Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Hiram Walker Original Cinn

I'm a young guy. I'm still at the point of my life where I'm trying to financially balance the fact that I have an expensive cocktail habit and the fact that I'm living alone in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the US. And, much like a cash-strapped parent might go for the from-concentrate orange juice in order to save a few cents in the grocery store, I have no problem with lowering my eyes a shelf or two in the liquor store in order to save a few dollars.

I'm not ashamed that I don't demand the best every time. As someone who's still learning this craft, I value quantity just as much as quality, since quantity allows my experimentation-per-dollar to fly farther. You won't see me making Beachbum Berry's famous $100 dollar Mai Tai... I can make a Mai Tai for half the price that tastes better than half as good.

I've found that liqueurs are a product segment where money can be very easily saved with little ill effect. Why? Because liqueurs generally constitute small volumetric amounts of any given recipe (so any imperfections aren't too noticeable). Simply put, it is my opinion that you're better off using a lower quality triple sec in your Sidecar cocktail, for example, than lower quality brandy.

But let's get one thing clear: if your eyes wander to the bottom shelf of the liqueurs, you're in for trouble. Many times have I generously given chances of impression to bottom-shelf triple secs, for example, and continually I've been disappointed. I believe one time I salvaged a bottle of the stuff by infusing it with orange peels, but I later found that it doesn't always work. The key is to realize that less-than-premium liqueurs (and spirits) can yield fine cocktails, but that lowering your standards too much can make the drinks suffer.

Hiram Walker is a brand I find myself returning to very often, in this respect. Its prices are completely affordable, and it always tastes better than the nonsense you find on the bottom shelf. For instance, if I choose Hiram Walker's Triple Sec over Cointreau, I can save over $20. My drinks may not be quite as good, but they certainly won't be twice as good with the Cointreau. A few of the products I like most from Hiram Walker are the Triple Sec, Orange Curacao, Creme de Cassis, and Cherry Brandy (mentioned previously here).

And now I have another favorite: Hiram Walker's Original Cinn cinnamon schnapps.

Wait, don't go away! I have a feeling this stuff isn't what you'd expect.

Schnapps is an interesting topic in the land of liquor. When one speaks of schnapps, there is value in clarifying what you mean. Why? Because there are two different types of schnapps, and they are very, very different.

The first type is the product to which the name originally referred: German schnaps (spelled with only one "P"). German schnaps(pictured right) is very similar to the french term eau-de-vie; it means any liquor that is distilled from fruit or fruit juice, bottled at about 80 proof, and contains no additional sugar, colors, or flavors. These are most commonly produced using apples, pears, plums, and cherries. Technically, schnaps is a kind of fruit brandy.

Americans have a knack for bastardizing foreign things, and schnaps is no exception. American schnapps bears little resemblance to its German grandfather. Typically, American schnapps' base is a neutral grain spirit (read: vodka) with colors, flavors, and sugars added to the final product. While the German stuff is technically an eau-de-vie, the American stuff is a liqueur.

Most people serious about spirits scoff at schnapps (two "P"s), and I don't blame them; the vast majority of them are flavored artificially. Some of them are much better than others, however. And in the case of Hiram Walker's Original Cinn (pictured right), its quality and singularity merit a second look.

When it comes to cinnamon flavors in modern food and drink, I think of two main categories: natural cinnamon and candy cinnamon . When it comes to cinnamon schnapps, the overwhelming flavor is usually of candy cinnamon. Even Hiram Walker's original Cinnamon Schnapps is this way.

The Review
Hiram Walker Original Cinn

Original Cinn is a cinnamon schnapps that clocks in at 90 proof. A high proof cinnamon schnapps? Sounds like a textbook competitor for Goldschlager.

Goldschlager is a clear liqueur that is also high proof and quaintly decorated by edible and delicate 24-carat gold flakes that gracefully float inside the bottle. At 87 proof and mostly consumed via shots, the fiery stuff screams down your throat with the strong flavor of hot candy cinnamon. It's very popular, especially among those who don't like harder spirits like tequila or whiskey, but still like the effects of intoxication.

I thought Original Cinn was gonna be the same experience, but I was wrong. And thanks to this free bottle of Original Cinn that was given to me as a gift, I'm able to tell you how.

