Sunday, March 3, 2013

Kansas Clean. What Is This Stuff?

"Kansas is a new whiskey for new whiskey drinkers," says the ad, replete with pictures of attractive 20-somethings and at least one unattractive geezer. Kansas, aka 'Kansas Clean,' aka 'Kansas Clean Distilled,' is a distilled spirit product that has been around for about a year. It is the first product from a company in Rochester, New York (not Kansas), called Fabulous American Beverages.

They want $30 a bottle for it.

The bottle is clear and the product inside is clear too, so how can it be whiskey? Doesn't whiskey always have to be aged? Haven't dozens of micro-distilleries, and at least one giant (Jack Daniel's), gotten into trouble with federal regulators for trying to call an unaged grain spirit whiskey? Then what's this stuff?

Spirit whiskey.

What's that? Well, under U.S. rules, 'spirit whiskey' is a distilled spirit that contains at least 5 percent whiskey, with the remaining 95 percent neutral spirit, aka vodka. The whiskey component can be anything that meets the legal definition of whisky, so it can be very nearly neutral and very lightly aged itself.

The very hip/now/with-it Kansas web site tells you none of this.

The spirit whiskey classification exists because right after Prohibition there was so little fully-aged whiskey available, and whiskey was what people wanted, that the feds accommodated producers by creating categories of 'whiskey' that were mostly vodka.

That way, producers could stretch what little whiskey they had and still give people something with a little bit of whiskey character.

In the intervening years, and especially after the 'light whiskey' fiasco of the late 1960s, it became conventional wisdom that no one wants a whiskey that is barely there. Drinkers who want a neutral spirit buy vodka, which is the largest distilled spirit category. There is very little demand, seemingly, for a slightly non-neutral spirit with a modicum of whiskey character. At least there is very little demand for a spirit with less whiskey character than Canadian Mist or Seagram's 7 (the Bud Lights of whiskey).

That is, until now. Whiskey is now hip. There are, or so the makers of Kansas believe, many people who want to drink vodka but say they're drinking whiskey. They don't so much want the very slight whiskey flavor that (at least in theory) differentiates the product from vodka, as they are willing to tolerate it for the privilege of calling it whiskey.

In the rest of the world this isn't an issue, because following the guidance of the Scotch Whisky Association and the lead of the European Union, their rules say whiskey must be aged for at least three years. In the U.S., whiskey has to be aged, but no minimum duration is stated and products that contain as little as five percent whiskey are able to call themselves whiskey.

The rules are written to protect consumers but also to accommodate producers. In this case, both probably would be better served if the 'spirit whiskey' classification was abolished. Sorry, Kansas. (Not really.)

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Richnimrod says;
If folks are so deluded (and apparently proud of it!) that they actually prefer a 'non-whiskey' whiskey; I say; "Hey let 'em overpay for junk, and leave the rest of us to sift thru the other beverages that I, for one, would rather drink anyway!" ....Such as BOURBON; a beverage with actual flavor!

Chuck Cowdery said...

And yet you posted that comment. Why? Because you care.

Rob K said...

It's the same foolishness that has perverted the use of the word Martini to mean cocktail. People want to say they're drinking Martini's but not actually do it.

NMissC said...

$30 a bottle? I find it pretty easy to ignore the clear stuff the is (more and more) infiltrating the whiskey shelves in the liquor stores around here, but I had no idea they were pricing it like that.

You can get some pretty good whiskey in Mississippi liquor stores at that price, or within $4-5 bucks above it. But the theory was it had sat around in wood a while, and we were paying for the time it took to make it that good. What, exactly, is the justification for this price for this stuff? (I'm seriously asking). Like anything else, I suppose the answer may just be "someone will pay it, particularly if we put it in the right sort of bottle."

Another question, both at the level of idle curiosity: What is this stuff, as in, what ingredients did they use? (You may not know. I don't care enough for anyone to strain for an answer).





Doctor Tarr said...

For decades people have wanted to pretend to drink beer while doing everything they can to avoid tasting it, and if people are willing to spend $50 on a bottle of vodka they can't taste then surely $30 for a bottle of whiskey they can't taste is marketable.

Anonymous said...

Chuck,

Check out this review of Kansas Clean http://www.foodrepublic.com/2011/11/08/finally-whiskey-horrible-people

Apparently, the guy who developed the brand has a wife who is either rich or gorgeous.

Tom Troland

Chuck Cowdery said...

They say it's made from wheat, hence the name, but that may just be the miniscule whiskey component. The vodka portion (95%) is likely corn-based, as most vodka is. As for the price, they're appealing to drinkers of over-priced vodka.

Christopher said...

As a bourbon drinker and native of Rochester, NY, the supposed home of this brand, I am truly embarrassed.

oknazevad said...

Minor correction, Chuck. Canadian whisky requires three years, as well. See http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/regulations/C.R.C.,_c._870/section-B.02.020.html

Chuck Cowdery said...

Thanks. I deleted the mention of Canada, since it's the same as Europe.

markfollette said...

I think Bourbon and Rye have become so popular lately. I don't like the idea of wading through Southern Comfort-like whiskey replicas to try out new whiskeys.

Anonymous said...

i hope these white whiskies take off, which will leave the aged whiskey for us! If you look at what's happening with whiskey stocks around the world, it's not a pretty scene. Maker's just tried to dilute their whiskey in order to stretch their stocks. They got shot down by their fans, so MM will have to raise prices to preserve their supply. And if the category catches fire (which it is), good bourbon is going to be more expensive and/or unavailable. I'm gonna promote the white whiskies and stuff like this Kansas to every newbie who comes into my shop...