As I’m writing this, we’re deep in the middle of the COVID-19 lockdown. I’ve chugged through most of my ready supply of whiskey, and what I really want is something new and different to knock me out of this monotony. So when I saw that my local liquor store had started stocking something called a Peanut Butter Whiskey, it sounded like music to my ears. Something different! (…and hopefully also tasty.)
Steven Yeng, Cambodian immigrant to the United States and polio survivor, owned a bar and restaurant in Ocean Beach, California named OB Noodle House Bar 1502. It catered to a slightly off-kilter clientele (“misfits, black sheep, and screwballs” as they would call them) and as the story goes, one night Steven was playing with mixing different flavors of whiskey drinks. Getting creative, he slid his wife Brittany the first incarnation of what would become the latest trendy cocktail — a peanut butter whiskey.
The couple immediately saw an opportunity and, in July of 2018, Brittany started designing the branding that would eventually become Skrewball Whiskey.
Their journey hasn’t been as smooth as creamy peanut butter, though. There have been multiple lawsuits brought against the couple by people who had claimed to be investors or business partners who have since been ignored or shut out of the enterprise.
Despite their legal troubles, over the last couple of years the whiskey has become significantly more popular. It was awarded Best Flavored Whiskey in the 2018 New York World Wine and Spirits Competition, and within two months was in over 30 states. It took only around a year to get national distribution of their spirit.
There’s very little actual information about the product itself, but there’s three clues about the contents of the bottle.
The first clue is that this is listed as being “bottled by” Screwball Spirits in California. The TTB has specific requirements about how liquor needs to be labeled and sold, and while all spirits need to list a manufacturer, it’s perfectly acceptable to hide where the spirit was actually produced. So while Screwball Spirits in California may have placed the finished product in the bottle, there’s no way to know where the spirit was actually distilled.
This is actually a pretty common tactic, especially with newer whiskey companies. Getting a distillery together and aging your own spirits is an expensive and time consuming process, so grabbing someone else’s spirits and making your own unique blend is a tradition as old as whiskey itself. There are a couple distilleries in the US that produce spirits almost exclusively for other companies to bottle and brand, and usually they have a pretty solid track record. But because this doesn’t have any info about the spirit, there’s no way we can know the grain bill or other characteristics besides it being “brown.”
Well, actually… we don’t even know that this comes from a brown spirit. Because clue #2 is that the label says there’s caramel color added to the whiskey. So like you’d expect from Californians, the appearance has been un-naturally altered. Lifted and tucked a bit.
Clue #3 actually is in two parts, and is probably the most telling. The bottle states that there are added “natural flavors,” and there’s a tiny warning on the back that this product contains nuts. So what we have is a flavored whiskey, where the producer has added something to the spirit that didn’t get there through the distillation process.
Okay, so it’s an unknown kind of whiskey that was produced in an undisclosed location, colored to look this way, and flavored with additives before bottling. Definitely not a “small batch craft distilled” kind of thing.
I do want to note that the packaging and branding on this bottle is excellent.
The bottle itself is round and looks like normal liquor bottles, but there’s a slight taper from the shoulder to the base that is appealing and makes it seem taller. There’s the company name “Screwball” embossed on the sides of the bottle, so it’s likely that this was in fact a custom designed mold that they are using. The neck is long and slender, which makes it feel good to pour and is helpful for bartenders. The bottle is capped off with a metal screw top.
There’s two labels, but only the front label is really readable. It’s a white background with a sheep pattern faintly printed on it, the same one as used for their logo. Speaking of which, their logo looks like a dripping Reese’s peanut butter cup with a sheep’s head on it. The back label has all the legally required items and the peanut warning, but it’s small black lettering on a transparent background, making it nearly unreadable.
It’s a great looking bottle overall, definitely a good job on the branding.
It flows out of the bottle with a little more viscosity than I expected, which is always a bit worrying. But the aroma smells great on first impression. I can smell the peanuts and I can smell some sweetness, but the one thing I don’t get is the whiskey. It doesn’t smell like opening a jar of Jiff, it’s more like homemade peanut butter using actual peanuts.
Taking a sip is like eating a Reese’s peanut butter cup that’s been glazed with sugar. Immediately, you get a solid punch of sugary sweetness that’ll have you reaching for the insulin, and what follows is that same homemade peanut butter flavor. As things mellow out, I think I get a bit of chocolate on the edges… but that all quickly fades into just pure sugar and peanut once more.
It’s super sweet and incredibly viscous, very similar to Fireball… but with peanuts instead of cinnamon.
The ice really doesn’t help things.
The flavors and the sugar content are all still present and very much making themselves known. There might be a slight dilution of that sugary sweetness, but it’s not noticeable.
What is noticeable, though, is again similar to Fireball: the added ice lets you see just how much sugar really is swirling around in there. The colder water can’t absorb the sugar that’s dissolved in the whiskey and creates interesting swirls in the spirit. It’s intriguing to watch for a minute, possibly because it temporarily keeps you from having to take another sip.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
As soon as I took a sip, I immediately regretted the life decisions that brought me to this point.
I thought that the added bitters and citrus might help. The peanut flavor is an earthy note so, in my naiveté, I thought some brightness might help balance things out. Instead, what I got was a flavor profile that’s like if you ate a peanut butter sandwich and chased it with a Sunny D. Except the sandwich is glazed with sugar like a doughnut, and the Sunny D is about twice as sweet as normal. That might sound appealing to some of you, and more power to you if that’s the case, but I straight up poured the thing down the drain after about four sips.
The small bit of good news here is that you don’t need to worry about muddling a sugar cube with the bitters before pouring the drink. It’s plenty sweet as-is.
Well, this is truly terrible.
The peanut flavor clashes with the ginger beer and whatever lime juice you add to the mix. The only way it works is if you actively fight the spirit and overpower it — but at that point, there’s so little alcohol content you may have just had a bottle of ginger beer straight. The only thing this really brings to the party is the sugar content.
This seems to be poised to directly compete with Fireball, and to be honest I see their appeal. There’s no way in hell you’re going to get me to do a shot of Fireball, but there’s a solid chance that at some point in the future I might have a shot of this again. It’s not patently offensive or painful, instead it’s a pleasant flavor that seems to go well in short bursts.
I can definitely see this as a shot, and or used as a liqueur that’s a component in another cocktail. However, I don’t think this is something that I would drink on its own or have as the primary spirit in a drink. There’s just way too much sugar content for my taste, and the flavor is too strong to mix well alone.
That said, the biggest problem here might just be the price. It’s almost $10 more expensive per 750ml than Fireball, and while the curb appeal certainly is there I don’t think this is something I’d willingly drop the cash on for the novelty and the occasional party shot.
|Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey|
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Special Type: Peanut Butter Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 35% ABV
Price: $25.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
Screwed by too much sugar.