I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting brands of whiskey, especially those based in the Austin area. Garage Oil Spirits is one of those local brands I’ve heard about but never tasted — but thanks to a friend loaning me their bottle, I finally had the opportunity to put this car on the track and see how it performs.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated and revised following its initial publication. Ron Stone, the owner of Garage Oil Spirits, was kind enough to sit for an interview with us and talk about his company and his product, and we have incorporated that new information into this review. The tasting notes and final review rating have not changed from the initial publication, but we appreciate the chance to update our background and product sections with information straight from the founder himself.
Ron Stone was born in Denver, Colorado and got his start in the film industry in the area. He eventually made his way to Leander, Texas (just outside Austin) and following some major life events he looked to start the next chapter of his life. He realized that what he wanted to do most of all was to create a brand that made people happy and brought them joy, one where he could use his skills that he had learned in the film industry to tell a good story and design a great product that people could interact with. And after tasting a bottle of Fireball he realized that there was a spot in the market for a fun, exciting brand of whiskey designed specifically for new whiskey drinkers that wasn’t objectively terrible.
Stone had no experience in the whiskey industry but he didn’t let that stop him, and in July 2019 he launched Garage Oil Spirits. The brand is designed to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and retro americana, encouraging people to put aside their politics and come together to enjoy and celebrate the good times. In addition to creating the brand, Garage Oil Spirits has also worked with the Iron Resurrection TV show to create a custom vehicle that they then sold at auction and donated the proceeds to charity.
Garage Oil Spirits doesn’t actually make any of their own products and, according to TTB records, this specific bottle was manufactured by Green River Spirits Company in North Charleston, South Carolina.
This is technically marketed as a whiskey with “natural flavors and caramel color”, which opens the door rather wide in terms of what can be put in the bottle. Stone says that he designed the flavor profile to appeal to new whiskey drinkers — those who might want to enjoy the flavors and the experience of a whiskey but without a lot of the bitterness and roughness that can often accompany that spirit. To that end, he identified three key flavor characteristics of a whiskey – sweetness, smoke, and spice – and started experimenting over the course of a year with over seventy different flavor extracts to try and highlight those components.
The end result is a proprietary mixture of nine specific flavors that Stone has registered as “Hot Rod Smooth”.
What’s interesting to me is that, in our conversation, Stone repeatedly referred to the whiskey as a “soup”, calling on his years of experience working in the restaurant industry, and said that what he was trying to do was accentuate and enhance the flavors already in the whiskey rather than making something out of whole cloth.
The base spirit is still a whiskey, though — specifically, a “light American rye whiskey” according to their website, so we can assume that this starts out life as a mixture of mostly rye grains that are milled, cooked, fermented, and distilled to create a raw spirit.
Light whiskey is a legally defined sub-category that is distilled at a higher proof than normal. This is good for distillers, since they get more bang for their buck — but that higher alcohol content also means the whiskey is typically less flavorful and characterful. Generally speaking, the higher the alcohol content, the less room there is for any other flavors to exist in that liquid.
Following distillation, these spirits are required to use either an uncharred new oak barrel or a previously used barrel for some period of maturation. Compared to bourbon, which requires a new charred barrel for each run, this step similarly provides less flavor and has less of an impact on the finished product.
After distillation, those nine flavors hand-picked by Stone are added to the spirit along with the caramel coloring to make the spirit look the way it does.
While Garage Oil may not have invested any money in a distilling facility, they certainly pushed out the boat when it comes to marketing and design work.
This is designed to look like an old fashioned oil can, complete with a round cylindrical body and a medium length neck that is covered in a metallic coating. Around that neck is a round plastic puck, designed to look like the top of an old fashioned gas pump. It definitely gives off those classic 1950’s vibes.
The body of the bottle is transparent glass, and the label is designed to let folks get a good look at the color of the spirit inside. There’s some illustrative art of a head-on view of an antique car along with the brand information, as well as the legally required “with natural flavors and caramel color” language.
Despite the oil can design, it certainly doesn’t look like oil. The whiskey is a nice amber color in the glass and doesn’t have any signs of impurities that I can see. Then again, since this is artificially colored, that’s not necessarily a mark of quality.
The aroma is… different. I’d peg it as closer to root beer than the normal whiskey aromas. I’m getting some sarsaparilla, cinnamon, star anise, and petrichor (a fancy name for the aroma of blacktop after a rainstorm). None of the usual things I’d expect, but I’m willing to give it a shot.
