Home Gin Rogue Distillery Spirits Reviewed

Rogue Distillery Spirits Reviewed

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“Some people like our stuff and some people don’t, and that’s just fine with us.”
- Gary Fleshman, General Manager, Rogue Ales

It was a pretty strong statement that started off my tasting of Rogue Distillery‘s spirits. Best known for their micro-craft beers (like the Dead Guy Ale), Rogue has made a move into the spirits space with a line of Gin, Rum and Whiskey.  With distilleries split between their Oregon coast location and downtown Portland, Rogue doesn’t have the luxury of having all their spirits under the same roof. Their rum, which is distilled from C & H sugar, is done by a single apprentice without the immediate oversight of a master distiller.  Their barrel management also seems to be pretty slip shot, with spirits sitting in a variety of barels at a variety of ages.

“We want to get this out there as soon as possible and when they found out that things had to sit in barrels for a long time they got pretty pissed.” – Gary Fleshman, General Manager, Rogue Ales

As a whole, the Rogue spirits clearly reflect a distilling program in crisis. Of the six spirits I tasted, at least three of them ranked as some of the poorest distilled spirits I have ever tasted.

Rouge Spirits

Rouge Spirits

Rogue Spruce Gin (90 proof, $35) – Of all the Rogue spirits I tasted the spruce gin was the only one that wasn’t absolutely unpalatable. It’s an interesting concept to use spruce as the top note of a gin, but it completely takes the place of juniper, which they almost completely abandoned (there is a trace amount as a technicality so they can still call it gin). In addition to the pronounced spruce, the gin is also heavily flavored with cucumber. It’s on the nose, in the palate and is almost more dominate than the spruce itself. There are also some ginger and citrus notes in the taste but those peter out.  One could safely argue that Rogue Spruce Gin is not really a gin, it’s more a spruce/cucumber frankenstein of a spirit.

Not Recommended

Rogue Pink Gin (90 Proof $35) – If you didn’t know that this is gin, you’d never guess it. Aged in pinot noir barrels, this gin strips away any and everything that even remotely works about the Rogue Spruce Gin and turns it into something overly sweet and barely palatable. The Rogue Pink Gin has some vanilla and cherry on the nose that lead into a pinot and vanilla like taste. But this batch of gin was seriously off. The body was hot (not in a good way) and it finished hot in a way that’s indicative of a poorly distilled spirit. As I tasted this, apprentice distiller Bree Winchell kept repeating to me over and over, “We only use the heart. We only use the heart” like a mantra, but it’s clear that in the batch of pink gin I tried the cut came too soon and there is clear evidence of heads in this distillate.

Not Recommended

Rogue White Rum (80 proof $39) – As with the Rogue Pink Gin, I found some serious issues with the distilling of Rogue’s White Rum. Hot from the first sip through the finish, this one-note rum was simply disgusting. It tastes like it contains the heads of the distillate with a varnish-like tone to it. What’s even more shocking is the price tag of $39.  I was told that Rogue is phasing out their white rum and I can say that’s the only good news about this spirit.  I really thought the white rum was one of the worst spirits I have tasted, until I tasted the Hazelnut Spice Rum.

Avoid

Rogue Hazelnut Spice Rum (80 Proof $35) – Notable for the fact that it is now the single worst distillate I have ever tasted, the Rogue Hazelnut Spice Rum is vile and disgusting. It is probably more suited to clean paint brushes than to be consumed by a human being. The nose of the rum is so disgustingly strong that it overpowered everything else I tried to taste and I literally had to step away from the table to actually be able to smell the other spirits.  If the nose is bad the taste is worse. It resembles what I’d imagine infusing varnish with hazelnuts must taste like. The finish is straight hot.

Avoid

Dead Guy Whiskey (80 Proof $40) – I’m a huge fan of white dog and young spirits, and so the fact that this whiskey is only aged for 1 month really didn’t phase me. What phases me is a whiskey that is this bad (as it may very well be the worst whiskey ever made).  With strawberry banana Jolly Rancher in the nose, Dead Guy Whiskey does not smell anything like whiskey – it smells sacchariny and artificial. The taste is not much better: fatty and overly sweet, limp and lacking any of the great qualities of a young whiskey. If the Rogue White Rum has heads in it, the Dead Guy Whiskey seems to have tails and it’s flat, candied finish is as underwhelming as its taste. Dead Guy Whiskey comes from the sweet wort (minus the hops) from Rogue’s Dead Guy Ale and it’s aged in lightly charred American White Oak. That should be a nice recipe for success, but again, poor distilling obliterates strong elements.

