By Jake Emen
Blended whiskeys aren’t exactly new — the overwhelming majority of all the Scotch sold around the world is blended. However, blending unique, high quality American whiskeys (i.e. not neutral grain blends) into a distinct offering is indeed a fresh concept.
Enter Kinnickinnic, a blended American whiskey made by Great Lakes Distillery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The name Kinnickinnic, meaning “what is mixed” in Ojibwe, a Native American language, is appropriate, and was typically used to reference a blend of tobacco or plants. It’s also the name of a river which forms from the mixed waters of the Milwaukee and Menomonee.
Kinnickinnic, copper-colored in the glass, is a blend of Kentucky straight bourbon from “one of America’s finest distilleries,” and a malt whiskey distilled by Great Lakes themselves. Bottled at 43% ABV, it’s a contrast in flavor profiles and qualities which lives up to expectations in delivering something a bit different from what you’re accustomed to.
On the one hand, you get the malty sweetness, particularly strong on the nose. It’s backed up by the char you get from the bourbon. Cocoa and cherry are also on the nose, which almost call to mind what you would taste in a liquor-infused chocolate. The sweetness, though, belies a deeper, heartier whiskey on the palate. Here, more oak and tobacco from the bourbon come out to play, along with a hefty dose of grain, followed by a hot, oaky finish.
The sweetness and fruit would make Kinnickinnic a solid choice for a Manhattan or an Old Fashioned, while when I drank it neat or on the rocks, I was left wanting more. The promise of the nose gets a bit overwhelmed and bogged down, and the spirit is left torn between expressing a not-quite-there bourbon and a mild single malt.
The base they have here is intriguing, and certainly unique. I’d like to see Great Lakes experiment with Kinnickinnic further — longer aging periods for the source whiskeys, etc. — and see how far they could take it.
Kinnickinnic Whiskey is available at a variety online retailers for between about $30 and $38. It’s also available in nearly two dozen states, primarily on the coasts, as well as a swath of country stretching southeast from Minnesota and Wisconsin all the way down through Kentucky and Tennessee, and into Georgia and South Carolina.
Kinnickinnic won gold medals at the 2012 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and the 2012 Denver International Spirits Competition. It also took home a silver form the Beverage Tasting Institute.