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Repeat after me: Traveller Whiskey does not contain vodka. Traveller Whiskey does not contain vodka. Traveller Whiskey does not contain vodka. Experts say if you say something three times, you have a better chance of remembering it.
The reason why I bring that up is because after stopping in at 4 different stores to find the newest bottle from Sazerac, I heard no less than 3 times that Traveller Whiskey is Buffalo Trace Bourbon blended with Wheatley Vodka from the managers/distributor reps. How did this rumor get started?!
Don’t get me wrong, I understand where folks are coming from by thinking this could contain vodka in it. “Blended Whiskey” – as this particular bottle clearly states it is on the label – can have “Grain Neutral Spirits” in the blend. And vodka is technically a Grain Neutral Spirit (GNS or NGS, both mean the same thing). Examples of blended American whiskies include Kentucky Gentleman (which is also made by Sazerac) which blends 51% bourbon together with 49% Grain Neutral Spirits. Yuck!
Oh, and if you need proof that Traveller Whiskey doesn’t use GNS, check out the “Selling Points” section of this product stat sheet:
Chris Stapleton’s conflicting messaging
If you ask a Sazerac rep to explain the story behind Traveller Whiskey, you’re going to get some marketing fluff and BS stories. Sure, country music star Chris Stapleton has his name on the (back) label, and he’s no doubt signed off on the words talking about how good whiskey and good music share a bond that can’t be explained – they just have to be experienced. But there’s more beneath the surface.
Chris Stapleton’s personal story with alcohol seems to be at a crossroads with the fact he’s involved in launching this whiskey brand. There was a flurry of news stories that came out a few months ago where he went on the record saying that he’s been sober for many years now. In typical celebrity fashion, he glosses over any semblance of relatability by downplaying the entire story – probably because he knew he had a whiskey brand with his name on it coming soon.
Chris is a 45 year old man who says drinking in his 20’s “kicked his ass” and says he realized it was a problem when he had to have “a shot of tequila” before he’d go on stage. He completely skips over his 30’s which, based on the timeline I’m looking at, also must have kicked his ass. So he went cold turkey (he uses the word “sober”) and repeatedly points out that he did it all without the need for rehab and BOOM problem solved! The story reeks of trying to undersell his struggles – and possibly trying to downplay how serious of a struggle others can have with alcoholism as well. I think it’s no small coincidence he wanted to jump out in front of the future stories that would inevitably look at the man behind the whiskey label. Shrewd.
Of course, this isn’t Chris’s first time working with Buffalo Trace or whiskey. He’s been involved in “hand picking” single barrels of EH Taylor Single Barrel Bourbon in 2021 and 2022 with proceeds going directly to charity. Not to take away from the charity aspect, but I’m confused as to what his definition of the word “sober” really means. Was he still sober as long as the reason behind drinking was for the greater good? Is it a switch that he can flip whenever? Or did he just do “eenie meenie miney moe” to select a barrel with his name on it so he wouldn’t technically let it touch his lips?
Sazerac makes some of the best bourbon in the world – so why are we getting a blended whiskey?
I’m not going to pull the dumb card and act like everything Sazerac puts out glitters like gold. They’re still responsible for plenty of cheap whiskey that occupy the bottom shelves or are readily stocked as mixers at bars. But in the grand scheme of things, Sazerac has very few products to compete with the key players that have been there for longer. And believe it or not, Sazerac’s share in “On-Premise” sales (bars, hotels, casinos, restaurants) is rather small. Remember, Sazerac is relatively new to the scene (1992). Brands like Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, Brown-Forman and Seagrams (now split into MGP/Four Roses/Diageo) have all been doing it more consistently and for longer.
On-Premise sales are huge to every kind of alcohol producer. The sheer quantity from those sales alone can be the difference between a good year and a great year for sales reps and distilleries. Sazerac has tried a couple different ways to get their foot into more doors, but it’s been hard. You’d think that dangling some BTAC out there as a reward for making Benchmark an establishment’s “well pour” would be enticing!
I am speculating on this, but Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace line and their new Benchmark lineup hasn’t been able to break into that space. Neither has their acquisition of the Early Times brand (which has always been considered a low-cost brand). Fireball does great, but because of its strong cinnamon profile, it can’t be blended with most cocktail recipes that requires whiskey.
What Sazerac needed was another brand that could be sold for cheap and easy to scale up. A whiskey that would contain some bourbon in it and another cheap kind of spirit would be ideal. That’s why they eventually settled on a large portion of Traveller Whiskey blend being Canadian Whisky. Sazerac has been keen on building up their portfolio of Canadian Whisky and now is the time to start using it.
