Home » Whiskey Of The Week: Cutwater Devil’s Share Bourbon

Whiskey Of The Week: Cutwater Devil’s Share Bourbon

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If you know the name Cutwater, it’s likely because of their canned cocktails, the whole category of which became the unlikely beneficiary of the global pandemic in 2020. I am no expert on the subject — I spent the Covid lockdown making my own cocktails, using rigorously disinfected fresh ingredients, as was the style — but of the ones I tried, Cutwater’s were in the upper echelon. I mean, it’s tough to make a proper mai tai with fresh ingredients, to say nothing of making one that has to hold up after spending weeks or months in a can. But theirs was surprisingly good. More recently, I glommed onto Cutwater’s canned White Russian. It’s hard to screw up a boozy coffee milkshake, but still, I was surprised by how good theirs was.

But Cutwater’s history goes beyond the can. The San Diego-based company dates back to 2017, but its history extends a decade before that, when it was born as the spirits division of the Ballast Point Brewery. Ballast Point was sold to Constellation Brands in 2015, at which point the spirits division was spun off. It relaunched a couple of years later as Cutwater Spirits, complete with a massive distillery/bar/restaurant, located near the Miramar area of San Diego.

Wait a minute, Cutwater has a distillery? This brand of canned cocktails actually makes its own base spirits? And one of the co-founders (Yuseff Cherney) is the master distiller? It may be common knowledge on the West Coast, but this New Yorker was surprised. And the stuff they make doesn’t just go into their canned cocktails (or their frozen cocktail pops, which sound like a fun idea but which, as an admitted cocktail snob, I could never fully endorse). They bottle and sell it as well, everything from rum to gin to herbal liqueur (?!). Their website touts the dozens of awards their various spirits have won, and much to my surprise, it turned out I’ve tasted and scored their products as a judge for various competitions over the last few years. Yeah, I was slow on the Cutwater uptake for sure. I really enjoyed their unaged rum; thought their tequilas (made in Mexico; the aged expressions were matured in Cutwater whiskey barrels) were varying degrees of pretty good; and was not a fan of the rye, which to be fair seems to be a blend sourced from other distilleries.

I had never tried Cutwater Devil’s Share Bourbon, their highest-end expression, with a suggested retail price of $115. If you can find it, that is, as availability is said to be limited even in California. The mashbill is an interesting one — 75% non-GMO corn, 15% malted barley, and 10% malted wheat. Usually a wheated bourbon uses wheat as the secondary grain. To use it as a tertiary grain after the barley… that’s different. Aged for at least four years in new American oak barrels, it’s bottled at 46% ABV.

On the nose it’s a little hot, with notes of brown sugar, cinnamon, and rubbing alcohol. On the palate the cinnamon comes through again, accompanied by butterscotch, vanilla and oak. It drinks a tad hotter than its proof; a little water tamps down the heat but also dulls the flavor profile a bit, so I perferred it neat. It makes a pleasant, lightly astringent Manhattan (solved by the addition of more vermouth), and a a perfectly fine whiskey sour.

“This bourbon is not defined by geography, but by taste,” says the Cutwater website, and I suppose that makes sense, since as far as I know there’s no distinctive San Diego style of whiskey. Although, with 18 distilleries and counting in the city, according to the San Diego Guild of Distillers, one may be emerging as I write this. News travels slowly to us East Coast craft spirits snobs. Can you get better bourbons for far less money? Absolutely. But for now, at least, Cutwater is the reigning monarch of San Diego whiskey. And the next time I’m in town, I’ll be checking out the distillery, and likely having a Devil’s Share whiskey sour — assuming they don’t just sell canned cocktails at the bar.

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