What to Drink This Week: Revel Stoke Spiced Whisky
October has not been kind, you guys! It has been pretty awful, in fact, which is all the more terrible for how much I genuinely want to love this month. October is supposed to be the Time of the Chilling Air! The Only Time I Watch Baseball Happily! The time of Early Darkness and Cozy Evenings!
It is the First Fire Where We Use All the Bills From The Spring As Firelighter!
The Days of Regretful (But Wholly Satisfying) Thanksgiving Weight Gain!
The Last Moments of Sanity Before The Encroaching Holiday Season!
Hallowe’en (Or As Tina Knows It, SuperChristmas+New Year’s X The Fourth of July)!
October is supposed to be all of those things, a conglomeration of happy harvest contentment and the secret relief that the summer is over, and we can finally take a rest and hide out from the world for a while. And instead it’s been kind of bullshit! Not just for us, but for a lot of people we like and care about and love, which is so genuinely unfair that I hardly know what to do with myself.
Well, I almost hardly know what to do with myself.
Let’s all say hello to our new, trendy friend: Spiced whisky!
I’ve written before that whisky has a lot of baggage attached to it these days, with an army of connoisseurs whose swollen ranks may now actually equal those of wine aficionados. As such, the process of buying whisky has gone from a casual experience of selecting “whatever won’t hurt me that much” to a baffling ordeal fraught with peer pressure, where the wrong bottle found on your shelf may earn you a sad look and a comment like, “Oh, I guess that’s good for cooking?”
But happily it would appear that a backlash is underway, a lovely resurgence of casual boozing that are embodied in ideas like this one. Spiced whisky is the answer to the question, “What if someone did for non-ultra-premium grain spirits what other distillers do for non-ultra-premium cane liquors, and just dump a whole bunch of flavoring in there?” Is it what you’d pull out to toast your children’s graduation, your retirement or the successful installation of a robe hook on your bathroom door? Probably not, but it’s different and not expensive, and by virtue of those two things alone can stand out on shelves these days.
My introduction to – and therefore instant favorite example of — spiced whisky comes in the form of Revel Stoke, a product of British Columbia and a part of the Phillips Distilling group. Heavily invoking the mountaineering, outdoorsmen, dried antlers and ribcages aesthetic, Revel Stoke makes no bones (ah ha ha ha ha!) about its desire to be the anti-fancy whisky. I mean, this is an actual poster on sale in their store:
In short, this is not a beverage that has any interest in oak-panelled walls or whether your neighbor can smell notes of leather in it. The marketing copy is clear, this is for MEN of the WILDERNESS who CHEW BARK and PUNCH HIBERNATING MAMMALS INCLUDING BUT NOT LIMITED TO BEARS, and MAYBE YOU if you HAVE A CLEVER LIP: ”Inspired by the age-old tradition of rugged Canadian outdoorsmen infusing their whisky with vanilla and spices, Revel Stoke is a remarkably smooth and strong spirit.”
I actually have a hard time imaging burly men of the outdoors taking the time to “infuse” anything with the deliberate aim of crafting a “smooth and strong spirit”, but I’m willing to give that a pass. It tickles me to imagine men of gigantic stature and hairy knuckles delicately mixing spices and hoarding entire vanilla beans, all to ensure that their liquor supply has the appropriately delicious flavor. Chucking things in their barrels to make their cheap grain alcohol taste as minimally awful as possible, to provide some tiny relief to living in the remoteness of the Rockies? More likely, but somehow less fun: Lumberjacks and miners with their pinkies in the air is way more entertaining an image.
Nevertheless! Revel Stoke is unafraid to draw a line clearly around how it wants you to think about it: This is not a Fancy Man’s whisky, this is a true hairy man’s liquor, drawing on authentic hairy man techniques of seasoning. Do away with your pretensions! Put on some flannel! Touch a skull! Pour out some MANFULNESS.
And if you do, indeed, decide that the hair on your chest needs tripling, then you will find that Revel Stoke is there to hold your hand and tell you it’s all part of growing up. By that I mean that, having enjoyed so many whiskys who were focused on being smokey or peaty, it’s a pretty different experience to encounter one so focused on sweetness and spice. Not that this is going to come across as candy — oh my goodness, no — but just that there’s a whole lot going on in one glass.
Up front, when you taste Revel Stoke, it comes across with a caramel flavor that feels familiar from a darker rum (see my current favorite: Kraken, which is SUPER THUMBS-UP excellent); however, even while it’s going down, it also carries with it that sort-of hot aroma that always accompanies a blended whisky. The finish is sort of high and bitter on the back of the tongue, which isn’t unpleasant but is still a third note that makes everything kind of complicated.
Or should I say complex? It certainly wasn’t what I expecting, but at the same time it’s really enjoyable. There’s a fun hot-spice sensation that lingers in the mouth without being oh-god-I’m-burning unpleasant, which gives the whole thing a sense of progression: sweet to warming to bitter to hot. It’s actually possible to imagine people huddling in a cabin somewhere drinking this from pewter mugs, while the sky outside turns from pale yellow to blue-black around them.
In other words, whatever its claims to masculine outdoorsmanship, what Revel Stoke really helps me to do is capture that sense of being warm in spite of the cold, comfy regardless of the damp, happy notwithstanding the dark. That it can evoke that little spark of autumnal comfort, wrapped in an affordable whisky that actively seeks to set itself apart from the crowd, is more than enough for me to recommend you give it a try.
Rating: 4 MANLY MEN out of 5