“Virgil Caine is the name, and I served on the Danville train…” So begins one of the most legendary songs in the rock lexicon, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” The song tells the story of the surrender of the Confederacy from the viewpoint of a southerner. Written by The Band, released in 1969 and sung by Levon Helm, the American, southern drummer and singer in a band of Canadians who understood Americana as good as anyone. This week is the fourth anniversary of Helm’s passing, so let’s raise today’s glass to him. The fact it’s named Virgil Kaine makes it all the more appropriate.
Virgil Kaine (with a “K”) is also the name of a whiskey maker from South Carolina. Founded by two acclaimed chefs, the idea was to take the concepts of molecular gastronomy and apply it to whiskey making. While there are many examples of this today – Jefferson’s Chef Collaboration, for instance – the idea was more novel in 2011 when David Szlam and Ryan Meany decided to take a love of whiskey and culinary experimentation and start the company.
Their most recognizable product is the Bourbon and Ginger. The process is unique: they start with a young sourced bourbon, heavy in rye (60-36-4 corn/rye/barley) and then infuse locally grown yellow hawaiian ginger. Different sources mention the addition of other ingredients, including (potentially) cinnamon and vanilla. After maceration, the bourbon is distilled a second time for refinement before being bottled and sold. But how does it taste?
The nose is a cool customer. There is obviously ginger, but not nearly as strong as I expected. Similarly, there is light cinnamon, vanilla and a touch of baking spice. What there isn’t is oak or strong bourbon presence. The fact this is a young pour shows in the nose. Still, it is a pleasant softness, that slightly reminded me of a glass of Vernors.
The taste is more aggressive with its ginger – it comes in right from the get go. It has a freshness to it, along with a soft sweetness. There is vanilla, and the light pop on the back of the tongue of cinnamon. The vanilla is soft, and like in the nose, the rye bourbon is not harsh in the least. I can understand why they are choosing to use a young bourbon – the taste retains the corn sweetness, but doesn’t overpower the gentle ginger notes with oak and burn. It tastes like a cocktail, and a well mixed one at that. I am curious how a wheated variation may taste…
Jen pointed out the same thing. When we added soda water, it deadened the flavor too much. The best way to enjoy it was neat or with a few rocks. Straight, it drinks like a nice – albeit potent – cocktail. If you like your whiskey with a touch of ginger, you cannot go wrong with this one.
This product does not seem to be available in Michigan, or many northern or western states yet. I grabbed my bottles while in Atlanta and Asheville a few weeks back. Hopefully, distribution will expand further as well. It’s a fun addition to the liquor cabinet.
Dan’s Rating: 8.2