Bargain Bin Fridays #4, Sunnybrook Kentucky Blended Whiskey

I’ve heard stories of people walking into some out-of-the-way liquor store and finding a dust-covered Port Ellen for $90 or some 20-year-old Glen something-or-other for $39.99. Chances are, some distributor dumped a pricey bottle off ages ago on a store that wouldn’t ever sell that kind of thing and the store has no idea what kind of thing they have.  The clerk behind the counter then gets really confused when a guy who looks like he could write a blog comes in, glances up at the shelf, and without warning, starts frothing at the mouth, jumping up and down on one foot, shaking his hands, and saying “ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod…”

Finds like this, while probably infinitely satisfying, are rare and seem to favor the eternally lucky. I am not eternally lucky so I, as best I can figure out, have a slightly different version of the story. A couple of months ago on a road trip weekend up to the Redwood Empire, we stopped at the quaint J&W Liquors in the impossibly quaint Victorian village of Ferndale which is just south of Eureka, which is five hours north of San Francisco. As an aside, I’d like to state publicly that I bear no ill-will towards J&W Liquors for not selling me a winning lottery ticket, but would think even more highly of them if they had. This place, along with having a nice selection of great local beers, the usual spirits and high alcohol Cali-fruit bomb wines, also has quite an array of pints and half-pints. It was there on that shelf that I spied my El Dorado, and while I did no hopping nor frothing, I did quickly buy a half pint of this brightly labeled, cheap whiskey I’d never heard of…Sunnybrook. At the very least I thought it would make a good Bargain Bin Fridays post.

Once we returned to the land of fog, crappy summers and too much petty crime, I spent a few minutes trying to read up on ol’ Sunnybrook. It turns out there is pretty much zero information (at least for someone who only spends a few minutes googling to and fro) on this whiskey other than myriad sellers of Sunnybrook antiques. I did find that the brand is owned by Beam Global Spirits and Wine and that it still somehow makes its way to bottom shelves around the country, but that’s about it. Who knew? Sunnybrook Whiskey, a rare ghost of low-brow hooch.  So, it appears while some people find exciting bottles of Port Ellen around…I find Sunnybrook.

Initially, I was comforted by the label which reads “This is a Kentucky whiskey of noticeably finer taste with a special smoothness and mildness which are the result of masterful blending.” I, for one, always notice noticeably finer taste, so this seemed a match made in heaven. I was, however, a little weirded out by the bellhop at the top of the label… or maybe he’s the elevator operator. The seal around him reads “None genuine without this label, Guardian of quality for generations” so apparently he does not work in that old hotel out by the airport after all. Who is this guy and how did he get this job? What kind of biblical punishment, I wonder, does he bring down on the wretched souls who try to attack and steal quality?

The Nose: Well, at first whiff, I thought, “huh…pleasant and quasi bourbon-like.” But then, and I tried this a few times to make sure it actually happened, the nose sort of…just…vanished. Seriously, it was there one minute, then the next, I was sticking my aquiline nose as far into the glass as I could, straining to catch the vanilla, caramel, cardboard and faint sour milk that was sulking in there somewhere.

The Palate: Thin but syrupy and sweet to start with, it then really grabs the bull by the horns and jumps right into some cranky, harsh and spicy grain, which on the one hand is thankfully mild somehow, but on the other hand leads to a throat-searing, burning sensation…crap, a burning sensation, that’s not good.  Man, that is one uncomfortable sip of whiskey…

The Finish: I mentioned the throat-searing, burning sensation, right?  Here, let me rephrase it in a different way: THROAT-SEARING, BURNING SENSATION.

Thoughts: My first thought is that I’ve defiled another Glencairn glass.  Actually, no that’s my second thought, my first thought is that I’ve defiled my throat. The back of the bottle states that “The straight whiskies in this product are four years or more old, 20% straight whiskey, 80% grain neutral spirits.” I fear that the 80% grain neutral spirits are the same ones they use in paint stripper, Drano or that fruit punch at Chuck E. Cheese’s. I’m not the pickiest drinker in the world, but I draw the line at a beverage that removes layers of valuable neck as it slides down my throat. If you want my opinion, and why would you, Sunnybrook’s Guardian of quality is goldbricking and probably needs to retire.

Sunnybrook Kentucky Blended Whiskey

40% ABV

Score: 66.6*

* scores of 66.6 simply reflect the most hellish whiskies and despite their numerical appearance, do not sequentially fall between 66 and 67 in terms of “quality”. They stand purely alone.



32 thoughts on “Bargain Bin Fridays #4, Sunnybrook Kentucky Blended Whiskey

    1. I’m not sure I want either one…but thanks. As painful as it can be, it’s also kind of fun…in a perverse way.

    1. I’m not sure how much a 750ml bottle of this would go for, all I can tell you is that the half-pint cost $2.99 and that is $2.99 that I will never get back.

  1. This was my budget drink of choice in school, with a 1.75 L retailing for under $10. On a side note, my grandfather told me in his day, it was known as “fightin’ whiskey”

  2. Thanks to Antiques Roadshow broadcast today, 4-25-11, Episode 328 I can inform you that the genial gentleman is, in fact, “The Inspector” who “is back of every bottle.”

