There’s a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” trope among some horror movies, in which something initially seemingly normal will turn out dark and twisted in reality. Only a truly close watch gives any indication of the twist, which most casual viewers might not pick up on. As we continue our tour through the horror show of the bottom shelf of the liquor store, I hope that today’s bottle doesn’t fit that trope — although the bold, all-caps phrase “ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE” on the label isn’t giving me much confidence here.
It isn’t often that even the folks at Wikipedia are stumped about the origin of a brand. Numerous sources have tried to pin down the origin, but the closest we seem to come is a 1949 first importation of a Canadian whiskey by this name into the the United States.
The man for which this bottle is named, Leroy Napoleon “Jack” McQuesten, was a famous pioneer and explorer in the late 1800s. He originally set out from his home in Maine in 1849 to chase the California gold rush, but found himself wandering through the northern territories and Canada after failing to strike it rich. Instead, he founded a series of frontier trading posts, building his fortune the same way that Levi Strauss did by provisioning the fortune seekers rather than actually seeking the fortune, and eventually retired to Berkeley, California.
Apparently, sometime just after the end of WWII, a Canadian company decided that this famous Canadian frontiersman was the perfect mascot for their new bottle of honey-infused liqueur. They slapped a label on the bottle featuring an illustration of Yukon Jack in a parka looking pensively into the distance and imported it into the United States for sale. The initial response wasn’t all that enthusiastic, earning it the nickname “The Black Sheep of Canadian Liquors” and an ominous distinction among whiskey drinkers.
But the phrase “all press is good press” seems to have been true in this instance, as the brand enjoyed significant popularity in the 1970’s and was purchased by Diageo in the 1990’s. A little less than 30 years later, Diageo sold the brand as part of a package deal alongside brands such as Seagram’s to Sazerac for a total of $550 million.
The Sazerac Company was founded in 1869, named after a bar they acquired in New Orleans, the Sazerac Coffee House. Following the establishment of the company, they started marketing and distributing brands of liquor under their name.
Sazerac maintains its headquarters in New Orleans, but has distilleries in other locations (including Kentucky). They produce liquor under various brand names, often despite the lack of the Sazerac name anywhere on the bottle.
The original version of this product was a Canadian liqueur, which is a sweetened low-proof alcoholic version of a spirit. This would have been manufactured in Canada and then imported into the United States for sale.
Looking at Sazerac’s webpage for this spirit, it seems like they do still make that variety, but they have expanded the product line significantly. That includes this bottle of 125 proof alcohol we have here today, which doesn’t appear to be marketed as a liqueur.
Digging into the label, it doesn’t indicate anywhere whether this was imported or not. According to the TTB records this specific variety of their brand, the “Barrel Proof” version, started bottling production in 2021 at the Barton 1792 Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. At some point that bottling moved to their facility in Louisville, Kentucky according to the label on the bottle — but where the original spirit was distilled remains a mystery.
Also mysterious is… exactly what this is. The label states that this is a “whiskey with natural flavors and caramel color”. So we can make some assumptions that the base spirit here probably came from some form of grains, but we have no clue whether that’s Canadian rye or American corn. Also, because this is a flavored and colored whiskey, there’s no real way to discern between which flavors are from the distillation and which have been added afterwards.
Which is a really long way of basically giving you a “shrug” emoji response to the question of what’s in the bottle.
This bottle is pretty much just a straight copy of the same bottle that Sazerac used for Kentucky Tavern, but with some added fluting.
Overall, the shape is very rectangular with equal sides and rounded corners. The sides are flat until they reach the shoulder, where there’s a significant taper to the medium length neck and some nice added fluting that looks like the bottom of a Reese’s peanut butter cup. The whole thing is capped off with a plastic screw-on top.
I do appreciate that the label still retains its illustration of the eponymous Yukon Jack, resplendent in his fluffy parka and looking out over the wilderness. Otherwise, the label is boring and uninspired, basically just a thick black text box in the middle of the label for the brand name and variety information.