Not Recommended

After tasting this series of spirits it is clear to me that all is not well in the house of Rogue. Distiller John Couchot comes out of the world of chemistry and perhaps hasn’t made the leap from scientist to artisan craftsman, or perhaps the real issue lies with the companies motto of ‘get it out the door’ and ‘some people will love it and some people won’t’. Unfortunately with spirits this poor, I’m afraid the people who won’t like it will vastly outnumber the people who do.

Update:  Since this original review Rouge has released the Oregon Single Malt Whiskey (80 proof). It took the 2010 American Distilling Institute Gold Medal at the 2010 ADI conference.  For completeness sake I decided to give it a try. The good news, it’s not as bad as the Dead Guy Whiskey, the bad news, it’s not legions better.  Sporting a very think amber color the Rouge Single Malt has been aged just three months in barrel. The nose is strong banana with an undertone of barnyard animal. The entry is syrupy sweet, almost like corn syrup or molasses.  There’s not too much going on in the body of this whiskey and it finishes pretty hot with burning at the front of the mouth.  Not a whiskey I’d recommend.

Not Recommended

  • Brendan Zebroski

    I could not disagree with you anymore. Aside from your obvious bias and the fact that many of these spirits are highly accoladed, I have a personal fondness for both the spruce and the pink gin and I find your criticism to be trite and clumsy.

    Anthony Dias Blus: 92 pts on White Rum
    Double Gold at World Spirit competition: Dark Rum
    Dead Guy at World Spirit competition: Gold Medal
    Spuce at 2008 and 2009: Double Gold

    And this is just a VERY short list of what true experts think.

    I am absolutely going to disregard any of your past or current spirit evaluations as I am unsure if you are incapable of an honest evaluation or your are just really terrible at reviewing spirits in general. Ugh…

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Geoff K

      One of the things you learn really quickly about reviewing spirits is that accolades don’t really measure much.

      We are not alone in our take on the Rogue Spirits. Check out F. Paul Pacult “Kindred Spirits 2″ who says of the spiced rum “How could anyone of even the most rudimentary distilling acumen possibly think that this septic tank muck is appealing and, much worse, ready for the market place.”

      Also Lance Mayhew from About.com (one of the most respected whiskey writers) says of Dead Guy “Rogue Dead Guy whiskey may simply be the worst whiskey ever made” and “If gifted with a bottle of Rogue Dead Guy whiskey, its best put to use as a paperweight or perhaps used to clean wounds. Whatever you do, don’t drink it expecting a quality whiskey experience.”

      And this is just a VERY short list of what true journalist and spirit writers think. We have absolutely NOTHING against Rogue, we wish they’d change their distilling staff and rework their spirits program, they have the money and the desire to get craft distilled products into the marketplace, support home distilling and distillers festivals. Imagine how amazing it would be if they actually had great spirits. I mean they are building a grain malting floor!! It’s a tragedy to think that a resource like that is going to be squandered with a distiller who isn’t using the tools at his disposal to make the quality spirits he should.

      As with anything it’s your right to agree or disagree with our take on things. But don’t take pop shots at our honesty or integrity. There are people in this industry we adore and people we don’t but when it comes to reviews all that doesn’t matter – We write what we taste, if it’s in the bottle it’s on the page.

  • Brendan Zebroski

    As with all potables, scores and reviews are nothing but someone’s opinion. Who’s to truly say that a 93 pt wine is better than a 92 pt wine? Or that a best in class Bourbon is truly superior to the runner up?
    But I mean, c’mon guys…. You review is recommending your readers to avoid products that get Double Gold Medals at San Francisco International Spirits Competition?!? Do you know who is on that panel and how hard it is to get a double gold? Not only that, I’ve tasted and love several of the products so I’m not solely basing my argument on accolades… Thats why I am calling shenanigans. I didn’t mean to attack your integrity, only your ability.

