With autumn right around the corner, it’s about that time: break out the apple cider doughnuts, pumpkin spice lattes, and prepare yourself for lots of sweater-weather instagrams. One of the flavors from my childhood that reminds me the most of fall is fresh apple cider — and J. Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey is trying to capture that same flavor in a whiskey glass.
According to the story told on this bottle’s website, the whiskey we are tasting was originally produced in 1921 when a man named Johnny Seeds brought a couple bottles of homemade cider from his orchards in Washington state to his uncle’s distillery in Kentucky. While cleaning the distillery, he accidentally mixed a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of cider together and presented it at the state fair, where it was awarded the blue ribbon.
To be frank, especially with a name like “Johnny Seeds” and its proximity to another famous American apple evangelist, the story sounds apocryphal. But that’s their story and they are sticking to it.
As for the company that makes it, Frank-Lin Distillers Products was founded in 1966 by Frank Maestri and his wife Lin. The Fairfield, California based company remains family owned to this day, producing a shockingly wide array of spirits and wines under more brand names than you can fit on a NASCAR uniform.
There’s almost nothing to go on here besides what is listed on the bottle, and the website isn’t being very helpful.
According to the story they tell, they have recreated an accidental mixture of apple cider and whiskey that happened in 1921. However, the bottle says that this is a mixture of “whiskey, neutral spirits, natural flavors, and caramel color.” Technically speaking, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that there’s some apple cider in here, but it certainly doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in that being true.
And then you notice the fine print.
The label from a distance says “Apple Cider Whiskey,” but on closer inspection there’s some very small words that make a difference hidden in the design. It actually says “Apple Cider flavors made with Whiskey.”
To me, that gives the game away. I think I know where this actually comes from now. (Reader beware — this is pure conjecture, but relatively well researched conjecture.)
Frank-Lin makes two lines of blended whiskey, their Barrett’s and Potter’s blend. Both are a mixture of 20% straight whiskey and 80% neutral grain spirits, the only difference being that one is bottled at 40% alcohol content and the other at 80%. I believe that what has happened is that they took some Potter’s blended whiskey (40% ABV), added apple cider flavors and caramel coloring (proofing it down to 35% ABV), and shipped it out the door.
The bottle itself is a pretty standard design that we’ve seen from a number of craft distilleries. It’s short and stout, with a gently rounded shoulder that tapers to a relatively short neck. The whole thing is capped off with a plastic and synthetic cork stopper.
What’s nifty about this packaging is the label. It mimics the chalkboard art style that’s popular at coffee shops and other hipster locations, with chalk-like images of apple and cinnamon at the bottom. It’s a tad large for my taste, but at least the art is attractive and undoubtedly hits the target for their intended audience.
As soon as you pop the cork, you know this is an apple cider flavored something. The aroma is powerful and immediate, but not as sickeningly sweet as some other presentations. In the glass, that apple cider is definitely the most prominent scent, but there’s some vanilla and cinnamon adding some elements that make it trend closer to a true green apple than a green Jolly Rancher.
The aroma might be good, but the flavor is disappointing. It’s immediately apparent that this has been artificially sweetened, but it’s not quite as cloyingly awful as other flavored whiskey on the market. The disappointing factor here is that the flavors just don’t hold up and translate to the taste buds. I get some medicinal alcohol notes (most likely from the underlying neutral spirits) and sugar, but very little of the other flavors beyond a vague caramel note that wafts through.
I usually like to note here that the presence of a bit of ice tends to eliminate most of the flavors in a whiskey (and I note it so often that my editor is starting to complain more loudly than normal). But the reason I bring it up is because it’s very true, and in this case the addition of ice absolutely destroys whatever flavor may have been left.
At this point, all I get is neutral spirits and sugar. There’s maybe a touch of apple hanging out in the background like an shy kid at a school dance, but that could also just be leftovers that have so thoroughly coated my taste buds that they are all I can taste now.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
In this case, there’s no need to add any sugar to the cocktail, as it’s plenty sweet all on its own. But if you’re actually trying to make an Old Fashioned, what you will need to add is pretty much any other whiskey.
All I’m getting in the glass is sweetness and the angostura bitters. Which I’m not mad about — I like those bitters — but there’s not a whole lot of other flavors to enhance the experience. I could have done the exact same thing mixing vodka, sugar, and bitters while waving a slice of apple somewhere in the vicinity.
Once again, this is just a glass full of sweetened ginger beer. That sweetness is enough to take the bite out of the ginger beer, but there’s really no flavor that is imparted in return.
Just like with the other preparations, there might be a hint of apple somewhere in there… but at this point it’s so lost in the clutter and the sweetness that it is hard to decipher.
I like the concept of flavored whiskey… but in my experience reviewing spirits, it is very difficult to get it right. Spirits like spiced rum and properly produced gin are proof positive that infusions and flavoring can be done right, but it needs to be part of the process — not an afterthought that gets slapped on some pre-made spirits and shipped out the door.
|J Seeds Apple Cider Whiskey|
Produced By: J SeedsOwned By: Frank-Lin Distillers Products
Production Location: California, United States
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
It’s like they took autumn from my childhood, made it disgustingly sweet, and ripped out all the substance.