By Richard Thomas
A few years ago, Will Kehler and Ian Smiley, the author of Making Pure Corn Whiskey and co-author of The Distiller’s Guide to Rum, teamed up to create and release Manhattan Moonshine. A few years is typically seen as a minimum aging period (two is the standard for the American “straight” designation; three is the statutory minimum in Ireland and Scotland), so it’s only appropriate that the same company has now come out with an aged version of Manhattan Moonshine, Sunshine Reserve American Whiskey.
The American Whiskey part is because there is no such thing as “oat whiskey” under Federal law. The spirit for this stuff is made from a four-grain mash bill, primarily oats with rye, spelt and malted barley. The specs say they used a low entry proof (without giving an actual number), there is no age statement (although a few years or a little more is a good guess) and it is bottled at 42.5% ABV (85 proof). Finally, like its predecessor, Sunshine Reserve comes in an absolutely gorgeous art deco bottle, the kind of thing that would have fit right into an early season of Poirot.
In the glass, the spirit isn’t amber so much as its is red with brown highlights. It really does lean that far out of the amber spectrum. A swish and coat drops a few good-sized tears.
The nose is woody and musty, fruity with figs and red fruits, and seasoned with Christmas spice. It was an odd, offbeat and quite interesting scent, and if the flavor had continued with the same kind of balance things would have been so much better. Yet once on my palate, I found the spiciness turned peppery, the woody side grew to knock the profile out of balance, and a nutty quality supplanted the fruity aspect to a large extent. The finish ran peppery at first, then turning a little ashy.
My recollection is that Manhattan Moonshine was intended as a core liquor for mixology, and I think Sunshine Reserve might do quite well in that role. I can see where it’s idiosyncratic flavors could work in a cocktail or even as a mixer (I found myself thinking about experimenting with Dr. Pepper come summer), but as a straight sipper it doesn’t work for me.
Sunshine Reserve will set you back $50 a bottle. That said, the bottle itself is worth keeping after you finish it off. An item like that would set you back $15 or $20 at an antique mall, so think of that as a discount when you look at the price tag.