  • http://www.drinkspirits.com Geoff K

    As you well know from being in the wine industry, taste is absolutely subjective. What isn’t so subjective is the quality of distillation. If you’ve ever had the opportunity to taste or smell the heads of distillation you’d recognize both the odor and impact of it on the palate. It’s unmistakeable.

    Recently I went to the announcement event for the American Distillers Institute conference which just happened to be at Rogue’s Green Dragon Brewpub. After introducing myself to the folks at Rogue one of them sent me over another taste of Dead Guy Whiskey saying that the batch I tasted my not have been aged as long as the batch in the current bottle. I tasted it again and it was different. Not good mind you, it still had the same issues with the poor distillation, but the tropical notes played differently.

    I also have since tasted their single malt on two occasions, once at bottle strength and one at barrel proof and I still contend that Rouge’s spirits are plagued by poor distillation.

    In terms of my ability, I’m just one of the people who taste here at Drink Spirits. As a rule we taste all spirits in group, double blind. In Rogue’s case they insisted that their spirits be tasted in their brewpub infront of them. So their spirits were not tasted by our panel but me individually. In terms of ability, I’d have you consult with several master distillers whose products we’ve reviewed including Kevin Smith from Maker’s and Marko Karakasevic from Charbay.

    Additionally I carry the Beverage Alcohol Resource Bar Smarts Advanced Certification which was awarded by the absolute best of the best in this industry.

    For me I’ve got to call shenanigans on a comment posted months after a review was posted but RIGHT after an event where I had contact with the maker of these spirits.

  • Brendan Zebroski

    Taste is subjective. Production quality is not. A poorly produced wine is going to taste poorly, regardless of how many different spectrums of bad various tasters may taste.
    You may contend that Rogue is “plagued” by poor distillation, and we can cite as many references as we want to support our viewpoints and we can unzip our pants and measure each other credentials but I do not think we will ever come to any agreement.
    I do not think that Rogue is the end all be all of micro-distilleries and I certainly think, both common sense and self evidence support that they have lots of room for improvement, but
    I am absolutely going to support Rogue by voicing the opposing opinion.
    And I contend that there is no plague of poor distillation, or a need to change distilling staff, and that the Dead Guy is not undrinkable. I applaud Rogue for their ingenuity and atypical approach to their products. I’ve been an avid fan of gin for over 15 years and I absolutely agree with EVERY single one of the 25 judges at the last 2 years SF Spirit Competition in giving the Spruce a Gold Medal. And the fact that your call the Pink Spruce unpalatable is mind blowing to me. I love the avant garde style of The Pink Spruce and yes it is a complete stray from the norm and from what makes the Spruce Spruce, I find it whimsical and refreshing. And I too have tasted the Single Malt and while it doesn’t exactly wow me, I find no evidence to support your claims of poor distillation.
    So while we are going to have to agree to disagree, I felt a need to present an opposing opinion to what I thought an unfair overly critical review, and share the viewpoint of someone that appreciates an atypical approach to distillation and challenges the contention that Rogue has an inherent flaw in their production techniques.

  • http://www.drinkspirits.com Geoff K

    As stated, always appreciate feedback and counterpoint to our reviews, but when it came to questioning our honesty, integrity and aptitude I think you went a little far.

    No, we won’t agree on Rogue. I respect that you enjoy their gin. Ultimately all we can do is taste and evaluate and share our thoughts on these spirits, some people will agree and others won’t and that’s fine. F. Paul Paccult and I totally disagree about the Fingerlakes Distilling Rye, I adore it and he takes issue with it. Is one of us wrong? No. It’s a matter of opinion.

    Having tasted the entire line of Rogue and since posting the review shared tasting notes with a number of fellow writers and bartenders I have yet to find anyone who doesn’t feel that there are issues with Rogue’s distilling process. The rum especially is toxic with more heads than anything we’ve tasted to date.

    I do find the timing of your comments interesting.

  • Brendan Zebroski

    The timing? Why is that?

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  • Seth Minard

    I was shocked to see these horrible reviews. On a recent road trip out west I purchased a bottle of the dead guy whiskey. I fell in love at first sip and eagerly shared it with random people I met while camping the pacific northwest and cali. Every person (man or woman) I offered it to was surprised at the nice flavor and smooth taste.

