I’m always interested to see different takes on whiskey, whether that means aging it in a novel way or using different ingredients. For Slaughter House American Whiskey, it was taking a chance betting a famous wine producer could translate his wine success to the spirit industry. And we took a chance testing this out to see how the end result tastes.
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. He 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 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.
The process of “finishing” a whiskey in a second barrel is not something new — scotch whiskey finished in various barrels has been around for quite some time, and the use of port or wine barrels is common practice. But using this process with American whiskey is decidedly less common.
As with most new distilled spirits companies, The Splinter Group doesn’t actually have a distillery. They purchase their whiskey from an undisclosed 3rd party, finish it in Napa Valley, and bottle it for distribution.
The unfortunate side effect of that business decision is that we really don’t know what’s in here. The grain bill used in the production of the whiskey and what exactly went into that spirit is unknown. Additionally, some reports indicate that the whiskey is aged in American oak for eight years… but there aren’t any age statements on the bottle so we don’ know for sure.
What we do know is that once the whiskey makes its way to The Splinter Group, their staff put it in previously used Papillion barrels. These barrels are a type traditionally used in a Bordeaux style red wine, and the remnants of that blend are still present when the whiskey hits the wood.
After another undisclosed period of time maturing in the barrels, the whiskey is bottled and shipped out.
I’m actually a bit disappointed. The Prisoner series of wine gained popularity thanks in no small part to the packaging and marketing on the outside of the bottles, and this bottle has almost none of that creativity.
The bottle itself is a standard whiskey bottle that’s widely used by craft distillers who can’t invest in a custom design. It’s a thick bottomed round glass that tapers outward from the base to the shoulder, and then quickly rounds into a medium length neck. There’s a swell in the neck for better control while pouring, and the whole thing is capped with a wood and cork stopper.
As for the art on the front label, to call it bland and uninspired is an understatement. The name “Slaughter House” doesn’t really tie in with any branding. There’s no story behind it, no rationale for the provocative name (other than, seemingly, to be provocative), and no artwork to support that idea. There’s a big white sticker displaying a meat cleaver (again, provocative for the sake of provocation), but all it does is cover up the dark brown whiskey and hide it from view.
There’s the usual caramel and vanilla aromas that you get with an aged whiskey, but there’s also a fruity sweetness in there as well at first. I can definitely smell the Bordeaux blend influence, but that fades quickly. Letting it air out a bit pretty much leaves you with a glass of standard whiskey caramel and vanilla flavors.
Taking a sip, initially there’s no difference from a normal whiskey. There’s a good weight to the liquid and I get a good number of those traditional oak flavors, and as the taste develops I start to see a bit of peppery spice that’s probably from some sort of rye content in the spirit.
On closer inspection, you can ever-so-slightly taste some of those Bordeaux flavors as well. I get some blackberry and other dark fruit faintly in the background, but it’s like someone shouting from the Pepsi Porch while you’re standing on second base at Citi Field. It’s there… but just barely and its certainly drowned out by competing noise.
Typically, the addition of some ice has a negative impact on the flavor of the whiskey… and this proves to be a standard, run-of-the-mill whiskey in this regard, too.
At this point, all of those delicate Bordeaux flavors have disappeared, and this is pretty damn close to drinking a glass of Mitcher’s US 1 bourbon. It has roughly the same flavors and even the same rye based spice on the finish. There’s nothing differentiating the whiskey from its rivals in this form.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It makes a fine Old Fashioned. The caramel and the vanilla flavors balance nicely with the bitters, and the orange zest adds some depth and flavor that was missing before.
But the real issue I have is that the wine cask finishing really doesn’t have any impact on the flavor at this point. The delicate notes have all dropped out, and what we’re left with are the big and brash ideas that you get in almost any whiskey. Which is fine and delicious, but kinda makes all that extra effort for finishing in wine casks seem pointless.
Different cocktail, same result. This is pretty good, but nothing differentiating it from other whiskeys. There’s the caramel and vanilla flavors balancing out the bitter ginger beer, and there’s the peppery spice kicking in to add some depth and complexity to the cocktail.
It’s good, but it’s the same thing I can get from almost any other bourbon. There’s nothing different that I get from this that I can’t get anywhere else. (And for cheaper, to boot.)
It’s a fine whiskey, but it’s not really good enough in my opinion to warrant the price tag. I can get Woodford Reserve for nearly a full $10 less, which gives me a better experience in a better package. So why would I shell out the cash for a whiskey I don’t even know the contents or aging of, if I’m not getting anything different out of it?
The wine cask finishing is a good idea, but the effects are simply too subtle. Blink and you’ll miss them — and if you aren’t told what you should be looking for, you’ll probably never notice.
|The Splinter Group Slaughter House American Whiskey|
Produced By: The Splinter GroupProduction Location: United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 44% ABV
Price: $41.99 / 750 ml
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Overall Rating: 2/5
Too much power in the bourbon, and not enough in the Bordeaux.