Today we’re looking at a spirit that I knew nothing about beyond the relatively low price point: Caliber Company Spirits Classic Whiskey. And boy, was this an adventure of a review – from unknown provenances to unclaimed websites, this was a whiskey I won’t soon forget… but not for any of the right reasons.
Right off the bat, this review is going to be a bit different. (Frequent readers know we pretty much always follow the formula of History > Product > Packaging > various taste tests.) Why the deviation from the norm? Well, because we don’t actually know the distiller or the production process of this bottle. But the story of how our research wound up at this dead end is far more entertaining than anything we probably could have found.
Lets start at the beginning. When I first ran into this whiskey I had no idea what I was looking at. I had never heard of Caliber Co. as a whiskey producer, but it looked intriguing and the lower price point made it a low risk. I bought a bottle and went to work researching this mystery company.
The first thing I found was an article from the Houston Chronicle talking about the launch of this new line of whiskey in 2016 as a sub-brand from Yellow Rose. That started filling in some of the gaps — Yellow Rose is a prominent distillery in the Houston area that makes some darn good whiskey.
The marketing firm that worked on the product line confirms the story, and adds that the whiskey was designed as a flavored spirit that would extend not only to the “classic” vanilla version but also apple cinnamon, dark cherry, and honey.
I went looking for some more information about the product and logically (or so I thought) started with the website that was listed on the bottle. That site, CaliberCoSpirits.com, was… for sale. (Emphasis on the “was” part — I spent the $10 to buy it. Because why not?)
At this point in my research, I was thoroughly confused. Yellow Rose is a reputable distillery that’s on top of its game, why would they let a website, especially one printed on theoretically thousands of bottles, expire?
So we reached out to Yellow Rose to see what was going on. They confirmed that they did produce this bottle and informed us that what we have is actually a light whiskey, sourced from another distillery, that had been combined with sweeteners and vanilla extract prior to bottling at the Yellow Rose production facility. None of the spirit actually comes from their own stills.
The Caliber brand was established to try and capitalize on an under-served section of the market, namely flavored inexpensive whiskey but, according to our source at Yellow Rose, the market wasn’t as strong as they had projected. Slow demand, combined with a surprise trademark conflict that appeared after they started shipping, led them to the decision to just shut the whole thing down rather than deal with that headache.
Which explains the website. We offered to hand it back to them, but it wasn’t something they had any use for anymore. So for now, we’ve left it redirecting to this review. (Again, why not?)
So, to sum up… what we have here is a whiskey from an unknown distillery that was flavored and sweetened, caught up in a legal battle, and currently disowned by the people who created it. And now I own the website on the bottle. Needless to say… writing this review was certainly one of my more memorable whiskey experiences.
The bottle itself is a pretty standard design. The body is round and flared at the shoulder, which is rounded and tapers to a long and slightly bulged neck. It’s something that we have seen time and again and is a tried and true style, but there’s nothing remarkable here.
As for the branding on the label, it’s pretty well done. Kudos to Caliber Co. for the branding work, as it hits the mark for what you want on a whiskey and embodies the Texas spirit. Firearms-related branding isn’t new — Ranger Creek in San Antonio uses specific calibers to differentiate their spirits to great effect — but it’s well-executed here.
Also printed on the label: the abandoned website that we now own.
There’s a bit of a heavy alcohol smell at first, but it tapers off quickly. What’s left behind is roughly the same aroma that I would expect from a creme brulee, namely a healthy helping of vanilla bean and caramelized sugar. Possibly a little too heavy on the vanilla for my taste.
That heavy vanilla flavor carries through to the taste of the liquid as well. It’s pretty much all I get actually, with a hint of sweetness mixed in. The closest thing I can compare it to is if you slammed a ton of vanilla beans into a handle of Luksusowa vodka and let it simmer for a little while.
Overall it’s very light in weight, which makes sense for a 40% ABV spirit. There isn’t any bitterness or bite, it’s a smooth spirit. But it’s like a Mondrian painting of spirits — one or two flavors and lacking subtlety.
Normally, I’d expect some change in the flavor with the added ice. Ice can mellow out some bitterness, reduce some of the bold flavors to a reasonable level, or have the unfortunate effect of masking some of the more pleasant and delicate tastes.
In this case, none of those things happen and the spirit instead actually seems to get stronger in flavor. The vanilla is more present and bolder, but there might actually be a bit more caramel coming through this time. This seems to be a pattern for sweetened and flavored whiskey.
It’s still a one or two note song. but those notes ain’t bad. It’s just more Philip Glass than Mozart.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There’s some good things and some mediocre things going on here.
On the positive side, now there’s another flavor that has been added to the mix. The bitters and the orange extract make for some interesting additions and bring some complexity to the drink.
On the other hand, it’s still not well balanced. It takes an unusual amount of sugar to balance out the tartness of the bitters and the whiskey, and by that time it’s too sweet for my taste.
Some spirits just don’t work in a cocktail and I think this is one of those spirits. This isn’t its true calling.
Let’s be honest here. This product comes from a line of flavored whiskies, the kinds of spirits that are designed primarily for mixing into various drinks rather than sipping straight. In tasting this straight, it was my hypothesis that this would follow in those footsteps… but alas, nope.
I like a Kentucky Mule to have some depth and complexity to the drink. A little bit of spice to make the spirit known at the end, and a touch of complimentary flavors throughout. In this case, all I get — once again — is the vanilla. Bright and shiny, and overly sweet.
If you’re looking for a vanilla forward whiskey for mixing into a cocktail then this is an okay choice. Inexpensive and inoffensive, it’s a good alcohol vehicle for your party needs. But when you’ve got things like Cascade whiskey out there doing pretty much the same thing for a couple dollars less, it’s hard to give this high marks.
The bad news is this review is probably the first and last time you will ever hear of this whiskey. Production stopped some time ago, and the already limited run of whiskey is probably already depleted off store shelves. But, for those lucky few who find it wandering down the bargain aisle, hopefully now you have an idea of what you’re in for.
As for me, I went back to that bargain shelf in the liquor store and picked up another bottle. It’s probably the cheapest way anyone has ever gotten their website on a bottle of whiskey… even if it wasn’t mine when I started down this road.
Caliber Company Spirits Classic Whiskey
Owner: Yellow Rose Distillery
Production: Houston, Texas
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Grain bill: Unknown
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $21/ 750ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
Misses the mark. A damp squib. More of a light load. (I could keep going with the ammunition puns, but I think you get the point.)