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      Give the Blacones Baby Blue Corn Whiskey a try, I think once you try others in this space you’ll understand why the very low rating.

  • ben

    “slipshod.” i trust nothing in your review for this one mistake. isn’t this kinda like irony? is this supposed to be professional writing? ’cause it sounds kinda slapshot to me. rogue’s spirits may very well suck, but you’re not selling it to literate people.

  • ben

    never mind. after reading your rebuttals to alleged rogue secret agents’ comments, you guys are either actually illiterate, or drinking liquor and then immediately reviewing it impairs your writing. and yeah, this is from the guy who never capitalizes words and drinks way too much. cheers!

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      Have you actually tried their spirits?

  • Matt

    I see that this thread was made a year ago and Im going to have to say I completly disagree with most of this. I am not a huge gin fan so i cant say i agree or disagree with the gin part. But Dead guy whiskey and their OSMW has got to be some of the best whiskey I have ever drank hands down. I guess it all goes to the first statement said above “some people like it, and some people dont”

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      I would never argue with someone about what they like. If you like something then you like it. Personally and professionally I think there are far better things you can consume than these spirits. But if this is your spirit, enjoy and never let anyone tell you otherwise.

  • Jay D

    Good review, but I honestly think they do not deserve a zero rating. I’m not a critic by any means but I enjoy their Dead Guy Whiskey more than most major brands. Then again I haven’t had it in a while. Rogue definitely likes to try new things, which makes their brews (and spirits I guess) unclassifiable. I’ve definitely had some horrible brews coming from Rogue.

  • Todd

    While I haven’t had the opportunity to taste their gin or whiskey, I thought I was lucky enough to visit them in Portland. That is until I tasted their rum. I couldn’t agree with you more. Luckily I went to a tasting and didn’t pay for an entire bottle.

  • Pipe

    I really enjoyed the read, I was very entertained. I am one of those who will try it to see just how bad it is!

    Geoff are you from Cinci?

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Drink Spirits

      Nope, from a Suburb of SF.

  • Jeff Laskowski

    hmmm ……. I am not sure what you are comparing the Spruce gin to but my son and I are gin drinkers and think the Spruce is just as good as, if not better than, Sapphire, Cascade and Hendrick’s. If you don’t like it that’s your opinion but I hope others give it a chance as I believe most will find it to be a fine drink.

  • http://none Draino-dono

    Rogue Dead Guy Whiskey, Rum & Vodka….shezz the only difference between Dead Guy spirits and swill is the spelling. This crap is just a stoned out dudes attempt at moonshine, matter of fact, it’s an insult to moonshine. The brown hue to this swill is probably from the rat shit that get’s inside of the barrels during storage. I would have to say that there is more expertise in producing Laquer thinner than the cooking of this crude attempt to make ethyl alcohol. I wouldn’t waste my money buying a shot of this liquor at a bar, reality is that I wouldn’t drink in a bar that was low enough to have this crap served….

    All the stuff that comes out of that operation is pure garbage, I would suspect that their stilling off all the stuff that they normally would run down the drain from the beer making…that way they aren’t getting busted by operators at the sewer plant for killing off the bacteria that eat shit…

    Respectfully yours

    Draino-dono

  • Karl

    “the Rouge Single Malt has been aged just three months in barrel”

    Wow, that’s short. Samples from a year or two ago may not be representative of what’s made now.

    I tried the Single Malt at a restaurant two days ago and rather liked it. I’m a whiskey neophyte, so I’ll leave it at that.

  • Robert

    Agree with you 100% Geoff. Tried the single malt and it was by far the worst whisky I’ve ever had the misfortune to taste. Left the worst old linoleum floor lingering taste in my mouth. The only whisky I’ve ever had that I would flatly turn down. Also, you are 100% right with the Balcones recommendation. I was blown away by their True Blue. What also irks me about the Rouge is that they are asking a criminal price for 3 month aged spirit. The fact that you can get a slew of single malts or Bourbons for significantly less, i.e. Highland Park 12, Talisker 10, Bruaichladdich 10, Evan Williams single barrel, etc, etc, just proves the fact that there are lots of clueless people out there trying to jump on the bandwagon.
    Really people, get a clue. This stuff not only is garbage, but they are ripping you off. Surprised this swill isn’t made in Eugene where they can take advantage of all the anti-establishmant pot heads.

