It only makes sense for spirits fans to be inherently wary of branded releases sourced from anonymous distilleries. Many of us have been burned in the past by disasters in familiar packaging—Bethesda’s now infamous Nuka Dark Rum comes to mind—but there have also been some branding success stories in recent years. Global spirits giant Diageo seems to understand this better than most, and has seen considerable success with their series of Game of Thrones blended and single malt whiskies, which have been reviewed fairly well even by publications with no knowledge of the HBO adaptation. Still, you’ll have to forgive me for not expecting too much of a plastic-capped Kentucky bourbon meant to tie in with the launch of The Walking Dead season 10 tonight on AMC.
And you know what? Perhaps it was a matter of having those low expectations exceeded, but I am genuinely surprised by what a nice bourbon has been poured into this bottle. I can’t tell you for sure what distillery it hails from, but at $35 I can at least tell you that it represents a fair price and solid value, which is the last thing you expect to be able to say about a branded whiskey.
This is a sourced bourbon without an official age statement, although the “straight” designation tells us it’s at least two years old. It’s the result of a partnership between Diageo and Skybound Entertainment, bottled at a respectable 94 proof, marked with TV series-inspired shtick such as “safe-zone approved.” Notable on the bottle is the “Spirits of the Apocalypse” label, suggesting that this Walking Dead bourbon is the first in a new series that would presumably include other post-apocalyptic drams—no information on those yet. This limited-edition bottle carries an MSRP of around $35. Amusingly, Diageo includes recipes for a few basic drinks such as “Maggie’s Lemonade” (basically a John Daly, with bourbon) and “Old Man Rick” (an old fashioned), despite the fact that neither of those characters is actually on The Walking Dead anymore.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, this projects some classic Kentucky bourbon notes: Mint, stone fruit (peach), caramel, light oak and something a bit less familiar, like pears in heavy syrup. It smells like something in my personal wheelhouse, and oddly familiar, if I’m being honest. I get the feeling I’ve likely sampled this in some other form before.
On the palate, most of these notes are replicated—peachy stone fruity and a combination of dark honey and caramel richness, with a dollop of vanilla buttercream, complemented by later-developing notes of pepper and grassiness. The oak character is young, but not in an unpleasant way—although this whiskey has no age statement beyond being labeled as “straight,” it comes off considerably older than 2 years of age to me, which is what you’d hope for with a $35 MSRP. It drinks easily, with not much heat on the palate, although it blooms with a deeper burn in the chest.
All in all, I am both surprised and impressed, especially with the plastic cap nature of this bottle. The Walking Dead straight bourbon is significantly more characterful than it would need to be in order to market itself to the show’s fandom, and displays a nice profile of fruit and caramel, with fresh mint as a signature note. It reminds me somewhat of bourbons I enjoy from Heaven Hill or the Barton 1792 distillery in terms of profile, and that’s among the better compliments I could bestow to a sourced, branded bourbon.
This bottle will be hitting store shelves shortly, although it’s also available online, albeit at a bit of a premium.
Distillery: Unknown (via Diageo)
Style: Straight bourbon
ABV: 47% (94 proof)
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $35 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.