My week of reviews of things that are not single malt whiskies began with a blended rum on Monday and continued with a bourbon on Wednesday. It closes today, quite naturally, with a masala chai flavoured whisky.
This is a product of a Minnesota distillery: Studio Distilling in St. Paul. They seem to make a range of products—at least I think they distill all their own stuff—but I’ve not had any of the others: rye malt whiskey, bourbon, gin and, yes, three other flavoured whiskies. Another of these flavoured whiskies also involves tea, Earl Grey in that case. The masala chai variant is made not, as I had feared, by infusing grain alcohol with flavourings, but by steeping tea and spices in their rye malt base (which I assume means the wash from which the rye malt is normally distilled) and then distilling that. (The Earl Grey process is the same except it involves their bourbon base and bergamot and vanilla in addition to tea.) An unspecified period of aging then follows. I purchased a 375 ml bottle impulsively in 2020 but have not since been able to bring myself to actually try it. Until now.
I should note that I am tasting and reviewing this as I do everything else: as a whiskey to sip. But that is probably not what this is intended to be for. I suspect it’s probably intended to be used mostly in mixed drinks. So keep that large caveat in mind.
Studio Distilling, Masala Chai Flavored Whiskey (46%; from my own bottle)
Nose: A big hit of cardamom as I pour. Just as I think, hmm this does smell like masala chai, a strong vegetal note (artichoke) rises through the cardamom, picking up plastic as it goes. Now I’m a little scared to take a sip. With more time the vegetal note calms down a bit here as well and there’s some cream. A splash of water pulls out some aniseed and some dill.
Palate: Okay, my facial muscles just went on a bit of a journey. It leads with the mix of cardamom, plastic and bitter artichoke that the nose had led me to expect. Perhaps because of the astringent character it seems to hit harder than the abv would indicate; and the texture is rich. Stop the presses! It’s much more palatable on the second sip as the vegetal bitterness recedes; it gets sweeter and some of the rye character begins to emerge as well. The ginger pops out earlier with time. I don’t know that I can pick the tea itself that was infused in the spirit. Okay, let’s add a drop of water. Okay, water pushes the astringent stuff further back and renders it drinkable enough.
Finish: Long. It’s here that the astringent notes calm down and the spices get to be in the lead with (powdered) ginger coming through as well. The final impression on the tastebuds is reminiscent of recently having finished a cup of masala chai. Oddly, water makes the finish more bitter.
Comments: My guess is this will appeal to people who habitually drink eau de vies made with bitter roots etc. Is the vegetal note from the base spirit or from the tea steeped in it? Maybe a combination. I have to admit that while I thought it was going to be heinous at first, it didn’t turn out that way. I don’t know that this is a sipping whiskey—maybe a shot had quickly as a digestif? I might try adding it to an actual cup of Assam tea; more likely I will pass a lot of it on to friends to try. If you’ve had any of the other whiskies they make—flavoured or otherwise—do write in below.
Rating: 73 points.
Indian Accent in NYC has a variant of this, but made with rye and Assam tea , and in a cocktail. Was amazingly good. This sounds like it’s better suited for not having neat.
Yes, as I say in the third paragraph, my notes are based on tasting it in a manner other than that it is probably intended for.
So… better than weedkiller. My typical urge to try something because it’s new and different will be ignored in this particular instance.
Do you think the astringent/vegetal aspect could be coming from the tannins in the tea leaves? (Such as when one over-steeps tea?) Curious.
I’d definitely try it if I’m ever presented the opportunity–neat or in a cocktail.
I note that possibility in the comments.
Definitely worth a try. Especially before a purchase.
You can take tours of their distillery which is just off of University Avenue in Saint Paul for around $20 which includes the tour, a tasting at the end, and a branded Glencarin glass which I thought was not a bad deal. I remember not caring too much for the flavored whiskeys but liking the rye enough to purchase a bottle.