Virginia’s New Fake Liquor: How Nasty Is It?

by | Apr 1, 2019 | EAT DRINK

Created by a wine company to circumvent Virginia’s ABC system, these fake liquors are doing their best to imitate the real thing. But is their best any good? We suspect not… but we had to be sure.

You’ve seen them, in neat little rows next to the gallons of Barefoot, or in the fridge with the Mad Dogs and Bootleggers. They look like the real stuff — whiskey, rum, tequila, vodka, and even Fireball. Pop the plastic cap and they even smell like the real stuff. With names like Hobble Creek, Caribe Bay, Vera Cruz, Flash-Point, and Stroyski, each of these faux-liquors have their own, almost-parody take on their real-life counterparts. So we just had to know: what do they taste like?

Bottled by Maine-based company Brookstone Distilling Company — a subsidiary of a subsidiary of domestic alcohol giant Sazerac — the faux liquors are really a high-percentage grape wine flavored to taste like alcohol. Each bottle is 16 percent alcohol and 32 proof, which allows them to be sold outside Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control system. You can find them in stores that sell beer and wine, available until midnight — long after the liquor stores have closed.

And so it has come to pass that your favorite dynamic duo, Ben and Emily, took it upon themselves to try all but one of the faux-liquors (the elusive gin flavor will have to remain a mystery), to really see what these are about.

Frustrated, determined, and fueled by our shared neuroticism, we likely drove for hours, stopping at every, 7/11, BP, and back-door corner store in Richmond, leaving no beer and wine section unturned.

Often, when we posed the question about whether they sold the little airplane bottles of liquor-flavored wine, we were met with blank stares or a blunt “no.”

Our search turned to desperation as we even tried the ABC store — hoping just maybe they would have one of the elusive flavors. We were met with laughs.

However, when we did find one of the six on the market, we were like kids on Christmas morning. One of us would emerge from the dark and smoke-filled confines of the corner store and gallantly wave our bag in the air.

Finally, after two hours of searching, we were able to find all but one of the faux liquors. So, with the other remaining bottles filed neatly in a black plastic bag, we set off to test them out. Armed with LaCroix chasers and a case of IPAs, we’ll be rating these on their proximity to the real stuff, their taste, and whether or not we would drink and/or buy them again.

Buckle up, kids; it’s that kind of night.

Hobble Creek (Knob Creek Whiskey):

  • Ben: Wow, I was really bracing for something… but it really just tasted like a shot of washed-out whiskey. Maybe mixed with water. Blunt. There was a slight sweet afternote, but the whole thing was completely devoid of burn. Not a bad start.
    • Proximity: 4 out of 5
    • Taste: 3 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Maybe, how broke am I?
  • Em: Have you ever left a glass of whiskey to sit out overnight, then come back the next morning to find all the ice has melted? That’s what this tastes like. Honestly, the taste is not that far from bottom-shelf whiskey, without the burning fire finish.
    • Proximity: 4 out of 5
    • Taste: 3 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Highly unlikely

Vera Cruz (Cruz Tequila):

  • Em: The smell alone made me gag. The thought made me want to vomit. I am willing to endure the disappointment I am bringing to the table, but I couldn’t do it. One bad tequila night has left me unwilling to even drink top-shelf tequila, let alone tequila-flavored gas station wine. I’m sitting this one out.
  • Ben: Tequila in plastic is probably the sign of a bad time. That or spring break in a musty Miami motel. Either way, I skipped the salt and lime. I swear there was a hint of olive at the tail end of this one. Not fun.
    • Proximity: 3 out of 5
    • Taste: 2 out of 5
    • Would drink again: No. And I’m not sorry.

Caribe Bay Silver Label (Coco Caribe Rum):

  • Em: Picture yourself listening to Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits on cassette, casually relaxing on a tattered beach towel… as a dumpster fire erupts on the beach, flicking ash into the ocean. That’s is the equivalent to this one. ‘
    • Proximity: 3 out of 5
    • Taste: 3 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Only in Margarita-hell  
  • Ben: I’ve never had the pleasure (read: motivation) to try a silver or light rum, but the internet tells me it’s light, sweet, and less aged than your typical pirate beverage. I’ll say this: Caribe Bay Silver Label hasn’t cast the drink in the best light. Right from the start, it’s sharp and syrupy, and goes down like a curdled pint of vanilla ice cream. And it hangs around twice as long as any of the other selections on our menu, even Flash-Point. This one’s a no from me.
    • Proximity: ???
    • Taste: 2 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Most absolutely certainly not.

