What happens when Adam Carmer, a University Professor at UNLV Harrah’s Hotel College, inventor of a groundbreaking spirits tasting method, and owner of one of America’s most extensive whisky bars gets into the spirits game? The answer is Freakin’ Lightning, a category-defying spirit that’s a fusion of spirit types, science fiction, and good humor.
Technically classified as a “spirit whiskey”, Freakin’ Lightning is a mix of 95% American grain and 5% aged bourbon (10-12 years). This fusion of neutral spirit and aged whiskey has been attempted before with quite disastrous results by Kansas Clean Distilled, which tried to sell their spirit whiskey to hipsters as a kindler, gentler whiskey but their efforts were quickly scoffed at by the media and has only shipped 6,000 cases of their product shipped since its launch in late 2011. Freakin’ Lightning comes at this space from an entirely different angle, and instead of trying to deliver an altered whiskey experience, it focuses on delivering some of the light flavors from bourbon in a clean and more vodka-like way.
At the heart of Freakin’ Lightning is a unique scientific process called TerrePure, an ultrasonic process which:
“Reduces several known congeners (such as methanol, isobutanol, amyl alcohols, propanol, methyl alcohol, and free radicals) … also induces a conversion of certain harsh-tasting acids to smooth-tasting esters (glycerides). This conversion produces a spirit with a much smoother mouth feel and dramatically enhanced taste and flavor.”
Most vodka-like spirits go through some sort of filtering process – most commonly activated charcoal, but sometimes coconut husks, sand, platinum, copper, or even diamonds . Commonly referred to as “polishing”, these filtering techniques help reduce many of the harsher elements which may still exists in a spirit after the distilling process. TerrePure is an interesting and unique way of going about dealing with these elements.
Freakin’ Lightning (88 proof / 44% AVB, $30) – completely colorless, you’d never guess by looking at it that there’s aged bourbon in the mix. The nose on Freakin’ Lightning is light vanilla, subtle cherry, light lemon, and a slight powered candy note like smarties. At the very back of the nose (and apparent in the empty glass after consuming the spirit) is a slight yeasty note. Nothing in the nose really clues you in to the bourbon that’s in the mix. The entry for Freakin’ Lightning is light and every so slightly sweet with vanilla and light cherry from the nose. It not until the midpalate that we get a real sense of the bourbon, with a nice light caramel flavor which is accompanied by light toasted marshmallow and a little salt. Things get a little spicy at the end of the midpalate with black pepper and the suggestion of some oak. The black pepper drives the finish with some solid spice which seems to like to run right down the middle of the tongue, like a perfectly thrown bowling ball on its way to a strike. As with the rest of the taste experience, the finish is nicely balanced and just dry enough to finish clean. The mouthfeel is also well crafted and journeys from soft and slightly lush at the opening to lighter and drier on the finish.
Freakin’ Lightning is really its own thing: neutral enough that it’s impossible to call it a light whiskey, but with enough flavor and character that’s it’s hard to call it a vodka (even a whiskey-flavored vodka). All the elements here do work and come together to make a spirit that has a little more body and character than most vodkas, but that can easily stand in with most vodka drinks. Freakin’ Lightning works well over ice, but it really shows its depth when mixed. At 88 proof and with the core of some aged spirit, Freakin’ Lightning has enough structure to really perform well in cocktails, and it works exceptionally well to lengthen out stronger and more robust spirits. Currently limited in distribution (mostly available in the Las Vegas market), Freakin’ Lightning is a fascinating and innovative way at establishing new ground in the spirits space with something that’s hard to define, but still pretty freakin’ good.