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American Brown Spirits: The Cure For Autumn’s Pumpkin-Spice Madness

SEP 29, 2017 @ 02:02 PM
Brian Freedman , CONTRIBUTOR
I cover food, wine, drinks, travel; host dinners; and consult on wine
Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

I returned from two weeks in South Africa this past Monday to find our country fully immersed in its inexplicable annual descent into pumpkin-spice madness. As I suspected would be the case, it’s gotten to the point where the entire phenomenon has reached a magnificent state of meta-ridiculousness in which the very items themselves seem to be mocking their entire raison d’être. To wit: Not only can you now purchase a product called Nestle Toll House Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice chips, but Villa Italian Kitchen in New Jersey recently announced that they’re offering pumpkin spice pizza. This, of course, is in addition to every pumpkin-spiced dessert-masquerading-as-coffee abomination on the market now that the weather has finally turned cooler.

But for those of us who eschew this sort of thing, there are options for getting into the pumpkin-spice spirit of the season without resorting to any of the above. A quick look through the Betty Crocker web site—which seemed to me to be the perfect resource for researching this quintessentially American spice combination—revealed that pumpkin spice, at least according to them, relies primarily on the flavors of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, and cloves.

Guess what else provides the warm, comforting character of many of those baking spices, plus so much more? Aging alcohol in oak barrels.

Bluebird Distilling Co. (Photo Removed)
American brown spirits, like this single malt whiskey from Bluebird Distilling Co., are a perfect alternative to the pumpkin-spice madness that washes over the United States each autumn (Credit: Bluebird Distilling Co.)

This year, then, instead of succumbing to all of the pumpkin-spiced madness swirling around like so many autumn leaves on a windy day, tuck into any one of the following American spirits, all of which possess some semblance of the sort of autumnal flavor that we all seem to clamor for.

Angel’s Envy Cask Strength Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Port Barrels (bottled in 2017), Louisville, KY (SRP $200) – Spiced fruit aromas are scaffolded by real power, with flavors of spice cake, plum pudding, raisins, and cooked honey. Complex, rich, and delicious.

Bayou Limited Edition Select Barrel Reserve Rum, Lacassine, LA (SRP $29.99) – Like autumn in a glass, with sweet flavors of vanilla flan, distinct pumpkin spice, and a touch of praline on the finish.

Black Feather American Bourbon Whiskey, Houston, TX (SRP $30) – Gentle aromatic profile, with a hint of honeysuckle and summertime stone fruit, and a light-bodied, sweet palate with candied pecans, more of that honeysuckle, a ginger note, and pie crust. Very easy to drink.

Bluebird Distilling Co. American Single Malt Whiskey, Phoenixville, PA (SRP $59.99, only at the distillery) – Aromas of warm pie crust rise from the glass, and are followed by—I’m not kidding here—something that actually reminds me of pumpkin pie. On the palate, this starts off sweet then quickly turns spicy, with a finish that lingers with flavors of charred vanilla pod and floral peppercorn. Excellent.

Copper & Kings Floodwall American Craft Apple Brandy, Louisville, KY (SRP $45) – Aged in bourbon barrels and sherry casks, this is just about as American in character as, well, apple pie, with cinnamon stick, clove, and vanilla informing more honeyed notes, all of it finishing with a hint of dried-apple fruitiness.

Eight Oaks Craft Distillers Penna Rye Whiskey, New Tripoli, PA – Spicy pumpkin on the nose, with easy-drinking and spice-tinged flavors of cooked honey, vanilla, and graham crackers.

Five & 20 Spirits Small Batch Small Barrel Rye Whiskey, Westfield, NY (SRP $49.95) – Sweet nose for a rye, like sticking your head into a vat of melted bees wax and warm honey: Mouthwatering. On the palate, there is a wonderful density to this, with distinct allspice and clove notes to the honeyed and mashed baked pears and apple compote.

Greenbar Distillery Slow Hand Six Woods Whiskey, Los Angeles, CA (SRP $45) – Sweet Grape-Nuts-like aromas, with an edge of honey and candied ginger, turn to flavors of sweet honey cake, cinnamon stick, and vanilla crème brûlée. Easy-drinking and lovely, yet sneakily complex. Evocative of the season.

Stranahan’s “Diamond Peak” Rocky Mountain Single Malt Whiskey, Denver, CO (SRP $75) – Generous ginger and cinnamon-stick notes are joined by dulce de leche, honey, and candied apricot. Single malt from Colorado? Yes, please!

Tuthilltown Spirits Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey, Gardiner, NY (SRP $49.99) – Lots of corn aromatics, which makes sense given that its mash bill consists of 100% New York corn. The palate is generous, spicy, and unfolds in layers, first revealing charred vanilla, then multigrain toast, then a touch of sweet baking spice.

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