By its very nature, Canadian Whisky is cheaper and easier to make. A majority of it is made to the specs of a Light Whiskey in the US (distilled between 161 and 189 proof, barreled in used cooperage between 140-160 proof). It’s close to a Grain Neutral Spirit but brings some of its smoothness and whiskey flavors with it. This makes up a large component of Traveller Whiskey. The other component is bourbon distilled at the Barton Distillery. Both sets of liquid are transported to Buffalo Trace Distillery to be blended together (this is according to a Buffalo Trace rep).
Perhaps the biggest reason why Traveller Whiskey was created is due to the amount of money Sazerac has been dumping into all of their expansion projects. With the ability to make basically double the amount of spirits that they could a few years ago, they’re going to have to find a place to put a lot of ~4 year old barrels of (primarily) bourbon. A thing that most enthusiasts forget is that not every barrel can become a George T. Stagg or Pappy Van Winkle. Instead, the life of a batch of bourbon barrels looks kind of like a pyramid where the bottom (most) barrels are found to be fully mature around 4 to 6 years old.
Aging them any longer wouldn’t produce anything better than what was already there. It takes a lot of luck (and a whole lot of barrels) to eventually produce a decent amount of barrels that still taste good past the 10 year old mark. What I’m trying to say is that you can’t expect distilling an extra 10 million gallons of bourbon per year is going to yield that much more George T. Stagg in the next 15 years. There is a huge likelihood that over half of those barrels won’t even reach their 6th birthday before they’re pulled for bottling.
Just tell us if the whiskey is good or not!
Alright, alright, fine. The hype over this bottle is so stupid. Within minutes of the first people grabbing up a bottle, it was already being flipped for $120. Come on people, don’t be sheep. This is bottom shelf whiskey that will be everywhere in no time flat. Just because you didn’t get one on opening days doesn’t mean that liquor store owners won’t be using cases of it to prop open their front doors this summer. There is virtually no chance of it becoming the next Pappy or Blanton’s or Eagle Rare. So let’s end this charade already. Let me go first and jot down some tasting notes to prove it to you. I sampled this neat in a glencairn – even though you’ll be drinking it with mixers on ice through a straw.
Nose: The nose seems to foreshadow things to come. In fact, I had to stick my nose in and out of the glencairn a couple of times because I was getting virtually nothing. A quick sniff of my armpit confirmed that, indeed, my sense of smell was still in tact. So I went back at the glass even more focused. Cornbread, hay, light cinnamon, saltwater and the slightest amount of vanilla. I struggled to get these scents because they’re so light. It’s like smelling an 80 proof whiskey that had water added to it.
Palate: The palate comes off a bit more rye-forward than I was expecting. At least that’s what I’m thinking these perfume-y and light herbal flavors are on my tongue. Otherwise, the typical cinnamon, citrus and mint notes that I normally get with rye whiskies are just not there. Each sip showcases a lack of body. I was expecting a dialed-down version of bourbon but this is something else entirely.
It’s all very “even” in its delivery, which means that I rolled it around on my tongue, but it never uncovered any different flavors. It’s just kind of flat with a lot of grainy corn notes. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the lack of sweetness with every sip.
Finish: The finish is unexpectedly short. The flavors begin to leave my tongue almost immediately – making me focus more on the small amount of heat going down my throat. I’m kind of surprised about the lack of anything to write about here, but it’s true, there are no real flavors I can tell you about.
Incredible. Amazing. “Whiskey of the Year.” None of these words would be used to describe Traveller Whiskey. I mentioned the lack of body in my tasting notes, but this also has a lack of soul too. A great blending whiskey is what this will have to be, because it’s going to need a lot of help to achieve anything in the flavor department.
This is a nothing whiskey at its core. Had this been around in the early 2000’s, Ned Flanders would have probably ordered one in lieu of a white wine spritzer during his bender in Las Vegas. But as it stands, a pretty package and celebrity endorsement shouldn’t bait you into surrendering $35 to see if I’m right. So please, do not rush out to your local store to buy one and do not stand in line for this at Buffalo Trace’s gift shop. There’s nothing here to experience.
Will my words have any effect on the sales of Traveller Whiskey? Doubtful. The fans of Chris Stapleton will buy these bottles left and right. I assume more of this will be poured in rocks glasses or shot glasses than glencairns, and that’s alright. Buy what makes you happy. But if you want to buy because you’re curious, then heed my words: you don’t need this. Any of the Benchmark labels (except No. 8, ugh) are superior to this in taste, texture, you name it. And they’re all about $10 cheaper.
But if you’re a country music lover and hate the words I’ve written, then I’ll let you in on a little secret if you insist on supporting that genre of music with your booze money: Eric Church and Jack Daniels did it better. Now if you’ll excuse me, somebody just put a(nother) drink in my hand.
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