Whiskey Review: 3 Howls Backbeat Bourbon

A “back beat” is a steady rhythm on the “off” beat — the second and fourth beats of a traditional four beat measure. It tends to be used to indicate something is a little… off. Non-traditional. Anti-establishment. Which sounds like the perfect description for 3 Howls Backbeat Bourbon.

History

Founder Will Maschmeier says that he’s always had a bit of a “mad scientist” streak, which lends itself well to the world of whiskey distilling where every part of the process seems to involve some version of chemistry. After training at the Artisan Craft Distilling Institute and volunteering at other local distilleries in Seattle, Will decided to open his own distillery in a 5,000 square foot warehouse in Seattle’s SoDo district.

The name for the distillery was inspired from a trip to Scotland, where Will heard about the legend of the Cù-sìth. According to local lore, this gigantic hound roams the Scottish moors hunting its prey and barking three times before attacking (hence 3 Howls).

Product

While the label helpfully points out the grain bill, in reality there’s not a whole lot of information about how this is made.

What we do know is that the whiskey starts as a combination of 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. Those grains are mashed and fermented before being distilled in a 300 gallon copper pot still and turned into raw whiskey. The whiskey is then placed in charred new French oak barrels for an undisclosed period of time.

Packaging

The bottle design is fairly standard for a smaller distillery. The body of the bottle is short and stout with straight round walls that taper quickly at the shoulder to a short neck. The bottle is topped off with a synthetic cork.

The only unique design here is the label. I like the yellow-gold lettering on a black background, as not only does it make the bottle stand out but it also ties in nicely with the amber color of the whiskey. As usual, I think the label is a little unnecessarily large and obscures most of the whiskey, but you can still get a peek at it around the edges.

Along the bottom the required information is displayed in a faux-handwritten card design that lets you know the grain bill and where the whiskey was made.

Neat

You can definitely smell the rye content in this whiskey. There’s a good helping of vanilla and brown sugar, but behind that is the aroma of freshly baked rye bread. There’s also a bit of orange fruit mixed in and some cardamom spice.

The flavor starts off with something similar to sweet honey, but almost immediately there’s a bitterness that takes over the whole experience and pretty much ruins it for me. I think I get the same brown sugar and vanilla flavors as I smelled coming off the glass, but it’s hard to identify them through all that bitterness.

I’m straight up not having a good time.

On Ice

Typically, the addition of some ice helps to tone down the more unpleasant aspects of a beverage (as Alton Brown likes to illustrate in his stage show by taking a randomly chosen assortment of disgusting ingredients and making them less awful through the liberal application of liquid nitrogen). In this case, we get a similar effect in which the bitterness is reduced… but not eliminated, unfortunately. At least now it’s reached a point where we can start to taste what’s going on.

In general, it’s a pretty standard bourbon. There’s the brown sugar and vanilla that I thought I tasted earlier, and the peppery spice from the rye bread comes through quite nicely. I think there’s also a bit of honey sweetness mixed up in there with the other flavors as well.

Even with the added ice, it’s a decent spirit but there’s still a level of bitterness that’s rather unpleasant. It’s just this side of acceptable, but not even really to the enjoyable level.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Most of the cocktails that we know and love today were born in the prohibition era. The goal in those days was to mask the absolutely terrible flavor of bootlegged moonshine that was being served to the patrons, and as a result those recipes can do wonders hiding the less desirable aspects of the spirits within.

In this specific case, it works. The underlying flavors in the bourbon are pretty standard and on-point, meaning the flavors do a good job mixing together. The sweetness in the sugar content also helps hide the bitterness in the spirit, but I would caution people to go a little light on the angostura bitters since there’s already plenty of bitterness to go around as it is.

Fizz (Mule)

I admit, I did this review backwards. I started with the mule, and then I went back and tried the spirit neat. And the very first time I tried this as a mule, I thought for sure that I had accidentally added a ton of lime juice by mistake.

The drink is extremely bitter. The ginger beer is already bitter, so adding a bitter spirit to it isn’t going to do anything positive. There’s no balance and no subtlety, all the flavors get lost and muddled in the mix without any real benefit.

Overall Rating

This whiskey is free to call me a bitter man, but that would be the pot calling the kettle black. The flavors that I can find in this spirit are good and they do work… but there’s just so much bitterness in there that I really can’t get to them.

This whiskey is in the same price range and category as things like Buffalo Trace and Four Roses, and I just don’t see it even meeting their level.

3 Howls Backbeat Bourbon
Produced By: 3 Howls
Production Location: Washington, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $29.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 2/5
Had me howling for a different bourbon.

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