Monday, July 9, 2012

Vodka, Thy Name is Whiskey: Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey

"The problem with whiskey is that it's aged."

That's the tag line for Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey. According to the website, "You won't find rednecks in overalls or middle-aged men in tweed flat caps anywhere near a bottle of Kansas Clean Distilled Whiskey." The pictures on the site show that this is a whiskey for hip, young people who need something to drink on the way to the club, the rave or wherever it is hip young people go these days.

But what is this colorless "whiskey"? Well, according to the federal regulations, "spirit whiskey" is a mixture of neutral spirits and not less than 5% whiskey. That's right, it's called whiskey but it can be up to 95% vodka. Yum!

It would be easy to prejudge this brand based on its website full of stereotypes and transparent demographic targeting or just the fact that it's vodka with a whiskey label on it, but that wouldn't be fair. So in the spirit of taking one for the team, I sampled some.

Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit Whiskey, 40% abv ($30)

There is no nose on this, none. It tastes mostly like water with a vaguely sweet note underneath, there is also some rice and artificial vanilla. There is no finish, none.

True to the vodka character, this has almost no discernible flavor. It tastes like slightly flavored water. I wouldn't say it's the worst thing I've tasted. After all, I like water, and I actually like this stuff better than most vodka, which I find tastes like rubbing alcohol smells. But it isn't whiskey by any stretch of the imagination, and I can't imagine why anyone would buy or drink such a thing unless their only goal was getting drunk in the most flavorless way possible, or perhaps if one had a palate disorder of some sort which made them averse to flavor of any sort.

The problem with Kansas Clean Distilled Spirit that it isn't whiskey.


Tim Read said...

So close! You said:

"I can't imagine why anyone would buy or drink such a thing unless their only goal was getting drunk in the most flavorless way possible"

The word you were looking for was tasteless. Drunk in the most tasteless way possible. ;)

Macdeffe said...

This is probably just another bottling where the packaging is more important than content. The consumer is always sending a signal. In this way it fits very well into the whisky catagory :-)

sam k said...

If you haven't yet read this, you should.

Anonymous said...

I'm not usually one to get so worked up, but this one pissed me off so much I just e-mailed them and advised them to get the hell out of the "whiskey" making biz.

Macdeffe said...

Don't blame the Kansas company, they follow the rules if they got 5% white dog in their vodka. Blame the rules....


Thirsty South said...

There's another "spirit whiskey" here in Georgia that I recently reviewed. I like to think of it as a gateway whiskey for vodka drinkers: baby steps. Or, a vodka for folks who wan't something more than vodka. This one does use an interesting filtering technique that makes for a pretty dang smooth and flavorful product. said...

Dear Sku,
Thanks for sampling Kansas and sharing your thoughts with your readers.

To clear a few things up, you mentioned one of the headlines we use to describe our position. We don't have a problem with aged whiskey. We have a problem with whiskey brands who do not market to younger consumers. Whiskies of all designations are a terrific means to explore variety. The problem is that marketers are unwilling to speak to a younger audience. We're not unwilling to do that. Hence the irony of the of "The problem with whiskey is that it's aged", against the picture of a younger woman, the description of which you failed to describe in context of the line.

Kansas is a whiskey. Legally it cannot be designated as anything but a whiskey. You may or may not know that Kansas falls under the US TTB designation as a spirit whiskey. Like all blended whiskey we contain neutral grain spirit. We don't hide that fact, we say it proudly on the label.

You also may or may not be aware that many bourbons and straight whiskies distill a significant portion of their mash to a higher alcohol content to capture less flavor and more neutral, and then blend with lower alcohol content and grain, other than corn for flavor.

I don't have a problem with you not liking our whiskey. Indeed we don't expect to appeal to everyone. And frankly I don't have a problem with you taking a swipe at us, since we're equally happy to take swipes at convention. And at the entrenched culture of whiskey aficionados. But its helpful for both you and our brand to make sure your comments are in line with facts.