  • Terrible Tom

    I live in Oregon and have a lot of family on the east coast. I was planning a trip to North Carolina and wanted to bring some Oregon products along as gifts. We routinely bring Tillamook Cheese and Tillamook Country Smoker meats with us, but this time I was looking for something different.

    The Rogue Brewery is 50 miles or so from my house. You know these folks – they make a variety of excellent beers and have been tremendously successful. They’re now a nationally distributed brand and doing quite well for themselves.

    Rogue started distilling spirits not too long ago, and while I had not tasted any of them their reputation gave me confidence in their product. I bought seven of their eight spirits: Oregon Single Malt Whiskey, Dead Guy Whiskey, Dark Rum, Hazelnut Spiced Rum, Spruce Gin, Pink Spruce Gin and Chipotle Spirit. They also make a white rum but that product was not listed on their website so I was unaware of its existence until after my purchase had been made – I had a co-worker that was driving past the Rogue facility buy the seven bottles listed on the website for me.

    This is not inexpensive liquor. The cheapest bottle was $30, the most expensive was $45. In total, I spent $266 + change on seven bottles. There is no sales tax in Oregon.

    The purchase was made on a Thursday. My flight was on Saturday. On Friday I went to a few thrift shops and found an $8 hard-sided suitcase. I took two old sofa cushions (I work in the retail furniture & appliance business) and cut a foam insert for the suitcase. I made seven cutouts for the bottles and got them all packed for the trip.

    One of the bottles was intended for a friend that is a known whiskey connoisseur. I planned to give him the Oregon Single Malt.

    On Friday I made a fateful decision – I did a Google search for reviews on Rogue Spirits. What I found was not encouraging.

    My confidence sank. What had been intended as a gift was looking like a mistake. The kind of present you give your mother-in-law – if your MIL has hated you since the day you met her, if you know what I mean…

    We made it to NC. None of the bottles broke – thanks to my sweet packing job – and on Sunday night we were joined by more than a few folks in my parents’ back yard for some Netarts Bay Oysters (a real treat). We had a Rogue tasting party after dinner…

    I should have set up a video camera. The looks on peoples’ faces were priceless. If a dozen people tasted six liquors each, Rogue had 72 chances to impress. They got exactly one review that wasn’t disastrous. One lady almost liked the Spruce Gin. She certainly considered it drinkable. The Chipotle Spirit was universally despised – honestly I don’t know if that stuff would be suitable for cleansing wounds. It was horrible. Who am I kidding? It was all horrible.

    I’d give detailed review of each but it would be a waste of time. They’re all bad. Very, very bad. Do not buy them for anyone but your worst enemies, and if you do that brace yourself for severe retaliation.

    Shame on Rogue for using their good name to market such an obviously inferior product. The cheapest rum at your liquor store is imminently better than this stuff, and is probably one-fourth the cost. For the price of some Dead Guy Whiskey you can buy a very good Scotch or single-barrel bourbon. Crown Royal is half the price of the Oregon Single Malt (which, to be fair, I did not taste – though my expectations are so low at this point that anything other than rubbing alcohol would be a pleasant surprise).

    I won’t be buying any more Rogue Spirits. In fact, I’m so offended that Rogue would market such swill that I’m not going to buy any more Rogue beers, either. Rogue has capitalized on their reputation as a brewer to sell a distilled product that is so inferior to anything I’ve ever tasted that I’m out – screw those guys, they’re not ever going to see another cent of my money.

    On the plus side, my buddy that was the recipient of the Oregon Single Malt did have some advice: every liquor cabinet needs at least one bottle that’s only good for a bet or a dare. I gave him the Dead Guy Whiskey as well as the single malt, so now he has two.

    • http://www.drinkspirits.com Geoff Kleinman

      Thanks for your detailed story about your experience with Rogue. Their beer isn’t half bad, it’s too bad they don’t bring the same level of care and expertise to their spirits.