I’m a huge fan of apple pie, and I’m a huge fan of whiskey. Any time these two things come together, I feel the need to check it out — knowing full well that I come away from the process disappointed more often than not. But hope springs eternal, and a new expression from Sugarlands Distilling Co threatens to put a green apple twist on the classic.
Founded by Greg Eidam II and Ned Vickers in 2014, the Sugarlands Distilling Co. is dedicated to the art of un-aged flavored whiskey. The pair don’t claim to have a ton of prior distilling experience, and so attended some courses on the topic before setting up their own distillery.
Sugarlands Distilling Co is now probably most famous for its involvement in a Discovery Channel docudrama called Moonshiners, which claims to follow illegal distillers as they produce traditional moonshine in the back woods of the Appalachian mountains. The distillers featured in the show have partnered with the distillery to make their signature spirits for mass production. The distillery is also the official moonshine of NASCAR, the American racing circuit that started as a result of bootleggers building hot rod cars to evade the police during prohibition.
Technically speaking, “moonshine” is illegally produced unaged whiskey (typically produced “by the light of the moon” to evade the police). So proper moonshine this ain’t… but it’s as close as you’ll get. And as a result, there’s some oddities going on with the labeling and it’s throwing me off.
By the letter of the law, they’re right that this is “neutral spirits with natural flavor and caramel coloring,” which is also the description of just about every bottom shelf bottle of whiskey every produced. But according to the distillers themselves, they actually go through a proper process to make this instead of just bringing in mass-produced grain alcohol.
The distillers claim that the whiskey starts with a grain bill of locally sourced (but not necessarily locally produced) grains, which are milled on-site in their Austrian grain mill. From there, they are fermented, and distilled six times in an Appalachian style 250 gallon pot still. Typically, the spirits would be stored in a wooden barrel for a while to be aged, but since this is “moonshine”, they add some flavoring to the spirits and ship it out the door.
This process is much closer to the production process for flavored vodka than traditional whiskey, especially the excessive distillation runs. But given that there’s no additional aging to reduce impurities and remove bad tasting aspects, it makes sense to get the spirit as pure as possible.
I do have a question about the flavoring that I’m not certain about. There are two ways to add flavor to a spirit, either by adding it as an ingredient in the still (in the mash or added to a doubler) or by infusing it after the distillation is complete. They aren’t exactly forthcoming about where in the process the flavoring happens, or if it’s even real fruit instead of “natural flavors” added by a syrup at the end.
I suspect that there’s some added sugar in here, since some of it dried into a syrup-y sweet crusty drip on the side of the jar. And that doesn’t happen if it’s just water and whiskey.
Speaking of added things, there’s also some added coloring in the liquid to give it a dark amber tint more akin to an aged spirit.
It’s a Mason jar. Which is both good and bad.
The good is that the Mason jar is the traditional format for delivery of moonshine. It’s a good rustic container that speaks a bit to the history of the product.
The bad is that it’s a Mason jar, and therefore has some issues. There’s no really easy way to pour the spirit out of the jar without making a mess — which is why large open lids typically aren’t the standard format for whiskey containers. It’s awkward to hold, awkward to pour, and as a result I feel like I’m wasting a bunch of this down the side of the jar.
The very first thing I smell coming off the glass is sugary sour green apple, just like a green Jolly Rancher. I suppose there might be some other apple-pie-related aromas in there, but that green apple is just way too overpowering to get anything else.
I do, however, get some of those flavors in the spirit. (I almost had to hold my nose to get them, but they’re there.) First up is a punch of green apple just like in the nose, but that quickly tapers off. Coming on its heels is a bit of sugary sweetness and some baking spices, specifically some light cinnamon (cinnamon in whiskey done right — aka way more pleasant than Fireball). Following that, I get something like a buttery fluffy pastry that finishes with a proper apple flavor.
The problem comes with repeated trips to the well. The first couple times it’s an interesting novelty, but as you sip the whiskey, that cloying sweetness starts to get on my nerves and some of the flavors start to appear almost bitter.
Adding a bit of ice, you can definitely see how much sugar has been added to this thing. Just like with Skrewball or Fireball, it’s a swirling mess in the glass — the sugar-saturated whiskey and the cold water fail to mix properly.
As for the taste, everything is still there but just slowed down a bit. The initial hit of green apple stays longer, and that baking spice note takes a while to show up. None of it is necessarily toned down or diminished… just delayed a while.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
There’s absolutely enough sweetness in this whiskey that adding the traditional sugar cube is like adding another bucket of water to the ocean. Save your ingredients for something else.
Surprisingly, I don’t hate this. I was expecting that the angostura bitters would have a negative impact, but I actually think that they helped this drink a lot. The bitters seem to be doing battle with the green apple flavor and winning the fight, toning it down significantly and adding more of a complexity to the flavor. Everything else, from the cinnamon baking spices to the buttery crust flavor, works way better here than it ever did alone.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but this is actually legitimately drinkable.
I feel like Michael Bluth opening the dead dove bag from the refrigerator. I don’t know what I expected except for this.
It’s mayhem. Utter, utter mayhem. There’s no playful interaction or delicate balancing, instead it’s an all out assault on my taste buds and the only thing I feel is regret for the money I threw away making this monstrosity. It’s like thirty people shouting at once for my attention, and none of them are compatible. It’s just the flavor version of noise and it makes me wince every time I take a sip.
Overall, I think they achieved an apple pie flavor… but only if you can get through that intense sour green apple flavor. And with a surprise assist from the bitters in the Old Fashioned portion of the testing regimen, this spirit goes from a novelty to something that I’d actually voluntarily stock in my liquor cabinet.
|Sugarlands Distilling Co Appalachian Apple Pie Moonshine|
Produced By: Sugarlands Distilling CoProduction Location: Tennessee, United States
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 25% ABV
Price: $19.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 2/5
It’s a one trick pony… and it needs an assist to do that trick.