Paul Goldman
President, Kansas Clean Distilled Whiskey

sku said...

Paul, thanks for your comments. I don't believe I've said anything that is factually inaccurate, nor have you pointed out anything in my post that is factually inaccurate so please don't scold me about making sure my comments are "in line with the facts."

I certainly understand that your whiskey is a legal spirit whiskey, which I stated in the post. I have a problem with the entire spirit whiskey category, but that's not your fault.

I would contest your contention that "many bourbons and straight whiskies distill a significant portion of their mash to a higher alcohol content to capture less flavor and more neutral, and the blend with lower alcohol content and grain, other than corn for flavor."

This is certainly true for blended whiskey of all stripes (Canadian, American, Irish, Scotch), but I'm not aware of any bourbon or straight whiskey that does this. Which bourbons or straight whiskeys would you contend do this?

The fact that I don't like your spirit whiskey should not be of concern to you. I'm old and unhip and don't frequent clubs, so I'm certainly not part of your target audience.



Josh Feldman said...

Paul Goldman wrote: "We have a problem with whiskey brands who do not market to younger consumers. ...The problem is that marketers are unwilling to speak to a younger audience..."

It's all about marketing - apparently. Mr. Goldman has nothing to say about your issues with the lack of flavor in his product except to point that some other distillers distill at high proof and then blend with flavoring whiskies (such as the Canadian distillers). It's not a defense. Obviously not all whisky is fully flavored.

Your point, Sku, was that you want whisky with whisky flavor. Kansas Whisky seems to be making whisky for people who don't like whisky flavor. There's nothing wrong with that. It's all just matters of taste.

But lets be clear here. The issues are about taste; not marketing and who is "speaking" to which age group. That's just PR BS.

sku said...

Great point Josh. And I must say, I disagree with Thirsty South that this would somehow be a gateway whiskey for vodka drinkers. The product simply has nothing in common flavor-wise with regular whiskey. Like most vodka, it will distinguish itself based on marketing, and that's probably all.

Matt W. said...

Paul Goldman wrote "The problem is that marketers are unwilling to speak to a younger audience."

I think Paul is very wrong here. If you look at whiskey in a broad stroke, you see more and more attention being paid to a younger audience. Just to name a few, Tuthilltown, Dry Fly, Middle West's OYO and High West come to mind as really trying to bring a younger audience into the whiskey fold. Not to mention Suntory who turned around the Japanese whiskey market with youth oriented highball bars. I think Paul is doing a dis-service to whiskey as a whole with his explanation. At the end of the day, Kansas Clean needs to be called what it really is, whiskey flavored vodka right in line with grape, cherry, whipped cream and all the other myriad of vodka flavors out there.

Thirsty South said...

Sku, I totally see your point, the flavor profile is entirely different, and calling it whiskey is a stretch philosophically if not legally. It is the tiniest of baby steps possible to get someone on the road from vodka to whiskey.

Anonymous said...

What I never understood about this product is that among (what would appear to be) their target demographic whiskey is very popular. In Brooklyn, it seems like exactly the type of folks who Kansas' marketing photography seems to attempt to approximate go for cheap-to-mid-priced whiskey, only after craft beer, and way before vodka. Also, the hip folk are pretty into "old things," and "slow things," and things tied to history and farms and craft right now (which might help to explain in part why plain old american whiskey is doing rather well for itself commercially of late). So I can only view this campaign as reading, "Dear youths, we don't respect your intelligence, but we heard you have money and we'd really love some of that about now."

I guess what I'm saying is the marketing seems to be the dumbest part of an already pretty dumb thing.

Macdeffe said...

I think Kansas means that a lot of distilleries that makes straight products also produces other spirits like vodka. Straight products are never redistilled into neutral vodka like products apart from rare exotic examples like the destruction of the warehouse at Michters


Thirsty South said...

Also .. I should clarify - I have not tried the Kansas product, nor am I interested in doing so, but there's one called American Spirit Whiskey here in Georgia that does make a good product (whether you would consider it "whiskey" or not is the point of debate) that I'd be happy to see convert consumption away from 100% vodka into something a bit more interesting.

sku said...

