Virginia Black American Whiskey
MGP of Indiana
Taste Score: 67
Category: American whisky, NDP
Whisky Cabinet Score: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ (Not for whisky enthusiasts)
Virginia Black American Whiskey is the otherwise known as Drake's whisky. This whisky is bound to be polarizing: Drake is pop culture at its highest level, and traditional whisky drinkers are likely disregards his music as stuff "young people listen to." It's also a celebrity booze product, which nearly always gets negative reviews from critics.
Let's get through the whisky enthusiast facts first: like many non-distiller-producers (companies that don't make their own distillery), it's distilled by MGP of Indiana. It's said to be a two to four year old bourbon. It has added unnatural flavoring. It doesn't say it on the bottle, but I can taste it.
By law the category of whisky allows for 2.5% of any sort of agent flavoring so long as the final product still tastes like whisky. The added flavoring is noticeable, but it's still legally whisky; thus the characteristics of whisky are preserved. By comparison, it's not a flavored whisky such as Fireball, but it's also not a straight rye or bourbon (that would not allow for any flavoring).
A number of people have said this bottle looks like an '80s TV show set that's attempting to mimick art deco from the 1900s. It photographs beautifully. The bottle is a screw-top, and the knob definitely feels like a set piece from an '80s TV show (cheap). My particular bottle wobbled on a flat surface, so the mould of the narrow base could do with some work. It's an otherwise a beautiful bottle, though your tastes may draw a different conclusion.
The whisky inside is going to get a reaction. For traditional whisky drinkers, it'll be a firm no on first sip. That's how it was for me, and you can listen to me drinking it for the first time live on The Whisky Topic podcast. But this isn't the bourbon I expected it to be, and it doesn't claim to be bourbon. As I had a few more sips later on, some character developed.
Virginia Black American Whiskey does one key thing that I admire over many non-distiller producers in the general American whisky category. Many NDPs slap on a nice label behind a traditional bottle, and they buy cheap two to four year-old bourbon. Then they add enough flavoring to sweeten the whisky harshness out toward an inoffensive (albeit boring) whisky. That's not Virginia Black. The flavoring hits harder with licorice, ginger spice, vanilla sweetness, and black tea herbal notes. It's still very sweet, but there's more to it.
Yes, yes, certainly there was a goal of making a smooth and approachable whisky, but I appreciate that there's an edge to it. This is not going to win over many whisky enthusiasts, but if you have a Drake fan in your life, buy it for them. Especially buy it if they're not a whisky drinker. Virginia Black might change their mind.
Should whisky enthusiasts mock Drake's whisky? Leave the whisky mocking for Fireball or other truly flavored whisky. Virginia Black Whiskey will make whisky lovers out of vodka drinkers.
Nose: Light licorice, rich caramel, vanilla, and herbal tea. It's not unlike a flat coke on the nose, though not nearly as sweet, and certainly barrel aged. Beneath those predominant notes, there's a touch of tannins and zest.
Palate: Not what one expects from a typical whisky. The licorice flavor noted on the nose is predominant from start to finish, but it changes as the whisky changes. To start, it's syrupy sweet vanilla, taking me back to drinking a coke when the carbonation was off. There's some oak spice, and a touch of chocolate. Licorice notes take over the finish, nearly numbing the tongue, and a sharp ginger spice attacks the palate. The herbal nature of the whisky goes from sweet to bitter. There's the faintest of grain notes here, but they're easily forgotten.
Conclusion: Black currant tea, vanilla, licorice, and bitters. This whisky contains some flavoring (saccharine?), as allowed in the United States under the broad definition of whisky, but with interesting results. Typically, flavoring is added to whisky to make it smoother and sweeter. Virginia Black shifts toward bolder flavors. A pretty decent buy for a Drake fan, or a fan of Art Deco, or a fan of '80s TV show sets. This is not a whisky for whisky enthusiasts, but that's not the intention behind this brand.