Defiant American Malt Whiskey Review


By Jake Emen

Rating: A-

Defiant Malt Whisky

Defiant American Malt Whisky
(Credit: Jake Emen)

As craft distilleries continue to explode onto the scene across the United States, each brand has to find its way past a common obstacle. How do we produce a mature, refined spirit when we want our product on shelves and atop home bars not years from now, and not even today, but yesterday? Small barrel aging is the norm, and a variety of other techniques and subtle shifts have been developed as well.

At Blue Ridge Distilling Co., in Bostic, North Carolina, which is located in a region, the Golden Valley, famous for its moonshiners, they say to hell with barrels, and to hell with the norm. Their tag line is “unbound by barrels or convention” but what exactly does that mean?

The Whiskey
Blue Ridge takes great pride in their process, but perhaps even more in their ingredients: their carefully selected and cultured strain of yeast; the 100% two-row premium malted brewer’s barley; their pure below-ground water source. That covers three of their four listed ingredients. Last up, toasted American white oak, which is actually both ingredient and process. A video on Defiant’s website explains:

“It’s not about aging whiskey, it’s about imparting the qualities that are in the oak, in the whiskey, in a way which marries those two together and compliments the whiskey. And barrels are such an inefficient way of doing that.”

The solution Defiant sees as more efficient essentially turns the tables by putting the barrel into the whiskey. That means that they put spiral cuts of that toasted American white oak and insert that into the spirit itself.

Aging time? Just 60 days. It’s a proprietary process which the mad scientists at Defiant developed in part thanks to their experience as an international salvage diving team – Defiant Marine. In some ways, the idea is similar to the use of barrel inserts to impart certain desired flavors, such as Maker’s Mark 46 does with French oak, but that is just trim whereas what Blue Ridge is doing goes to the core. In others, its similar to the way small barrel aging increases surface contact with the whiskey.

All that is fine and good, but how does it actually turn out? In the glass, Defiant is a coppery amber, offering cereal grain, honey and oak on the nose.

Take a sip and you’ll find a chewy spirit, with that cereal grain coming strong, in tandem with the malt. The finish is very long, and while mostly pleasant,  it’s also a bit hot, and offers a lasting note of black pepper and spice in front of a slight backdrop of caramel sweetness. Add some ice if you’re so inclined, and a vanilla caramel sweetness takes center stage with malt and honey, offering a very smooth sip.

For a single malt whisky aged for only 60 days, Defiant is indeed revolutionary. Still, I’d love to see what they came up with if they utilized that proprietary process for a longer time, perhaps a year, allowing those flavors to become even richer and more nuanced.

The Price
Defiant Whisky can be purchased online, with a  750ml bottle (82 proof, 41% ABV) available for $39.95 (although I’ve seen references of up to $54.95 as well).

Defiant Whiskey was recognized as the “Best New Whiskey of 2013” by the “2014 Drammies Awards”.

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  1. Love this stuff. A great sipper. One of the few whiskeys I enjoy neat. This did used to retail for around $55, but recently dropped (to my delight) to $40. There are several good whiskeys coming out of North Carolina at the moment.

  2. Very nice American whiskey. I grabbed my first bottle this weekend and enjoy the flavors. I agree with the reviewer that it needs a little more time, but it is a strong A-.

  3. Wonderful drink. I’d say it is buttery smooth, very little on the alcohol edge, just a fantastic drinker. I can definitely taste the oak, which overall adds, rather than detracts, from the taste. I am a fan and have a large whiskey collection from all over..

  4. There’s a reason for the minimum aging time imposed in Scotland. ‘Nuff said.

  5. Guys, its caramel colored moonshine. Its thin, its wild and grainy to high heck. Avoid.

    • Geoff,
      Please! What the hell is wrong with moonshine? I think a slight aroma of moonshine adds to its taste, in fact it reminds me of a brandy that was served in an upscale hotel in Keflavik, Iceland.
      I give it an A+, I can sip on it, close my eyes and imagine I am in those great mountains and valleys of North Carolina!