Macdeffe, that would be true, but that's not what he appears to be saying. He didn't say that some makers of bourbon also make blended whiskey, which is true. He says "many bourbons and straight whiskies distill a significant portion of their mash to a higher alcohol content to capture less flavor and more neutral, and then blend with lower alcohol content and grain, other than corn for flavor."

This is simply not true and seems to indicate that he doesn't know much about the industry, which I would excuse except that he accused me of not being "in line with the facts," and as my readers know, I pride myself on being very precise on factual matters and matters of law.

But what do I know, I'm just part of the "entrenched culture of whiskey aficionados" which like things like, say, flavor, silly old farts that we are.

Anon makes a good point that flavor is very hip these days, and hipsters from Portland to Brooklyn are digging rye whiskey and really flavorful whiskeys, sometimes in older styles. So the appeal here really isn't to that hipster crowd, it's more the club-kid crowd.

Macdeffe said...

Hehe. I just thought the sentence didn't make any sense and lacked insight into products that takes a little more effort to produce :-)

Steffen. I am hip. very hip

BMc said...

Right, Sku and Anon - other companies have figured out that younger people buy whiskey, and are marketing to them without having to create a new product. The most glaring example is Wild Turkey's "Give 'em the bird" rally call. Crass as it is, they are still marketing Wild Turkey, not exactly a compromised drink.

Oh wait, forgot about their 81 proof line...

Adam said...

Taking "swipes" at whiskey aficionados because they don't like this product is like making fun of food critics because they don't like unflavored gelatin.

Vinny Lynch said...

Although I may not like them I see plenty of commercials and print advertising for the Beam flavored bourbons that are clearly aimed at these young folks.

Anonymous said...

Why would you possibly go to a blog such as this to try and "set the record straight"? Do you honestly think that anyone you're targeting with this swill would begin to read, frequent these sites?

Anonymous said...

Sku, don't discourage the boy! Weaseling out of things is important to learn. It's what separates us from the animals! Except the weasel.
-- Homer Simpson

Ralph said...

From their own website under the "cocktails" link:

"The heavy flavor of most whiskey is meant to be savored, as-is. For people who sit along by a fire on wintery nights contemplating Proust and pondering the suggestion of misty moors in their drink.

Meanwhile, most everyone else prefers the taste of vodka. Which really means they enjoy the taste of the mixers that go into it. Because unless it's flavored, vodka doesn't offer anything to a cocktail other than alcohol."

On the other hand, Kansas can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks, without all the fuss of old guy whiskies. And it can be the foundation for a surprising number of cocktails...

From the horses own mouth this product is all about marketing, and apparently bad grammar too. I've heard they have the gall to charge $30 for this stuff, which is pretty bold. If I want whiskey, I will simply buy whiskey. 750ml of Jameson, which -by the way- is a very smooth and "tame" whiskey, runs about same price. Heck, I can get a decent single malt like Auchentoshan for the same price, or Caol Ila for a little more. If I want a vodka for mixing, I'll spend $10 on Sobieski. Why should I pay more for Kansas?

SteveBM said...

I think this product directly relates with your "Golden Age" post a few days prior. Just another gimmick to capitalize on the popularity surge that American whiskey is experiencing right now. That surge, by the way, has largely to do with the fact that a younger generation has embraced this category. Depression era fashion and classic cocktails are HUGE right now. Youth drives that, not "rednecks in overalls or middle-aged men in tweed flat caps".

Fussychicken said...

Man give the guy a break. As Sku mentioned, you should have a problem with the regulations, not this guy.

And despite the fact that "that flavor is very hip these days" it still doesn't compare with the majority of what young people are drinking. Look at the rapid rise of Red Stag and Vodka sales overall to put this in perspective.

A small percentage of young people like slow and artisan.

A large percentage of young people like hip and fall prey to marketing.

Which one do you want to chase after with your product?