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Corsair Quinoa Whiskey

There’s a reason why the fictional fashionista play-dater in the Pinterest site My Imaginary Well-Dressed Toddler is named Quinoa. With her penchant for Gwyneth-inspired phrases such as “conscious un-pairing” when talking about her ousted friend Boursin, Quinoa never shows up to a first-time playdate without her own lighting. Apparently, there’s just something about this protein-packed seed that, despite being on the human menu for nearly 4000 years, feels forever trendy.

Once so sacred to the Incas that the conquistadores declared it blasphemous, quinoa is now in a resurgence of popularity, particularly in America and Japan. A few years ago, its red and white varieties became the stuff of whiskey, as well.

Darek Bell of Corsair Distillery has kept his tradition for innovation going with a whiskey made from a mash of un-malted quinoa seeds (20%) and barley (80% – a portion of which has been kiln-toasted). The whiskey is then aged 6 – 18 months in new oak barrels with a somewhat heavy #4 char and bottled at 92 proof. Bell, who once trained at the Bruichladdich Distilling Academy on Islay, is at heart an experimental whiskey-maker. I’ve reviewed a couple of whiskeys from him so far and the remaining ones on his website’s list read like this year’s Christmas list. So far, Bell is the first distiller to put quinoa to what I consider its only proper use.

While one can have a dram and feel confident of having met one’s intake of iron, lysine, riboflavin and manganese, it’s not without getting caught in yet another debate. Is it really whiskey if quinoa is not a proper grain, but a relative of spinach? I know I should come down hard on one side or the other of this debate, but as evidenced in past posts I’m of the rather simple-minded opinion that if it tastes pretty much like whiskey, then it’s whiskey. Corsair’s Quinoa is a winning one (quite literally: Silver, 2011 NY International Spirits Competition and Bronze, 2012 American Distillers Institute Awards). The distillery itself won Whiskey Magazine’s Craft Distillery of the Year and Innovator of the Year so it’s definitely one to keep on the radar when looking for a new and singular whiskey-drinking experience.

Color: Old oak. Nose: Sweet-smelling PVC glue – don’t wrinkle your nose, there’s a reason it’s huffed – which gives way to candied orange.

Mouth: Half-cooked walnut bread with a slab of butter on top. Gingerbread rolled in for the long finish. Interestingly, something floral played background notes from start to finish.

While I ordinarily reach for a heavily caramel bourbon or a high-spice rye, I actually had a lot of fun with this spirit — it’s an excellent departure from the usual.

You can find it at for $49.99 a 750 mil bottle. It’s not yet available internationally through The Whisky Exchange, but they do have other Corsair products, so one can be hopeful of more being added someday.

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