Whiskey Review: Savage & Cooke Second Glance American Whiskey

Whiskey distillers don’t tend to stray too far from the normal pattern of bottle designs. In the vast majority of cases, distillers are more organic chemistry nerds at heart than high-art aficionados. So when a new bottle comes on the market that has a striking design, it’s something that I feel I need to try out.



David Phinney has a history in the alcoholic beverage industry. He founded the Orion Swift Cellars, which is where he first launched the Prisoners line of wine, which has seen wide popularity and distribution in supermarkets across the nation since its 2000 launch, primarily due to the interesting bottle design. Phinney would eventually sell that line to a spin-off company, The Prisoner Wine Company, and decided to turn his attention to the world of whiskey.

Using his background in wine production, he decided to try and make a line of sourced whiskey that had been aged in previously used wine barrels. Thus, The Splinter Group was born (note: as far as we can tell, not named for the martial arts master of four renaissance-named adolescent terrapins… although it would be fantastic if it were). In all, there are several key figures in this venture, as it is a collaboration between Vintage Wine Estates, The Wilkinson Family, and winemaker Bob Cabral. We previously reviewed their Slaughter House Whiskey, which you can read elsewhere on the site.

Building on that success, Phinney launched the Savage & Cooke distillery in 2016 to produce his own spirits from scratch. The distillery is located on the northern coast of San Francisco Bay, and continues to incorporate flavors and techniques from the winemaking world into their spirits.


This whiskey starts out as a mixture of grains, specifically 95% corn, 4% rye, and 1% malted barley. Those grains are milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic mixture that is then distilled in the facility’s column still.

That’s all fairly boring and standard for a whiskey, and the marketing materials seem to back up the idea that the actual distillation process isn’t the focus of their craft. Instead, the distillery focuses on the second half of the process: maturation and barrel finishing.

The newly made whiskey is then placed into previously used bourbon barrels for a period of five years. Typically in the United States, distilleries will use a brand new charred barrel for each batch of whiskey, which provides a bold flavor and rich color in the spirit. This is best seen in American bourbons and is actually codified into law for spirits that carry that label. The use of previously used barrels is something more common in Scotland and Ireland, where the distilleries are looking for a more mild flavor profile with a longer maturation period.

Once the whiskey has been matured for a period of five years in those used whiskey barrels, it is then transferred into previously used wine barrels sourced from Dave Phinney’s Napa Valley wine projects. Once properly finished, the whiskey is proofed down using water sourced from Alexander Valley in northern California.


When we reviewed Dave’s previous version of whiskey, one of the first complaints I had was that the bottle was a standard and boring design. That certainly isn’t the case here.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the bottle has this matte black finish that’s almost velvety in texture. That completely obscures the color of the whiskey inside the bottle, so it was a bit of a mystery what I was going to get with the first glass.

The body of the bottle is shaped like a square cube of ice that has been melting in the sun for a while. The edges are rounded and smooth while still maintaining those flat sides. The shoulder rounds quickly to a short neck, which is capped off with a sturdy synthetic stopper.

On the front of that bottle is a label that I’d call more pop art than billboard for the brand. The vast majority of the space is taken up with a repeating pattern of suited men’s chests, a la Andy Warhol but with much less color. There is the legally required information on the label, but in very small red font at the bottom of the label.



In the glass, the whiskey has a light amber color and is crystal clear. (Ignore the haze in this picture — I took these photos in the dead of Texas winter and the condensation on the glass was significant.) The color is about what I’d expect for a whiskey without an age statement or something trying to be classified as a bourbon: lighter and possibly a bit more approachable.

The aroma coming off this liquid is fairly standard for a whiskey: brown sugar, vanilla, cedar chips, and a touch of raw corn earthiness. Some people describe it as being closer to peanuts, and while I can understand where they get that note, I think the aromatic aspects that tend to come with a bourbon make all the difference and that’s something that encodes to me as cedar chips.

Most of those aromas translate nicely into the flavors. There’s the brown sugar, vanilla, and cedar chips all present, but there’s also a darker tone mixed in that’s closer to dark chocolate or cacao nibs that is adding some nice balance. On the finish I get a bit of cinnamon as well, but the cedar chips and dark chocolate are probably the two notes that linger the longest.

On Ice

This was shaping up to be an interesting and complex whiskey, but I think (as has been the case with a number of spirits we’ve tried here) things have gone a bit off the rails when we add some ice cubes to the mix. The added dilution and chill has eliminated a number of the flavors we saw before and significantly toned down the survivors, leading to something a little less entertaining and more straightforward.

The good news is that there’s still some richness and depth to the whiskey. I’m still getting those dark chocolate notes and maybe even a hint of dark cherry thrown in for good measure, but the cedar chips are really only present for a brief flash before disappearing. What’s left is some brown sugar, a bit of vanilla, and that dark chocolate note.

It isn’t quite as entertaining as before, but this still seems like a good base for cocktails.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

Thanks to the dark chocolate flavor, this does seem to be a darker and richer version of an old fashioned. Which, coincidentally, is my favorite variety of old fashioned. The depth of flavors just balances better with the herbaceous and aromatic components in the bitters and makes for a delicious cocktail in my opinion.

All that is true here as well, with a good balance to the flavors and a bit of richness to the experience. But the problem is that there isn’t much else that the whiskey brings to the table. An old fashioned is a booze-forward drink that lives or dies on the quality of the whiskey, and in this case there just isn’t much interesting going on here.

It’s a serviceable cocktail, but nothing I’d write home about.

Fizz (Mule)

I really don’t like this at all. And I think, funnily enough, it’s all due to the things that I liked about the whiskey in the other preparations.

On the positive side, this whiskey does add some flavor to the profile of the cocktail. It isn’t just ginger beer and lime juice, but instead the dark chocolate and cedar chips do actually make an appearance and provide some balance and interesting characteristics to the cocktail that otherwise would not have been present.

Technically, that’s part of the success criteria here… but the way in which those flavors mix just doesn’t give me the warm fuzzies. It tastes jumbled and confused, and the closest thing I can compare it to is if you take a big swig of lemonade after smoking a cigar. That same kind of unsettling, not-quite-right flavor profile that is undoubtedly different… just not in the right way.


Overall Rating

Compared to the Slaughter House American Whiskey, I want to give this bottle some credit for distilling their own spirit and making some different choices. It’s a gamble and, while the result didn’t knock my socks off, I think there are enough gimmicks and interesting aspects to make this worth investigating.

The choice to use older bourbon barrels seems to legitimately be a stylistic choice here rather than just a cost saving measure. It feels like they wanted to have a lighter flavored whiskey so that the later barrel finishing in wine casks would have a greater impact, and that was a smart move. It absolutely worked, and taken neat or in a cocktail those flavors come through and work really well.

But in my opinion, that also is the biggest weakness in this spirit. There isn’t much depth or complexity to the spirit beyond the surface level flavors, which makes sense given the somewhat boring grain bill and the use of a column still in distillation.

I feel like there’s enough here to make this whiskey worth checking out at least once. There are probably some great cocktails out there that could be made with this, and I’d love to hear about any that y’all find in the comments!

Savage & Cooke Second Glance Whiskey
Produced By: Savage & Cooke
Production Location: California, United States
Classification: Whiskey
Aging: 5 Years
Proof: 44% ABV
Price: $31.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A whiskey finished in California wine barrels that is, indeed, worth a second glance.


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