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
* 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.