rye; not one to jump on fad bandwagons (and not a big American whiskey drinker) I never went near the "moonshine" aisle, but I actually got it on the recommendation as an alternative to trying and failing to find any of the richer style European grain vodkas. Its richer than rich, even too much, its an overload of sweet unfiltered rye goodness, and even at almost 50% abv I didn't find it too rough to swill unadulterated. The flavor is so strong I swear I taste botanicals like juniper (rye's spiciness [but not a hot spiciness] I'm guessing) in it like a mutant gin (not a bad thing). I wasn't dissapointed in the flavor, but I was in the price for a white spirit, however I know its a quality product... (I'm actually experimenting atm with a bunch of little canning jars of OMG Rye with juniper and several spices, to see if I can play on the gin profile).

                                        Can you recommend any other white whiskeys I'd probably enjoy based on that buy (hopefully not as expensive but not too much rougher)? Most of them seem to be corn based, the idea of a sweeter corny tasting drink doesn't sound too appealing (I prefer the typically toasty grain notes you get from some grain based booze), but maybe my fear can be proven wrong.

                                    2. I have to agree with Morekasha that the Hudson Baby Bourbon's have underwhelmed. I SO wanted those pretty little bottles to harbor excellent deliciousness...alas. Perhaps my biggest disappointment from the craft distillery landscape in part because I like so many other things they do.

                                      On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised recently by the Cyrus Noble bourbon from the Haas Brother's.

                                      17 Replies
                                      1. re: ArchibaldDrinks

                                        Hudson whiskeys will be getting better and better after the huge cash infusion from William Grant and Sons a few years ago to get more equipment, stills, and build rickhouses. They aren't just aging in small barrels anymore and are filling large ones as fast as they can and blending smaller and larger barrels.

                                        1. re: JMF

                                          Also, most of the new distilleries are way pricey. Ounce per ounce Hudson Baby is overpriced. It seems as if Tultown is now putting a big emphasis on white spirits under other names as Grant owns the Hudson brand. At whsky fest 2 years ago I had some California producer of an apple brandy tell me how better their stuff was compared to the French. Obviously he was a hired hand and he had never had Camut, Groult, Huard etc...the trick to be be different and good, not just more of the same w/bad claims behind you.

                                          1. re: MOREKASHA

                                            Which brands do you think Tuthilltown is putting out?

                                            They have always done contract work for others.

                                            What California apple brandy producer?

                                            1. re: JMF

                                              Can't recall the gin, but I've seen a gin from the same town. Don't recall the brandy producer either, after all it was whisky fest

                                              1. re: JMF

                                                The Gin I was thinking of is Half Moon, it's made by them and sold as their product. I guess the $ from Grant is being used to add new brands as well.

                                                1. re: MOREKASHA

                                                  Yes the Tuthilltown Half Moon Orchard gin. An excellent product. I use it as the house gin the last three bars I consulted to.

                                                  Tuthilltown has always had quite a few spirits. The four/five Hudson whiskeys were bought out, but they always had other products, several apple based vodka's, and a rum. They may have had an apple brandy at some point, but I can't remember. I could be wrong on that one. They came out with a bitters recently. They also have a new vodka, Indiginous Wheat, which is excellent. Very smooth and a nice taste with a hint of nuttiness.

                                                  1. re: JMF

                                                    JMF, have you tried their bitters (Basement Bitters)? I picked up a bottle of the Half Moon Gin on your recommendation and it's fantastic. Couldn't decide on the bitters though.

                                                    1. re: jaba

                                                      I found the bitters weren't my thing. Bitters are a love 'em or hate 'em thing. They are very individual. Also, you have to play with bitters in cocktails. Sometimes a bitters that I don't care for straight, plays well in cocktails. The Tuthilltown Basement bitters didn't grab me enough to buy, and they haven't given me a bottle to play with.

                                              2. re: MOREKASHA

                                                Germain Robin out of California makes great brandy and apple brandy. Some folks do say they are better than the French. I don't know about that, but as good as some of the best French brandy, yes.

                                                1. re: JMF

                                                  How would it compare to Laird's Bonded?

                                                  1. re: Dapuma

                                                    You know that saying "not in the same ballpark"?

                                                    Laird's isn't even in the same solar system compared to GR.

                                                    GR makes some of the best brandies in the world.

                                                      1. re: zin1953

                                                        I recently got my hands on an old bottle of the GR Shareholders Reserve that is only given out to... Shareholders. You can't buy it. Great stuff.

                                            2. re: ArchibaldDrinks

                                              Cyrus Noble is good because they buy their whiskey from Heaven Hill in Kentucky. It's only craft in that they "craft" a label to go on the bottle.