Caribe Bay Island Space (Coco Caribe Rum):

  • Ben: You snap awake in the first hours of the morning. Your room is still cast in shadow. The little blue dot at the corner of your computer monitor is glowing in the distance, like some far-off gas giant. Your lips are cracking, you’re gasping for air. A night of rum n’ cokes from Helen’s on Main and the PBRs you knocked back in the Uber on the way home are bubbling in the depths of your gut. There’s just one thing on your mind: water.
    You reach to your bedside table and paw around frantically. Your hands close around a Cookout Cheerwine float from the day before. It’s warm. It’s flat. And a film of ice cream has settled on the surface like silt in a pond. But in your hour of desperation, you pull off the lid and suck the whole thing down. It’s disgusting, but at the same time, it’s just what you needed. And you’re not sorry.
    This is the essence of Caribe Bay Island Spiced. It tastes like flat cola with a hint of vanilla, but if nobody’s looking, it goes down smooth. Having a bad night? It might be just what you need.
    • Proximity: 2 out of 5
    • Taste: 4 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Yeah — but shhh — don’t tell anybody.
  • Em: The taste is reminiscent of that one old tanning salon that sits on the edge of your hometown — the one that shouldn’t be in business, but is still running thanks to all the barflies named Barbara. Mixing the smell of tanning salon cream with cherry cola, this is, surprisingly, the best-tasting of the five.
    • Proximity: 2 out of 5
    • Taste: 4.5 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Three days before payday hits, sure

Flash-Point Cinnamon (Fireball Whiskey):

  • Em: This one made me reevaluate my life decisions. It goes down all-but-smooth, with the lingering taste of regrettable memories from high school, finished off with an over-the-top unbearable cinnamon finish.
    • Proximity: 4 out of 5
    • Taste: 2 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Eh, why not
  • Ben: Cast your bets. Flash-Point is the most likely candidate to taste like the real thing. Come on, just pile on the cinnamon, how hard can it be? It’s been years since I’ve delved into the world of Fireball, that sweetly-sick taste of adolescence. But from what I remember, this knock-off is actually multiple times more cinnamon-y. It burned like you could tell it was hiding something. But, overall, not bad.
    • Proximity: 4 out of 5
    • Taste: 4 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Sure.

Stroyski (Stoli Vodka):

  • Ben: Take the shot fast, and there’s a moment of pure nothingness. Like water, or ice — an absence of taste. But give it a second or two, and the regret sinks in. Stroyski tastes like a McDonalds PlayPlace ball-pit smells, or maybe a 25-cent bouncy ball dispenser doused in gasoline and on fire. It tastes like an overcooked chopstick. Give it to me straight doc, just don’t make me drink this again.
    • Proximity: 3 out of 5
    • Taste: 1 out of 5
    • Drink again? No. Just no.
  • Em: Do any of you remember the stop-smoking commercial in which the girl licks a trash can, a doorknob, anything disgusting she could find? Yeah, that commercial lied. That’s not what your mouth tastes like after smoking a cigarette. It is this putrid fake vodka. I had no idea that something could be more vile than Burnett’s, but I was sadly mistaken. A watery vodka taste with a burnt-tire finish is never the answer.
    • Proximity: 2 out of 5
    • Taste: 1 out of 5
    • Would drink again: Nah, I’m good

Written by Benjamin West and Emily Holter; top photo via B&B Distributors/Twitter; other photos by Ben and Em, with special thanks to The Rock

RVA Staff

RVA Staff

Since 2005, the dedicated team at RVA Magazine, known as RVA Staff, has been delivering the cultural news that matters in Richmond, VA. This talented group of professionals is committed to keeping you informed about the events and happenings in the city.

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