    • Geoff, spot on for the taste. It doest taste 60 days old, but still very young.

      Carolina, as a southerner who loves whiskey, let me tell you, raw grain flavor is not good. Personal preferences and such.

      But this review certainly shades my opinion of Jake Emen.

    • Barry — Mr. Emen is no longer with The Whiskey Reviewer, and we intend to revisit certain whiskeys (like Defiant) for a second look as time permits.

  6. Tastes like raw whisky infused with oak flavor (just what it is ). Not smooth at all. Im going lo leave the bottle in the back of the cabinet for a couple of years and see if it mellows.

  7. After reading all the accolades for Defiant I thought what was wrong with me. I like that Tim is not following the “rules”, but for me it just does not work. I agree with Mike above. It is a bit thin and on the back side when I swallow it has a plastic taste. Definitely not smooth. Way more pepper than I like. I have been in furniture manufacturing for 30 years and I have seen the cost cutting measures done to compete with China. There is a reason a $5000 dining table costs what it does. Shortcuts cut quality. I’ll keep this around for the novelty.

  8. A friend brought out a bottle recently, telling us all about Defiant and offering a drink. Having been a bourbon drinker for over 50 years, I was up to try the relatively new brand. Half a glencairn later, I snuck back to the kitchen sink and threw the rest out unobserved, not wanting to be an ungrateful guest.

    The problem was that I found the whisky to have a raw, unpleasant taste and sharp edge. I even added water trying to tame the spirit, but just couldn’t find a combination that worked for me. Just don’t like the stuff and couldn’t recommend it to a friend. I drink Elmer T. Lee, Buffalo Trace, Evan Williams Black, Wild Turkey 101, Eagle Rare and Elijah Craig 12, and all are far better and much smoother. Why spend $40 when you can buy far better for the same or much less?

  9. Clearly opinions are very divided on this whiskey, and it certainly merits a second look.

  10. This stuff has a rubber band finish! Seriously it does!!! I couldn’t get anything past the finish. Wasted $40 on a bottle with hopes “made in NC” was something of a twist.. And yes it was, a twist of rubber bands and wasted $$$. Avoid!

  11. Wow – as an avid whisky consumer I feel compelled to advise this stuff is like paint stripper. It really is overpowering with zero subtlety.

    • Agree 100 percent, paint stripper with caramel coloring added. Novelty Item at best. Hard to breath in when it’s in your nose !!!

  12. This is a novelty Item !!!!

    • The Best New Whiskey of 2013, Best bang for your Buck 2014, Bronze in San Fran International Whiskey
      Awards, Bronze in Berlin International Whiskey Awards and Silver in the American Craft Awards(all off Defiant’s web site). All blind taste tested awards. So you don’t like it. Big deal. Everyone taste different. Know one should tell you what is good and what is not. I feel these guys make a great whiskey. They do it there own way. Markers Mark and Diageo are now experimenting with the spirals Defiant uses. Close to a dozen craft guys are now using them as well. Is it different? Yes. That doesn’t make it bad. This is the first whiskey my Wife could drink straight. If you knew my Wife this speaks volumes of how good this whiskey is!!

    • As a North Carolinian, I’m very happy for the Defiant folks – especially that they’ve won awards. But as a scotch, bourbon, and rye drinker, I did not enjoy their product. I would strongly recommend trying this whisky first at a bar before investing in a bottle. That “moonshine” taste is just very different. It wasn’t for me, but I’m glad others enjoy it.

  13. To me this is more single malt scotch than bourbon if you can believe it. It is in its own category. Nothing else like it on the market. I am a fan

  14. Thats because it is not a Scotch, bourbon or rye. They made Defiant their own way. No current category of whisky fits Defiant. Others are now copying them.
    If you are looking for a Scotch, bourbon or rye this is not it. If you are looking for a clean smooth drink this is it.

