Proof Brand Whisky

So, by now you guys should know that I’m not an infrequent visitor to our local Liquor Control Board, right?  It’s not as though I can write these articles about hooch based entirely on memory and the kind of storehouse that a casual alcoholic could only dream of.  I am required to sample, a terrible burden that I only carry out of a passionate dedication to our readers and a more or less insatiable thirst that possesses me at all times.

Mostly the dedication to our readers, though.  You know that, right?  Love you, everybody!

I’ve bought all kinds of girly party drinks, unusual beers and pre-mixed cocktails in my time.  I’ve come home with cans in bright neon orange, with bottles full of that most awful of Tuscan Lemonades (with Limoncello!), and with wines that we could’ve put aside to take the wallpaper down from the walls of the house.  I have walked out the store with tiny little single-ounce samples, and I’ve staggered out under the burden of boxes and boxes of alcohol.  And in all that time, I have never, ever been laughed at.

Until I bought Proof Brand Whisky.

There are a few really important things to realize about Proof Brand Anything, before you jump in to actually paying for it.

  1. It relies really, REALLY heavily on style.  The packaging is very slick, with little geometrically-patterned labels, modern-neato fonts and a wee little attractively-shaped bottle.
  2. I do mean “wee little”:  The bottle itself is well smaller than average — only a half a liter, or 16 ounces.  It is meant to convey a certain degree of premium-ness, one imagines, in that you don’t need nearly as much of it.
  3. The “Proof” is in the slightly elevated alcohol content, which in the case of the entire product line is ever-so-slightly stronger than the rest of the market:  fully 2% stronger, in fact, a concentration you were unlikely to notice if they hadn’t made it the focus of their whole marketing angle.

Indeed, it is the over-Proofness of this drink that really got me into trouble, and turned me against it so utterly.  And that was thanks to a particularly jolly woman from some former-Soviet republic or another, now employed at the LCBO and only too pleased to openly mock anyone who thought they were getting something special out of Proof.

“OH HO HO HA HA HA HA HA,” she noted.  “THIS ONE, HE IS TRY-EENK TO KEEEL HIMSELF!”

Feeling a little self-conscious about the fact that I was also buying some wine, a bit of beer and another bottle of liquor (what? We had company coming!), I protested, “Oh, it’s not ALL for me!  I’ve got guests–”

But she had already zoomed in.  “LOOK AT YOU, BUY-EENK THE PROOF.  OOOOOO!  PROOOOOOOOOOOOF!  IS NOT OVER-PROOF, YOU ARE KNOW-EENK THIS!”

“Well, I guess it’s technically overproo–”

“HA HA HA HA HA, BIG DEEEEL, TWO PERCENT!  YOU ARE TURN-EENK GREEN ALREADY FROM THE LEEE-KOR, I SEE!”

As much as I was withering under her harsh, Slavic scorn, I couldn’t deny what she was saying.  “Proof” as a measurement has its roots in the good old British Navy, who as part of a sailor’s pay would include a ration of rum.  To ensure that it wasn’t watered-down, though, its alcohol content would be measured by the nearest (if not necessarily safest) means available — they would douse gunpowder in it and then set it on fire.  If the gunpowder didn’t catch, then it was considered too dilute; if it did, then the alcohol content was adequate, though wholly more dangerous.

Eventually they figured out that the magic number was roughly 57% alcohol, which they (as the Imperial system liked to) went ahead and set as their standard of 100% proof.  Anything stronger was overproof, and anything weaker was underproof — the ratio to go by was an as-easy-as-any-other-British-measure 4:7 of alcohol to total fluid.  Americans, ever keen to simplify their lives and smooth the manufacturing process, re-set this to 5:5 or 50%, so that one could multiply the volume of alcohol by a factor of 2 to get the proof.

Thus, with almost every liquor on the shelf these days at 40% ABV, they all land very solidly in the underproof category, at 80.  An extra 2% does little more than nudge Proof slightly up the scale of real alcohol content, even while it attempts to graft Depression-era blinding liquors with pouty hipsters… with the minor side-effect of earning the massive derision of hearty, full-bodied liquor store employees.

