Over the last few weeks, I have been grabbing bottle after bottle of bottom shelf liquors just for the hell of it and I wanted to compare it to the name brands to see if they measure up or if they are a sad bastardization of the good stuff. Now, I just want to put it out there right now, I really, really like Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey. It is everything that a whiskey ought to be and it’s sweet to the palate but not overtly sweet to the point that all that you can taste is the honey flavor or that nasty ass syrupy texture like you’re trying to chug down Robitussin.
So far to date, I’ve tried Wild Turkey’s Honey Whiskey, Jim Beam’s Honey Whiskey, Jack Daniel’s Honey Whiskey, and the CVS store brand Honey B Boots Honey Whiskey. The way that each of these brands name their honey whiskeys isn’t important to me. As far as I care to know, it’s all the same, whether it’s whiskey infused with natural honey flavors or whiskey with honey liqueur. However, I also realize and acknowledge that for the more hardcore drinkers, there’s a big difference between a whiskey infused with natural flavors and a whiskey that’s mixed with a liqueur and I’m not about to say to them that they’re wrong. They’re not. There is a difference but that’s really relegated to those who drink this like it’s an art in and of itself. It is not to those folks that I am writing this article for. I’m writing for the average drinker who just wants to try something different for a change but either 1) doesn’t have the budget to regularly buy the name brands or 2) wants to get a preview of what to expect if they were to “trade down” to a store brand or a brand that isn’t all that well known.
So, with that said, the gold standard to me is Jack Daniel’s (JD’s for short) Honey Whiskey. It’s smooth, not overtly sweet, but sweet enough that it masks the alcohol smell and taste, and it’s an easy sipper. It doesn’t burn on entry nor burn very much when going down the gullet. Plus, there isn’t that harsh aftertaste which is a common characteristic in the lower tier and bottom shelf liquors. For the experienced drinkers, you know what I’m talking about but for the average drinkers, this is possibly something that could be described as “awfully bitter” in and/or around the back of your palate. It’s really a rather unpleasant feeling and it makes you want to have a chaser ready to get rid of that bitter aftertaste. It’s like biting into the exterior of a lemon. Not the insides. I mean like the lemon peel itself and just chewing on that. It’s a lot like that taste and if you’ve never had that experience, I’d recommend it before you buy a bottom shelf whiskey and attempting to drink it neat. JD’s Honey Whiskey is typically priced at above $25 but under $30 at a CVS when they have a sale. When not, it’s slightly above $30. Supermarkets might charge a bit more. I’ve seen this bottle priced at $35+ at some supermarkets, which is unbelievably high in my opinion.
Next up is Wild Turkey’s Honey Whiskey. They call it the “American Honey.” This one, the harshness is there but only barely masked by the honey flavor. It’s not as smooth as JD’s and it burns on entry. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting the burn. I consider Wild Turkey to be up there alongside JD’s so far as commercial presence and quality is concerned but sadly, their honey whiskey does not live up to its name. The sweetness factor is a tad bit on the sweet side. Definitely sweeter than JD’s. But I think after the second shot of this, the characteristics mellow out and becomes more balanced but that, I think, is mostly because two shots of anything will numb your senses enough to make you feel or think it is. I can’t say that I can recommend WT’s Honey Whiskey even if it is priced at under $20 when CVS runs a sale. I believe regular price is slightly above $22 but under $26.
Drinking Jim Beam’s Honey Whiskey is like drinking a sweeter version of Robitussin. I’m sorry to say that I don’t know how else to compare it because there’s no real equivalent to it, at least in the flavored whiskey world. On the upside, there’s no burn on entry and there’s no burn going down the gullet either but the downside is that it’s like drinking cough syrup. It’s really syrupy. It’s just not a great feeling in your mouth. It’s like there’s substance but not in a good way. Interestingly enough, the alcohol smell is there but there’s no taste of alcohol. Strange indeed. For just shy of $15 when CVS has a sale, it’s still pretty bad. I believe regular price is between $18 and $20 at CVS.
Lastly, Honey B Boots. Regular price is just shy of $15 the last time I had bought this bottle but I’ve seen this bottle go on sale at CVS and have seen it dropped to about just under $10 before. I think that sales price is more accurate to the quality of this honey whiskey anything but I digress. And what can I say? I don’t recommend that you add water in an attempt to water it down. In fact, don’t even add ice. Those a big no-no’s when it comes to CVS store brand liquors for some reason. The only exception being that if you tried adding club soda (as in plain fizzy water), it does make it taste ok on the palate. That’s not to say, however, that if you tried drinking it neat, that it would be difficult to swallow. No. This is actually the method I would suggest that you drink this whiskey. I’m just saying as a side note that if you had added regular water, for some odd reason, it separates the honey from the whiskey and the harshness from the whiskey comes to the forefront and it certainly isn’t pleasant. I swear, it’s like drinking a Jim Beam Bourbon straight up. Adding ice, whether just one cube or several, doesn’t change the harsh characteristics of this whiskey. I would strongly advise not doing either but instead opting for club soda, if you really must water it down.
Drinking Honey B Boots is a lot like drinking a liqueur straight up. For those brave enough to do this, it’s really not that bad. You’re not supposed to drink any kind of liqueur straight up but certain ones can certainly be drank straight up (like Midori, for instance) and it won’t be bad. It’d be like drinking a really sweet version of a regular soda pop. Nay, more accurately, it would be like drinking a pre-made cocktail. And in my personal opinion, Honey B Boots is better than Jim Beam’s Honey Whiskey and it’s cheaper by $5 retail price. The harshness is covered up by the honey flavor quite nicely and there’s an odd but fragrant smell of honey when you first crack open a bottle of this. This is different from JD’s Honey Whiskey, by the way. It doesn’t burn on entry nor when it goes down the gullet. And it’s not overtly sweet but at the same time, there’s a strange texture in your mouth that I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s not a bad texture, but it’s definitely not like drinking JD’s Honey Whiskey. If you can overlook that, I think this honey whiskey is a nice, cheap alternative to other bottom shelf honey whiskeys. I’d say you should give it a shot.