                                              1. re: sku

                                                SKU, do you know if CN is just a slightly different version of Elijah Craig or Evan Williams or is it actually their own mashbill as they claim? I don't really mind distillers who look to Kentucky to do a certain amount of the heavy lifting for bourbon bottlings but if this is just a variant of HH's other brands it is a bit of a let down.

                                                1. re: ArchibaldDrinks

                                                  I have no details about it other than it's from Heaven Hill, but I'm skeptical about any claim that it's anything different from the regular stuff. Lots of brands that source bourbon from the big distilleries say they have a "special recipe," but very few actually do. That being said, there's nothing wrong with buying bourbon from Heaven Hill. They make good bourbon.

                                                  1. re: sku

                                                    Heck, to have a "special recipe" they would have to be buying a minimum of a full runs production, have a 4-6+ year lead time, and allocated space in a rickhouse. That just isn't happening.

                                                    It's difficult to source quality aged barrels from them as it is.

                                            3. Before answering the OP (patsully), I have to ask if there's a jargon-ambiguity issue here, 'cause I'm not up on current media "craft spirits" buzz.

                                              (Definition: Jargon ambiguities develop when a novel usage becomes rapidly fashionable, but also conflicts with existing understanding of similar language by people who've used it longer -- e.g. people who understand "macaron" to mean the Gerbet or Paris sandwich cookie, vs. those who understand "macaron" in the quite different way it has always been used in most French cookbooks and writing.)

                                              So, is "craft spirits" a narrow recent sense used among newish North American makers of same (like some of the jargon and assumptions among microbreweries and their fans, of recent years), or is it a generic term, applying equally to the small, artisanal distillers that have been coming and going for hundreds of years, irrespective of attention from American mainstream news media?

                                              Incidentally I have more spirits experience with single-malt Scotch whiskies than any others (usually have a few dozen of them on hand, in a range of styles and finishings). I LOVE the St. James US "single malt," and have done since its early batches -- both for what it is and what it isn't. It isn't closely comparable to any Scottish style I know, but it does have concentrated flavors and those novel fruity notes. Not a close relative of a traditional malt, but interesting in its own right. I can see it may not be to all tastes, but it is to the taste of most malt fans I know, so I endorse trying it.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: eatzalot

                                                According to the American Distillery Institute, "Craft Spirits are the product of an independently owned distillery with maximum annual sales of 52,500 cases where the product is PHYSICALLY distilled and bottled on site."

                                                Historically, I suppose it could refer to any distillery that fit that definition. The thing to understand though is that post-Prohibition, there really haven't been that many small, artisanal distilleries due, in part, to industry concentration and the cataclysmic effects of prohibition on American distilling, plus, it's a high-risk, high-cost investment. As far as the American mainstream media, I don't think they give a hoot about craft spirits. It is a hip enough trend that it does come up in stories here and there, but as a whole, it's not a topic that is really lighting up the talk shows, high-circulation magazines, and evening news programs. As far as advertising, it's virtually non-existent compared to the big industry players. The media in which craft distilling is really obsessed over is online, in the world of blogs and social media, or in niche publications like Whiskey Advocate and Imbibe.

                                                I haven't had St. James, but I have enjoyed Corsair's Triple Smoke which is a nice take on the peatier malts most people associate with Islay.

                                                1. re: The Big Crunch

                                                  Sorry, didn't mean to distract by phrasing "mainstream media" -- maybe I should have written "any US media" -- it was an allusion to the source cited (The Atlantic Monthly).

                                                  The definition though reads as if specific to a US industry. The "and bottled on site" excludes otherwise comparably small-batch traditional distilleries elsewhere where the aging and bottling is a distinct phase, sometimes by a separate firm, from the distilling. That strikes me as a jargon ambiguity case as mentioned earlier, if "craft" is used here more idiomatically than to be inclusive of what many people worldwide would judge small-batch artisanal spirits.

                                                  Language aside, No: I haven't had much disappointment with (even just recent American) small-batch spirits, of those I happen to've tried (small-batch Cognac-type brandies such as Jepson, some of the Hudson white whiskies that appeared a few years back).

                                                  My own first real taste of "craft" US distilling (many years past) reflected a longer and, uh, "informal" tradition around the rural Southeast (sold in unlabeled Mason jars). The flavor was impressive, and I gather today's small-batch commercial white whiskies aim to make that more openly accessible.

                                              2. Pearousia "Brandy" -- didn't have much "pear" to discern if any! Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. http://catoctincreekdistilling.com/pr... vastly overpriced, in my opinion. you read the marketing, and it sounds like nectar of the gods, LOL.

                                                1. Hangar 1 Chipotle vodka was terrible. I thought it would make a great bloody caesar but it was pretty much undrinkable. Tasted like dirt.

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: acd123

                                                    Personally, I think chipotles in general taste like dirt. Smoked dirt, but still dirt.