My initial reaction after taking the first sip: pure confusion. What the hell is this?
None of the flavors make sense. Right off the bat I’m getting some licorice, cinnamon, and nutmeg — very strong and bold flavors that are definitely making a statement and doing it very loudly. From there, I start getting the darker components; specifically, I’m getting star anise, which combined with the rest makes it taste like a root beer. On the finish, I do pick up some cedar chips that give it a bit of an aromatic lift, which is at least within the realm of normal whiskey flavors I’d expect.
This straight up tastes like licking the side wall of a tire.
All right, all right, I’ll calm down a bit and try to break it down for you. The flavors here are on the darker and more imposing side, and the added ice seems to only have the effect of removing the lighter components that were trying their hardest to claw back the darkness and keep some semblance of balance in the drink. Without them, the black licorice becomes the dominant flavor in this glass with only a hint of cedar chips and some flat root beer to try and make something interesting happen.
On the one hand, I’m interested in seeing how this reacts in some classic cocktails. On the other hand, I’m wondering how long it will take for my taste buds to recover and forgive me.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Regular readers of the site might be aware that I enjoy a darker, richer version of an old fashioned. Personally, I feel like that’s the correct way to prepare it: more of the “smoky night club” and less the “day drinking at the golf course” you get with a fruity mid-century version. So logically, I should like this darker and richer flavored whiskey.
But I hate this.
The bitters do absolutely nothing here. They are completely lost in the sauce — overwhelmed and overpowered by the flavors of the whiskey that are carrying out a blitzkrieg on my taste buds. Nothing can stand in its way and survive. At most, I might get a tiny hint of the aromatics on the finish, but the licorice and flat root beer flavors continue to be the dominant components.
Under normal circumstances, I’d be hoping and praying that the whiskey will be able to make a difference and compete with the lime juice and ginger beer. But here, I’m praying that it loses that particular battle.
After taking a sip, I actually think that this might be the first example in this testing regime of where this whiskey makes sense. The darker and richer flavors do a good job balancing out the lime juice and ginger beer, but there’s still enough from each side to keep things interesting. And I think the carbonation from the ginger beer is providing just the right texture to reinvigorate the root beer flavor, making it pop again instead of just falling flat.
It’s not exactly what I expected, nor is it what I usually like in a mule, but this actually (surprisingly) works.
I want to start out by highlighting something about the way we review whiskey here on the site. Our intention is to review things against the “gold standard” for that category and class of spirits – in this case, we would expect a whiskey to taste like a whiskey and act like a whiskey. Our tests are designed to try these spirits in manners that are typical of how we would assume someone would try them, and attempts to use a consistent measuring stick to come up with a somewhat standardized rating.
Not everyone is going to agree with our assessments, and that’s perfectly fine. Not even the reviewers who write here on the site always agree with each other’s assessments. That’s what the comments section is for, and we always appreciate decorous dissent.
In this case, this is a whiskey that was expressly and specifically not designed for me as their target audience. This was designed for a new whiskey drinker, someone who wants to dip their toe into the experience without having to pull a $200 bottle off the shelf.
There are flavors in here that I would never have expected for a whiskey — so to someone who is WSET Level 3 certified in Spirits, they seem completely out of place. But to someone who is just trying to find a whiskey they like, it’s probably just really tasty. It drinks more like a root beer than a whiskey — and while trying it in a couple of our standard cocktails seems to create more chaos than it does enjoyment, I’m sure there are other preparations where this works and makes sense. Given my impressions of this on the rocks, my guess is that some of the added flavors may be too imposing and have a tendency to become unbalanced when they hit the ice and really only work in situations with similarly extreme mixers and other components.
For me, if I’m looking for an affordable whiskey, I’m going to grab a bottle of Evan Williams. Almost anything in their product line is significantly cheaper than this, and they all do a fantastic job mixing into common and classic cocktails. I feel like the performance on the rocks and in an old fashioned knocked this one out of the running for a place on my own shelf, but I wouldn’t necessarily look down on someone who enjoys this.
It is, after all, 100% better than Fireball.
|Garage Oil Spirits American Badass Whiskey
Produced By: Garage Oil SpiritsProduction Location: United States
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $40.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 1/5
This is like the very first bag of skunky weed that you bought off a guy your friend knew in high school: it’s the affordable, accessible gateway to get you to open up to new experiences and realize that there is a whole world out there to explore.