Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Review: Seagram's 7 Dark Honey
Although my friends may call me a liquor snob, I'm really not. It's true that I do like nice things and do try to steer people in the direction of the top shelf as much as possible, but I of all people realize that our wallets can't always follow. Today we shall lower our eyes to the middle shelf of our hypothetical spirits-vending establishment and examine briefly the Seagram brand.
Seagram's brand of spirits is very much a hit and miss model. A look at their good products begins with their gin. Even though I find my palate for gins to be still evolving, Seagram's gin is not to be discounted. It is an American-style gin (as opposed to London Dry) which means that the tongue isn't assailed by the taste of Christmas trees (which I actually like), though American-style gins vary widely in flavor. Seagram's gin's claim to fame is that it is one of the only gins to be lightly aged in barrels while almost all others are un-aged. The resulting taste is one similar to a London Dry, but much more mellow with slight flavors of oak... it makes a killer Gimlet. As an admitted non-expert on vodka, I can also say that Seagram's Vodka is also a great buy for the price. They both have really great bottles too.
Seagram's Smooth Brazilian Rum is a newly-launched product, and as a drinker much more versed in rum than other spirits, I have to say that it's simply a fine product. It's a rum produced from sugar cane juice instead of molasses, in the style of Rhum Agricole and Cachaca, such that its flavor is more on the caney and grassy side rather than a full-bodied and dry one. The Drink Hacker said this about the stuff: "This is actually drinkable on its own — when’s the last time you said that about a $12 rum?" The gin, vodka, and rum are all available for $15 dollars or (much) less, marking a considerable value for those looking to save a few bucks. As I've said before, being a liquor fan isn't cheap.
But Seagram's also markets products that don't really hit the mark. Notable are their Twisted Gins, which are basically some of the only flavored gins around, and they're just hard to take seriously. Also for sale is Seagram's "Gin & Juice", which are barely palatable syrupy concoctions that I can only assume are artificially colored and flavored (but I'm not positive). And lastly worth mentioning is Seagram's 7 Crown whiskey, which is an American blended whiskey (a dying breed) that's more often found on the bottom shelf than the middle. It's a long standing brand and even has its own cocktail, but it's really not a whiskey taken very seriously among whiskey-drinkers. In preparation for this post I did a quick tasting of the stuff at a local bar, and some notes I took down consisted of "alcoholy", "mellow", and "one-sided".
Seagram's 7 Dark Honey
I was interested to learn that Seagram's has a new product called Seagram's 7 Dark Honey which is a honey-flavored whiskey, and certainly not the first one on the market. This bottle was actually given to me for free to review, and so that's what I shall do. However, because this spirit clearly uses 7 Crown whiskey as a springboard, I really wasn't sure what to expect. For starters, the bottle is pretty cool, and is actually the same bottle used for Captain Morgan's Parrot Bay brand. This stuff is sweetened like a liqueur, and clocks in at 71 proof. (Not bad!)
It turns out that there's a mild controversy on the internet concerning how Seagram's may be promoting their products via marketers commenting on blog posts who pose as though they're normal readers, which can be read about here. I'll note that the person in question(according to that link) has also posted a comment on THIS blog several months ago, shortly before another person (the same one who sent me this product) commented, and both comments talked positively toward a brand name that I've never even uttered on this blog. When the Federal Government gets involved in this kind of stuff, you can imagine why I hold full disclosure in high esteem. With that said, I'm no less grateful or humbled to have received this gift; it's as if people think I know what the hell I'm talking about! But shall I be adding to this product's internet hype? No, I imagine I won't...
In the Glass
Nothing too groundbreaking here. It's the color of whiskey and is viscous like a liqueur.
Almost nothing but alcohol. I tried really hard, and I finally discerned a faint smell of wheat akin to the original 7 Crown whiskey. I'm also sensing a generic "sweet" smell... perhaps it's brown sugar, but it's definitely not honey. Near the end I detected something citrusy, which was a little strange.
Luckily, the first flavor I got was honey, but it was soon to be replaced with cinnamon, and then more alcohol. I tasted a fleeting wheat, much like the smell, before the alcohol burned my tongue a bit, and then the strong sweetness took over. To be honest, the mouth feel was quite nice. When it goes down the hatch, it's just fine, and finally flavors of brown sugar and cinnamon... and then more alcohol. Overall, despite all the alcohol burn, it's a pleasant experience. Perhaps disappointingly, its flavor is on the subtle side, much like it's mother, Seagram's 7 Crown. An added ice cube changed nothing of this experience.
I set out to find a vehicle that could successfully deliver this stuff, and I did it alongside a fine young lady that (somehow) continually finds that I'm pleasant company. (DJ HawaiianSkirt, you could call her...) I knew we could do it. We tried some of the options that the official Seagram's literature suggested: as a chilled shot, on ice, with a little lime, and with cola. The shot tasted mostly of alcohol, and we found that so long as 7 Dark Honey is mixed with anything, its flavor is dominated and it "disappears" into the drink. (Seriously, when your product's flavor manages to hide in a small glass of seltzer, you know you have a problem.) Surprisingly, it works passably in a hot toddy (made with hot water, not tea) having the 7 Dark Honey replace both the whiskey and honey in the recipe. Also, the stuff isn't unpleasant on ice (but a lemon twist dashes its flavor) where it mysteriously has absolutely no aftertaste.
So, what's the final verdict? Well, I think 7 Dark Honey hits a little below Seagram's average mark. It's an overall pleasant liqueur, but its flavor is too subtle. It's nice on the rocks, but it is certain that your favorite mixer (unless it's flat water) will destroy what subtle character it has... otherwise, it's like using a sweet 71 proof vodka. You want a sweet honey liqueur that doesn't taste like whiskey? There's a better one that already exists, and it's called Barenjager. Perhaps this is a "gateway whiskey", perhaps it's a drama-free mixer (read: doesn't taste like booze), but whatever it is, it's not versatile, and not something for which I have much use.
Value (bonus section to the review!)
But here's the problem: I picked up a bottle of Wild Turkey American Honey, 7 Dark Honey's competitor. It's a bourbon-based liqueur, also honey-flavored, and also 71 proof(erie...). I had had the stuff before, but I bought more solely for this comparison. AH's smell blows Seagram's away... its aroma is bold, and actually of whiskey... and there's honey too, with a teasing herbal complexity. The taste is also of whiskey, and with a flavor of honey much more pronounced than Seagram's. The mouth feel is even better, the flavor more complex, even with hints of lemon at the swallow. And the punctuation to all this? Froogle says that AH is an average of $5-6 more expensive than 7DH. And so, simply, the final question is: Does Seagram's 7 Dark Honey have the best value among the whiskey-based honey liqueur products on the market today, or is it even worth your purchase? No.
Addendum: Evan Williams created a honey whiskey that's better than both the products by Seagram and Wild Turkey. My review of it can be found here.