At first glance everything looks correct: the whiskey is the right shade of gold and doesn’t seem to be unnaturally viscous. But then I took a whiff and immediately realized that something has gone terribly wrong.
The most predominant aromas are lemon and orange citrus. Normally, those will be certainly be components in a whiskey — but minor players, not the towering titans that they seem to be here. In fact, those aromas are so strong and so patently artificial that the aroma is giving me Lemon Pledge vibes.
Behind those citrus notes there might be some sweetness, most likely a bit of honey… but it’s hard to detect. I don’t get any of the usual grain-esque aromas, and definitely not any caramel, vanilla, or brown sugar like you’d expect in a whiskey. Just pure Lemon Pledge.
Taking a sip, I regret every life choice that brought me to this moment.
Both a blessing and a curse is that the flavors in this spirit are exactly what you’d expect from the aroma. It’s a mixture of lemon and orange zest with some sweetness thrown into the mix, which makes it taste to me exactly what I’d expect floor cleaner would taste like. Except without the death, of course.*
(*As of publication.)
The biggest offense: this is undoubtedly artificially sweetened. It doesn’t look viscous, but I can feel the sugar crystallizing on my lips as I write this. Given the history of the brand, it’s likely some added honey has been introduced to the mix but it could just as easily be simple syrup. In the past, I’ve seen this kind of sweetness try to hide some seriously atrocious flavors, so I’m starting to get some significant fear and trepidation for what I’m going to find when I try this on the rocks.
For flavored whiskies like this one, adding some ice is like peeling back the layers of an onion to get at the core of the product. It dilutes and strips away the sugary protective layer and diminishes the added flavors, leaving behind mainly the flavors from the actual distillation process and anything else saturated enough to survive. It isn’t always a pleasant experience in cases like this, since these spirits are mostly designed to be taken as a shot or blended in with something else.
In this case, while the sweetness is reduced, it isn’t removed. There’s still plenty in this glass to spike my blood sugar levels. But one thing that has changed is the balance between the sweetness and the citrus flavors. There’s now more of a bitterness and acerbic character to that orange and lemon flavor, almost like drinking orange bitters straight from the bottle, with an added bit of dark chocolate for depth and character. It was probably covered up by the sugar content earlier but is now plain to see, and leaves a literal bad taste in my mouth.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
It might be an unpopular opinion (or the alcohol content kicking in), but I actually don’t hate this.
What we have here is something closer to a historically accurate “mid century old fashioned” in which there’s much more fruit and citrus in the glass. It’s heavy on the lemon and orange flavors, but the herbal notes from the added angostura bitters actually provide just enough balance to make this an acceptable cocktail.
I do want to point out that you can taste exactly 0% of the actual whiskey in here — you could perfectly recreate this with a vodka and no one would be the wiser. But the flavors do a nice job making something somewhat interesting and redeemable as a cocktail… even if its basically unrecognizable as a whiskey cocktail.
When I have a mule, I’m looking for a balanced yet bright cocktail that is delicious to sip on. And that’s not what I get here.
There’s just way too much lemon flavor in here for anything else to shine through. The added lime juice doesn’t bring any diversity, but instead just brings more tart bitterness to the table alongside the ginger beer. In the end, it doesn’t leave the same bad taste in my mouth as I experienced when taking this neat… but it’s still a bitter one-note cocktail that doesn’t have any complexity.
In all fairness, this wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected it to be. I could see this being useful for making shots or specific cocktails, for example, with that prominent lemon and orange citrus flavor and the inherent sweetness playing a major role in the enjoyment someone would get out of it. But that someone is not me.
I could not detect a single one of the natural flavors of the whiskey in this spirit — nothing related to the distillation process or barrel aging. Everything in here seems to be covered up by artificial flavors and added sugar, to the point where there’s no reason to use a whiskey as a base rather than a neutral grain spirit. It seems like a waste of otherwise perfectly good whiskey to me.
|Yukon Jack Barrel Proof|
Classification: Flavored Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 62.5% ABV
Price: $16.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
A drinkable alcoholic version of Lemon Pledge with some orange zest thrown in for good measure.