    • I think Zach’s is the best review. It really cannot be pigeonholed into any of those other three categories — i.e., as a Scotch, bourbon or rye — which may explain, in part, why the distillers chose to spell it ‘Whisky’ as opposed to tagging it with the more standard American spelling ‘Whiskey.’
      The uniqueness may also help to explain why some of the other reviewers hesitated and were reluctant to review it positively, even though it is a very good single malt.
      Finally, in my opinion, those other reviewers above who so quickly turned up their noses and just ‘trashed it’ (e.g., rubber band finish; paint stripper taste) were just being nasty. Shame on them.

  15. I have to agree with the nay sayers….this so called “whiskey” is thin, weak, has a heavy formaldehyde smell on the nose with a wimpy finish. Had a chance to visit last year; very small place, almost like a hobby distillery and don’t know what all the hype is about the diving connection. There were 3 people in the building, both “distillers” were former electricians….no pedigree. There is a reason why the established brands will always outsell these craft guys….just hobbyists….not professionals.

  16. Gerald L Pait Lcdr (SS) USN r

    Just finished my first bottle. I do not portend to be some kind of whiskey snob, I am merely a consumer. If I like something, I buy it. Frankly, after 30 years in the Navy, I have had my share of alcoholic beverages from around the world. My preferred choice is single malt scotch from Islay. However, I saw a program on NC PBS about this place, so I ordered a bottle. Whiskey on the rocks. All I can say is outstanding. I don’t have any fancy earthly, currant berry or hounds tooth descriptions, it is just plain outstanding. I wish there was a source in my area of Florida to purchase it. If, you are a whiskey snob and absolutely have to have the most expensive there is; knock yourself out. I’m not wasting my money on it, Defiant is perfect for me and my guest. You commercial diver boys keep up the good work and keep it coming.

  17. Just picked a bottle of this knowing nothing about the unique process. But have to say after the first sniff and snip, my thought was “what is this?” I know some really enjoy the taste of moonshine, and if you are in that camp and want something with a little more body, then this might be for you. But if you are looking for more traditional whiskey flavor profile, I can’t recommend this. Especially not at more than 2X the price of Evan Williams or Old Forester.

  18. To each there own, I love it! Normally drink Makers and Woodford as my everyday. Nice change of pace.

  19. What happened? We loved your 1st bottle from a year ago which said Bottled in Bostic, NC. However, we could not stand the ‘nose’ or ‘taste’ of recent 2nd bottle which said it’s from from Golden Valley? Even the newer bottle’s color was darker and the taste was not even good ‘moonshine’. Y’all’s quality control needs a reset.

  20. While browsing for hard-to-find bourbon I came across a bottle of Defiant. Although not what I was looking for, I was intrigued since it was distilled locally. Being a NC native from the Blue Ridge Mountains I wanted to give this a try.

    I took it to Thanksgiving dinner along with Michter’s (always excellent) and some Breckinridge which I had never tried. Unfortunately the Defiant was the worst tasting drink I’ve ever had. We had this neat. Everyone has their own tastes and this is just my opinion. The nose was the first sign that something was not right. Several of us were tasting a few different bottles we had brought. All of us noticed the unusual smell. It is hard to explain, but it almost had a sweat or dirty clothes smell to a chemical type smell. Sometimes the nose can be deceiving; however, the taste was similar. It is very hard to describe… but all I can say is this is just bad “whiskey” if you can call it that. All of us trying it had the same experience.

    I think I paid above 40 for this which is well above what this should be. I wouldn’t pay anything for it, but after reading how it is made (basically an attempt to age a whiskey in 60 days using an “infusion” technique) it shouldn’t be more than 10-15.

    The bottle was a nice design and it had an interesting backstory on it. That is about the only good thing I can say about this.

    I dislike having to give a local distillery such a poor review, but it was that bad. I always think you should form your own opinion, but before you pay for this… try to find it somewhere for a taste. I cannot recommend this to anyone and I review it as undrinkable in any form.

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