All of this would be fine if Proof was as substantial as it was stylish.  The packaging of the product really is slick, I have to say.

Lookit those, aren’t they neat?  Wee little palm-sized drinks, as though you could just pop them up on a shelf somewhere and gesture casually towards them, “Oh, those?  Yes, I just found them so charming, you see.  And just a little bit stronger than your usual fare, don’t you know?  It’s a bit of a hidden gem, I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it.”

And then your friends would smack you, because in the end, Proof is just another rye in a nifty bottle.  For all the swooshy stickers, for all the clever shelf appeal and typically un-navigable Flash website, when you taste the final product you’d be hard-pressed to distinguish it from a  reasonably sweet Canadian Club.

It’s not that Proof is bad whisky!  It’s just that it wants to be terribly clever, and if it wasn’t for the aggressive posturing I’d like it so much better.  Had they come forth to declare themselves as a micro-distillery with a neat idea, rather than some sort of weird alcohol club that caters only to people who dress like Flappers and Miami hustlers, I suspect I’d have a warmer attitude.

But as it is, Proof brand whisky is a case of concept overwhelming content.  With such a high bar set by its hip urban altern-approach, the contents of the bottle practically had to be sparkles that manifested themselves into a rocket-powered unicorn — that they were instead a fairly good rye that mixes well with Coke Zero is not, in any way, a realization of its promise.

RATING:  If you must, get someone to buy it for you.  Preferably someone who doesn’t mind being laughed at by Soviets.

  • Jason

    I was a little saddened to learn that those incredibly expensive and tasty bottles of Scotch had been diluted with water when they came out of the barrel to lower them to that magic 40% alcohol number. Then I tasted some incredible Bourbon, who don’t dilute at bottling generally, but didn’t immediately note the 57% alcohol on the label. 2% may be a gimmic, but 17% will give you a ring of fire.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      Hoo baby, will it ever. And yet if it’s done properly, a good overproof will sneak up on you with happy feelings of warmth that result in powerful vertigo when you stand up to leave the table.

      I once sat and drank (definitely illegal) Lebanese Arak with a bunch of crotchety Arabs one Saturday afternoon, and I was clear as a bell until I got up to take my cell phone out of my pocket. After that I lost a few minutes.

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  • honeydijonay

    This has a weird fruity [after?] taste that I do not like at all. I’d rather have spent the money on my dorm fav. Wiser’s Booourns.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

      I found exactly the same thing. My first sip and I said to Mike, “Wow. That’s sweet. Like, really sweet. Unexpectedly sweet. And maybe not entirely *good* sweet.” That said, I still managed to choke down another dram or so.

  • Mike

    This stuff is harsh. Probably the least smooth Canadian whisky I’ve had, and I’ve had a good few. It has an interesting flavour, gin-like with herbal notes and an artificial lemony taste. I found it somewhat intriguing but ultimately unpalatable. To say that it is indistinguishable from other Canadians is a bit of a disservice to the category, as I think Proof tastes nothing like any other Canadians I’ve tried.

    Some people say, “Well, it’s good for mixing.” I say, there are much cheaper whiskies that are just as good for mixing. If you do the math it is almost as expensive as Crown Royal. Whether you like Crown or not, you have to admit it is a hell of a lot better than this stuff. Maybe it seems like I’m being harsh but if I’ve tried 20 different Canadian whiskies, this is definitely in my bottom 3.

  • El-Miko

    Normally I buy Scotch but I saw this on the shelf and it looked “unique” and it was local, so I thought I’d give it a try. All I can think is that it tastes like some bizarre combination of rocket candy and Lemon Pledge. The small bottle suddenly looks a lot bigger to me now. I’m definitely going to have to mix this with something. Maybe Coca Cola & bitters over ice. Sometimes you don’t like something at first but later you “acquire” a taste for it. I don’t think this is one of those times.

  • Matt

    I sat next to the owner on a plane and he is the coolest guy ever! Great Whisky too!