A few months ago, I declared a goal to review each core Wild Turkey expression before the end of the year. Consider this post progress.
It’s not that I need or even want to review American Honey Sting. No one asked for it (especially my wallet), yet here we are. Truthfully, if I’m looking for a bourbon-based liqueur (it happens, albeit infrequently), I’m reaching for Jimmy Russell’s trusted American Honey (formally Wild Turkey Liqueur). But hey – I have a job to do, so I’ll do it in stride.
The origins of American Honey Sting are fairly straightforward. In 2014, Wild Turkey needed a spirit to compete with Sazerac’s Fireball; their answer was Sting. But let’s give credit where credit is due – Wild Turkey didn’t piggyback off the cinnamon-flavored trend. They also used bourbon instead of Canadian whisky and went a completely different direction in terms of hellacious spice – ghost pepper. That’s right, the stuff of YouTube legend. Granted the cinnamon powder challenge had its day in the spotlight, but it pales in comparison to the abundance of tear-streaming, expletive-ridden ghost pepper challenge videos to be explored.
Sounds like a fun pour already, right?
But hold up. Maybe I’m jumping the gun. Maybe American Honey Sting has an audience I’m simply not taking the time to click with. After all, they say you can’t truly experience pleasure without first experiencing pain. Wait – am I getting philosophical about a party liquor? Anyway, “they” (and me) are thinking too much. It’s just flavored whiskey. American Honey isn’t bad (it’s actually delicious given the right application). Can Sting be all that much different?
Hold my beer.
Wild Turkey American Honey Sting (2021 bottling) – “a liqueur blended with bourbon whiskey, pure honey, and ghost pepper” – 71 proof – no age stated – distilled and bottled by Wild Turkey Distilling Co., Lawrenceburg, KY
Tasted neat in a Glencairn …
Tasting notes: Five Alive citrus juice, spice drops, tangerine peel; orange-honey, cane syrup, pepper; short & sticky finish w/ sugary hot sauce, cinnamon candy, faint hints of smoke/char
Impression: Cloying. Period. Also, I can’t seem to make up my mind about the ghost pepper. Part of me finds it interesting, the other part finds it annoying. Overall, it’s very close in profile to the standard American Honey, but with a twist that doesn’t quite belong. It’s not awful. It’s just not my cup of tea–ehh, liqueur.
On the Rocks
If you think the addition of ice helps to reduce American Honey Sting’s intense sweetness, you’d be right, though only by a fraction. As with the standard American Honey, Sting on the rocks isn’t an impressive libation. Even when diluted via melted ice, it’s entirely too syrupy with the pepper element seeming even more out of place. Not awful, not great.
In a Cocktail
Surprise! Things didn’t go well in this department initially. I’m no mixologist, but I tried a lot of combinations – blending American Honey Sting with various Wild turkey bourbon and rye whiskeys. Each time I found myself believing the standard American Honey as the better alternative (if a redeemable blend at all). Then, I started playing with garnishes. Cherries, lemons, limes, and oranges didn’t really do it, but it showed that fruit could offer contrast to the ghost pepper. After some experimentation I landed on a winner – red grapefruit.
The sweet & sour attributes of red grapefruit mingle perfectly with Sting’s peppery spice. Of course, you’ll need to add a healthy bit of Wild Turkey 101, as American Honey, standard or Sting, are simply too sweet on their own for my palate. But believe it or not, the combination works remarkably well.
- 1 oz American Honey Sting
- 2 oz Wild Turkey 101
- ½ oz fresh-squeezed red grapefruit juice
In a rocks glass combine all ingredients; add ice and stir; garnish with a red grapefruit slice.
Simple. Easy. Tasty. The cocktail itself is a little cloudy, but who’s judging? Besides, there are filtration methods if visual appeal is important to you (Google is your friend). Overall, I think you’ll find it quite refreshing with a nice sweet, spicy, and zesty balance.
At the end of the day, American Honey Sting is an expression aimed at a small sector of the masses. While there are probably some bartenders that consider it a secret weapon, I’d wager Sting is a shooter for most consumers. Considering its competitors like Fireball, Skrewball, etc. it only makes sense. It’s not a liqueur I’d recommend to most; however, if you appreciate crafting unique cocktails and love a challenge, it’s a definite buy. Outside of that, the classic American Honey remains the best of Wild Turkey’s liqueur portfolio.
Enjoy this blog? Please consider supporting it via Patreon. In return you’ll receive access to exclusive rewards and weekly whiskey content. Thank you! dj