    This information comes from a retail advertising sign that was brought in.

    Isn’t Google amazing?

  3. I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to have a few fine glasses of Sunny Brook and cola at a not so fine establishment serving the special at a mere $2 a glass as the house hooch, and I must say that your palate is correct, except i found it to taste a bit like cheap whiskey and insect repellent.

  4. Many years ago I had a fight with my wife. A friend of mine was coming over a called to see what I wanted. I said, ” just get a bottle of something.” He showed up with a half pint of this which I chased with beer. I woke up the next morning and it felt like my spinal cord was severed. Never felt so bad in my life. Looked at the back and saw the 80/20 split. This is the worst of the worst.

    1. Too funny…this is the kind of comment I hope for with every post. Thanks for sharing the story, I hope you and your wife are drinking much better stuff together now…

  5. Hell ya I drink sunny brook everyday. At less than $3.50 out the door uncle sunny always does right by me. 66.6 fuck yes

    1. Max,

      There’s no need for that kind of fucking language here, this is a goddamn whisky blog, there are children present!

  6. I’ve been drinking sunnybrook for a few years now and it’s become the only liquor I enjoy. My pallet must have changed because I used to drink gentleman jack, glen legit or j walker. If you don’t have a year or so to get used to it then I suggest you stick to what you can drink.

    1. Wow! My guess is that 95 year old Sunnybrook is just a little different than the Sunnybrook available today. If it’s an unopened bottle, I’d think that would fetch a nice little pile of cash at auction. I have no idea how much, probably in the $200 range rather than the $2000, but who knows? Since the Sunnybrook brand is owned by Beam, I might suggest contacting them for more information on the bottle. On the other hand, it would be fun to get some whiskey-loving friends together and open it up, it would be a rare experience indeed to taste something made so long ago. Let me know what you decide to do either way, I’m interested to hear more!

  7. God, I love Sunny Brook. All the bars in College Station used this as their well when I went to school there (’09, whoop.). Still buy it sometimes now that I live in Austin. It’s a good burn.

  8. I bought the last pint of Sunny Brook at Pic-and-Pak Liquors in Berkeley, CA today for $6.99. I’d never seen it before, so I had to try it. Needless to say, I was disappointed to see that it’s 80% white lightning.

    It isn’t bad, but hardly good (it won’t replace Old Forrester and Old Crow as my bargain bourbons of choice), at least when heavily blended with ice and soda water.

    In 2009 or 2010, I found a bottle of Haig & Haig’s Five Star Scotch at a Gas Station/Liquor Store in Pinole, which had been sealed in 1989. The flavor wasn’t great, but it was certainly smooth.

    1. Gotta love the Pic-and-Pak, I know it well. I love finding old bottlings like that Haig & Haig, a friend of mine calls it whisky dumpster diving…

      Thanks for the comment!

  9. I have an unopened bottle of sunny Brooke with a April 11 1941 tax stamp on it. Is there a market for this?

    1. Yes, that is a great bottle. Could fetch something in the $200-$250 range. Sunny brook used to be made by National Distillers before Beam bought them in 1987. Stuff isn’t even bourbon anymore…it’s a blended whiskey. The old ND stuff is awesome juice.

  10. My old man drank Sunny Brook for years. I recall my Uncle Bill handing the bottle to my Dad and saying, “Now I’ll hold the gun on you and you’ll drink.” God bless them both. I still like the stuff, but I’m Irish Catholic. What do you expect?

      1. Pardon the irreverence … I like the stuff, but you’re correct. It’s napalm going down. Years of smoking dulled my taste buds I’m afraid.

        Great blog you have here. I enjoy reading it.

      2. No pardon needed, irreverence is highly encouraged and applauded around here. We all have our secret (or not so secret) whiskey “shames”, I happen to be nostalgically overly fond of Old Crow.

        Thanks for commenting, I appreciate it.

  11. I went back to my hometown of Red Cloud NE for my 60th HS reunion last month and my best boyhood friend presented me with 3 fifths of SunnyBrook that he had found all dusty on the top shelf of a small tavern on one of his road trips around the area. He bought them for five bucks apiece. It brought back memories of my childhood growing up just north of the Kansas border when Kansas was a dry state. My dad owned a liquor store there in the 1940’s and we sold more SunnyBrook to the bootleggers than any other brand. People used to spike 7 up with it and ride around the country roads by the hour. We popped open the bottle and it tasted like fine wine, probably due to the rush of memories ti brought me!

  12. Re: Bruce’s fine wine memory – that’s a wonderful story. I plan to roam the occasional liquor store this summer, much like you did. I live in the Los Angeles area. Many mom&pop store are closing, and those are the ones I hope to exploit, so to speak. I’d be happy with Sunnybrook, but I’m also hunting the grizzly bear of hard-to-find whisky here… IW Harper.

    1. Well, I had hoped that I made it clear that you shouldn’t want to find this!

      But honestly, I don’t know. It’s a garbage, bottom shelf brand, it should be around.

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