In the Glass

Original Cinn pours thick, like a liqueur should. Its color is that of a lightly aged rum(pictured above). It's disconcerting at first to see a cinnamon liqueur that's not red, but after a moment I begin to appreciate the withholding of obligatory red coloring on the part of Hiram Walker.


The nose of this stuff is strongly of cinnamon (like it was freshly grated), but as you'll learn with Original Cinn, a streak of vanilla invades the experience as well. Its aroma is a bit creamy. Other than that, there's a strong waft of alcohol. It is 90 proof, after all.


Original Cinn hits your tongue with a syrupy viscosity. After a moment there's a blooming and full flavor of fresh cinnamon (as opposed to candy cinnamon) that fills your mouth. Following the cinnamon is a wonderful flavor that's identical to a good vanilla frosting, and even with a touch of red apple. You'll also find the slightest hints of nutmeg and maybe even clove. You'll most definitely notice some alcohol, as the 90-proof vapors rise to the roof of your mouth.

While the mouth feel is thick and the flavor is sweet, this won't fool you into thinking you're drinking Drambuie; the base of this is clearly not aged, and so there's a cheap vodka-like body to it. It's not to the detriment of the experience, but it's noticeable.

The swallow finishes sweet. After each sip, it feels like you've taken a bite of a piping hot frosted cinnamon roll right out of the oven.


I had trouble mixing this stuff. Liquified cinnamon buns aren't begging to be paired with anything that I know of. However, I did have some limited success with a few ideas.

The first was something you could almost call an Original Cinn Old Fashioned. The stuff doesn't need any more sugar, but with a few dashes of aromatic bitters and on the rocks, these schnapps are just fine. Frankly, Original Cinn on the rocks(pictured left) might be the best easy way to drink it. After dinner, this stuff is great.

Ever heard of B&B? It's a bottled product that you can buy which is half Benedictine (a sweet herbal liqueur) and half brandy. The brandy cuts the Benedictine into a nice drink. I took a similar route and mixed some Original Cinn with an equal part of bourbon, and the result was nice. I bet it'd work great with rye whiskey as well.

Lastly, I poured about two dashes of Original Cinn on a big ol' lump of vanilla ice cream. I always get irritated when the back of liqueur bottles suggest use with ice cream... I think it's a cop-out, mainly because no one buys liqueur for that. Anyway, Original Cinn on ice cream is great, period. Don't go overboard with it, though, because the high proof makes itself known a little too much in this application. For the record, the Original Cinn bottle doesn't actually suggest consumption with ice cream.


Original Cinn is different than I expected, and I was pleasantly surprised. I'm glad that Hiram Walker took a different tack with this product, which I still feel is a competitor to Goldschlager. Unlike Goldschlager, however, what you get is not an intimidating liquid fire that people can only manage to drink when forced down a shot at a time, but instead a completely inviting liquid sweet roll that reminds you of your grandmother's house on Sunday morning. While I imagine that Hiram Walker believes that Original Cinn will be most often consumed in shot form, I feel that it's much more at home swimming with ice cubes while you lounge after dinner on a cold night.

I also feel that Hiram Walker is doing itself a disservice by marketing this product with an edgy, mischievous image. Though I suppose that the American schnapps segment is rarely marketed on its own product quality, and so perhaps this sort of "sinful" image is really needed to get sorority girls to pick up the bottle for their next party.

What I wish they had done instead was simply marketed it as a "Cinnamon Roll Liqueur" or something like that. Perhaps that image is a bit novel, but I feel there's a glut of products on the liquor store shelves which rely on the "bad boy" image. I could point out examples in schnapps, vodka, spiced rum, tequila, and that's not even counting products whose commercials depict naughty sexual suggestions in some night club.

There aren't enough wholesome products which are marketed on their own merits, and I feel that Original Cinn could benefit from it. It is a boozy and sweet liqueur whose flavor is unique, fascinating, and delicious. It's worth having a bottle around simply for its singularity. And, with a price tag that I imagine will be well under $20, the decision isn't difficult. If it's not already in your local store, it will be soon.

Drink responsibly!