I have an admittedly odd affinity for non-name store brand liquor. Primarily, because it’s basically the liquor store equivalent to pulling the lever on a slot machine. Sometimes, the results are amazingly good. Other times, it’s just a blatant cash grab using low grade spirits. You’re never sure what you are going to get, which makes cracking this bottle of King’s Creek open so exciting.
King’s Creek isn’t actually a distillery, or even a unique brand. According to TTB records, this is a “white label” whiskey produced by the large spirits manufacturer USDP, and appears to be only available as a store brand in Total Wine stores.
Founded in 1981, USDP is a bottling company that imports and sources spirits from other distilleries, creates its own brands, and sells them primarily in the midwest United States. Their facility is based in Princeton, Minnesota.
Since this is just a mass produced product from a massive bottling plant, there’s not a whole lot of information available about this specific bottle. But, thanks to the legal requirements around some of the labeling terms, we can make some inferences.
First things first: this probably isn’t even made by USDP. As a “Tennessee Whiskey”, this is required to be produced in the state of Tennessee, which legally precludes USDP’s Minnesota plant from making it. As such, it’s likely that this is produced by a yet further third party that is undisclosed and simply bottled by USDP.
Tennessee Whiskey is, at its core, a bourbon. It requires a minimum of 51% corn in the grain bill, but can include other things like rye and wheat as well. In this case, though, we don’t have a single clue about what else might be in here.
That grain is cooked, and then (as a “sour mash” whiskey) some of the acidic remnants of the previous distillation run are added to the vats and the mixture is allowed to be fermented. That mildly alcoholic liquid is then distilled to a maximum of 160 proof. This newly made spirit is then reduced to 125 proof and placed in barrels to age.
For this bottle, the label claims that the whiskey sat in a barrel for a minimum of four years.
The real key to Tennessee Whiskey is the Lincoln County Process, where the whiskey is slowly filtered through charcoal prior to bottling.
This bottle looks suspiciously similar to the one we saw with the Ole Smoky Tennessee Salted Caramel Whiskey.
The bottle is shaped a bit like a big hip flask. The skinny-but-wide bottle has a rounded shoulder that rolls into a short neck, and the whole thing is capped off with a wood and cork stopper. That stopper does feel solidly chunky and high quality, which is a good touch.
Moving on to the label… well, to put it diplomatically, there are some similarities to Jack Daniel’s famous label. The white text on black lettering, the font choice, and the overall look are similar — but admittedly in a non-copyright-infringing way. It looks pretty good, probably because they basically borrowed the tried and true formula that Jack Daniel’s has perfected.
Usually, the first aroma I get with a Tennessee whiskey is a strong banana coming off the glass, and sure enough that’s the case here. Added into that are some vanilla, toffee, and a bit of baking spices to round out the experience, all on a base of raw corn that adds some earthy complexity.
What you see in the aroma is pretty much what you get in the taste — with one big exception. In this case, the first flavor I get is some sourdough bread, which wasn’t really in the aroma. Its followed by that banana component, some apple, vanilla, and a touch of brown sugar. Those baking spices don’t seem to have made the cut, and the yeasty bread-like flavor is probably what sticks out the most in my mind among that group. The taste finishes with that raw corn lingering near the end.
After dropping a few cubes of ice in the glass, there’s a surprising amount of brown sugar in the aroma. It’s sweeter somehow, but without the raw corn or banana components.
But what was lost in the aroma I think I found in the flavor. It’s pretty much 100% banana at this point, with a hint of vanilla and caramel. There’s practically nothing else in here to give it any depth or texture, just the fruit.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
When building an old fashioned, my preferred version uses orange bitters and other fruity components. I tend to gravitate towards darker and richer bourbons for my cocktails, so the added fruit and citrus provides some balance and lift to the flavor profile.
In this case, though, we’ve got the opposite problem: that fruit is the only component of the flavor profile. There’s nothing whatsoever to provide that richer and deeper component you’re looking for in a cocktail, and it just ends up being unbalanced and light. For me, that means a boring, uninteresting cocktail that I wouldn’t order a second time.
I’m not mad about what’s going on in this version of a Kentucky mule, but I’m not thrilled either. It’s fruit forward and the flavors are good, but it’s too light to be considered a well balanced cocktail.
The banana component and ginger beer are balancing out a little bit, so it isn’t just a bitter and shout-y glass of ginger beer. But there’s no depth and complexity, so it absolutely skews towards a lighter and fruit forward take on the category. Not terrible, but also not my favorite.
This isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever tasted, to be sure. It’s a drinkable whiskey that has a lot of good banana flavor in it — something that should be useful for folks looking to craft cocktails. The problem is that unlike other brands, such as George Dickel, there’s no depth or complexity to the flavor profile. It brings one thing to the glass and that’s it.
I don’t think I could recommend picking up a bottle of this anytime soon. But I wouldn’t avoid it if I saw it on my liquor shelf.
|King's Creek Black Label Tennessee Sour Mash Whiskey|
Produced By: King's CreekProduction Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Tennessee Whiskey
Aging: 4 Years
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $16.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
An acceptable Tennessee style whiskey, hitting all the notes you would expect… but without much depth and complexity.