Imperial American Whiskey Review


By S.D. Peters

Rating: F

Imperial American Whiskey

Imperial American Whiskey, the stuff with the aspirational name
(Credit: S.D. Peters)

Google “Imperial American Whiskey” and you’ll find some results that include this blurb: “An exceptional American whiskey blended in Bardstown, Kentucky. Only the highest quality whiskies are used, giving it character, body, and a light taste. The tradition and heritage of this fine whiskey can be tasted in each glass.”

You’ll also find how the Urban Dictionary defines “this fine whiskey”: “A cheap, rotgut, bottom shelf booze that drunks love.”

Is this the same whiskey? Did the ad man responsible for the blurb perhaps confuse “this fine whiskey” for Imperial Single Malt Scotch Whisky?

Probably not. And my guess is, he works for the whiskey’s producer, Barton Brands, which happens to distill some of its products in Bardstown; among them, Imperial American Whiskey.

Barton Brands, a division of the Sazerac Company since 2009, produces many liquors and spirits, including Ten High Bourbon, the “99” series Schnapps, El Toro Tequila, the Mr. Boston line (which includes a Canadian Whiskey, Gin, Rum, and Vodka), and, yes, even a handful of blended Scotches, including Highland Mist. It’s what you might call a “red flag” for whiskey drinkers, though even if you haven’t heard of Imperial American Whiskey or any of the rest, you might already suspect the variety of Barton Brands’ products  hints at the prioritization of quantity over quality.

Urban Dictionary includes this sentence as an example: “My grandfather used to drink Imperial Whiskey… it was pretty much all he could afford.” As it happens, my grandfather also drank – and favored – the stuff. Economics were certainly a consideration, but escaping the mendacity of sobriety was probably a larger one. He was recently laid to rest, and since he had a comedian’s sense of endearing deprecatory humor – he recommended his ashes be flushed in order to save his loved ones the cost of internment – my sister and me decided we’d toast his memory with a glass of Imperial.

The Whiskey
Let’s be honest about this: Imperial is a whiskey one drinks to get drunk, provided one can drink enough of it. My grandfather could, with some funny, but many sad, results – which pretty much sums up the experience of drinking Imperial American Whiskey.

As the bottle makes clear, Imperial is not a Bourbon, Rye, or any other type of singular whiskey. It’s a Blended American Whiskey, which means it’s a mix of at least 20% straight whiskey (that is, whiskey distilled at not more than 160 Proof, having no less than 51% of a particular grain, and aged for over two years in charred barrels) with mostly neutral or near-neutral spirits, coloring, and flavorings. Blended whiskey itself is not necessarily a bad thing, as some respectable entry-level Irish and Scotch whiskeys attest; just don’t drop the word “American” in the middle of it.

Imperial American Whiskey is bottled at 40% abv (80 Proof). I fear the principal grain in its straight whiskey is rye, but since Blended American Whiskey favors the use of less-expensive neutral spirits in the blending process, the recognizable qualities of Rye are absent. In the glass, Imperial is a bit brackish in color, though there’s noting salty about it. One sniff, and you might feel like Tom Joad in the Great Dust Bowl, searching for a jar of Smuckers Strawberry Jam in a duststorm, only to find there’s just one jar of the stuff, that’s been left open for a few weeks and is now about 51% dust.

A sickly, artificial sweetness (that expired Smuckers again) dominates what little taste Imperial has, with a hint of metal lurking about the edge. The finish? Imagine scarfing an ashtray spilling-over with week-old cigarette butts soaked in splash of last nights beer and, well, that’s close. Yes, there’s some vanilla, and yes, it is a surprisingly – you might say frighteningly – smooth finish, but the taint of stale, beer-doused cigarettes is what lingers, and it lingers for quite some time.

(That my grandfather was a pack-a-day Pall Mall man might account for how he was able to put this stuff away!)

I ought to give Imperial American Whiskey at least a D or D+ for its ability to elicit such bizarre tasting notes, but that would be unfair to a whiskey that’s really earned its F. As for “[t]he tradition and heritage”? If that’s what “can be tasted in each glass” of Imperial, then I’ve never had a more stark reminder that neither is necessarily a good thing.

The Price
$7.99 for a fifth. Enough said – except, oddly, my sister found a bottle of Imperial on the second shelf from the bottom, though I’m pretty sure she bought it on April 1st.

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  1. “Rotgut” describes this crap perfectly.

  2. Works well on blocked drains.

  3. I feel sorry for your grandfather. You couldn’t possibly imagine his life I suppose….Its a wonderful Life has a great scene where the protagonist goes into the local bar as a shlubb in his alternate life and Sheldon Leonard tells his guardian angle off for having pretension regarding drink…..people drink what they can afford you jerk.

  4. I have a bottle of Hiram Walker Imperial Bourbon that is 46 years old and the flavor is as good as a Crown Royal or finer grade drink.

  5. I’ve enjoyed it for what it was. Where mixes were required it was excellent. Never over taking the flavor of the mix. To know sprits it to know what belongs where. Imperial knows its place.

  6. Walk into a mill hunk bar in Pittsburgh 40 years ago and you would hear orders for “Imp and Arn”: a shot of Imperial and a glass of Iron City Beer

  7. Hey, what the hell do you want for $7.99? It is whiskey & it’s cheap. Believe me the drunks, aren’t drinking this, there downing cheap wine by the gallons! I consumed this in bars, years ago, it is palitable, and if you don’t feel like spending $50 for a bottle of the “good” stuff, this will do nicely!

    • Bro im quite literally laughing my ass off. This is such a a accurate description of this , i have not tried the contents yet. Butt i agree partially because of that fact but i will find out in about 30 seconds.

  8. 80 proof is 80 proof. i buy whiskey for the buzz. why spend 60 or 70 bucks for a 1.75l top shelf when you can buy this for about 14 bucks? who you trying to impress? if you claim youre drinking for taste youre lying . you just want a buzz. this review can be used for all those glorious bottom shelf whiskies that are cheap and quickly made and do their job. 80 proof is 80 proof.

  9. This stuff doesn’t taste horrible. All I use is five ounces.

    I usually say, ” Give me five ounces of eighty proof.”

  10. Thanks for the warning.

  11. I take great exception to the negative comments on Imperial. I used to bottle Imperial in Peoria, Illinois before the company struck a deal with then governor, Bill Clinton, to move union jobs to a dry county. None of us were allowed to go with the jobs. NONE. I am know the product is still the same quality because they took the recipe to the new distillery and transported the entire aging rack house to Arkansas. It is just different labor.

  12. Tastes good to me and I think the key is smooth finish I don’t care how good the flavor is if it has a harsh finish $100 dollar good stuff can’t beat a $12 dollar bottom shelf. Also yeah it sucks don’t drink it may stay cheap. Just like lobster and heart of palm.

  13. its puke city my friends

  14. It’s better than the Old Smuggler I was drinking earlier in the week. I admit, a mid-shelf whiskey is notably better, but it’s alcohol–I recognize the fact that I shouldn’t really be drinking this shit anyway and so spending an extra 20 dollars for what amounts to only a very relative improvement in taste just feels silly to me. If I wanted something that tastes good I’d have some ice cream or something. I’m too busy trying to forget the fact that I can only afford bottom-self liquor to be bothered with something as bourgeoisie as taste.

  15. I enjoy your whiskey with ginger ale for many years.i recently moved to florida and I cannot find it anywhere down here do you sell it here ?the only whiskey close to that is called Philadelphia and its made in your town

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