Whiskey has a drinking problem. Yes, sales of the brown libation have more than doubled in the last 15 years, and craft bourbon has become the biggest thing since craft beer. But whiskey is still having trouble: you can be either a hard-drinking cowboy reaching for a bottle of Jack Daniels, or a powerful executive appreciating the 50-year-old scotch you keep in a crystal decanter.
Whiskey’s problem is accessibility — and it’s a problem that JD Recobs and Chris Buglisi, co-founders and co-owners of the Misunderstood Whiskey Company, are determined to solve.
“Generally, everyone thinks of whiskey as high-end, super craft and full of tradition — or, low-end, high sugar, with in-your-face flavor. There’s not much inbetween,” explained Buglisi. These are stereotypes they knew needed to be overturned, for the sake of whiskey. What whiskey needed was something new, unexpected; Misunderstood.
“We were at a party and people were trying whiskey. A lot of them, especially the women there, were reluctant to because they knew it would burn,” explained Recobs. “Obviously people wanted to try whiskey. They wanted to enjoy the spirit that has so much complexity to it, but the whiskey burn, and the whiskey faces they would invariably make, was keeping them away. That was the opportunity we saw.”
That opportunity was in making a whiskey that can “appease the people who are drinking cheap whiskey, really sugary stuff” and simultaneously “speak to that connoisseur who appreciates the subtle notes in whiskey.”
In other words, Misunderstood Whiskey’s goal has been to create a whiskey that appeals to every class of drinker; a whiskey for both men and women, for both special occasions and rounds at the bar.
“We were taking our favorite whiskey blends and exploring the flavor profiles,” explained Recobs. “Experimenting with the different mash bills — was it a higher corn mash bill? More barley, or more rye? That’s how we were able to develop the right blend.”
Misunderstood Whiskey uses a mostly corn mash with barley and rye. The corn mash gives their whiskey a naturally sweeter taste, as compared to the fruitier, spicier notes found in whiskey made with more barley or rye.
Once Recobs and Buglisi found the right mash blend, they began searching for the right flavors to infuse their whiskey with.
“We spent two years infusing these whiskies with innumerable flavors,” said Buglisi. “And 80 percent of them were horrible. Every shelf in our fridge was taken up by Mason jars of different infusions and syrups,” including coconut, pineapple, mango, and ginger.
“I remember we decided a cinnamon-pear concoction was going to be good,” Buglisi continued. “We both tried it and we both spat it out across the table.”
Patience and trial-and-error paid off for Misunderstood Whiskey, though, with Recobs and Buglisi finding their answer to the whiskey problem.
“When you consider the ginger that comes with sushi, or the ginger in ginger snaps, or in ginger ale, you realize ginger means different things to different people. So we knew that ginger, in the context of spiced whiskey, needed to be different,” said Recobs. “After experimenting with different species and varieties of ginger, we finally got it right.”
By using a high corn mash and ginger infusion, Recobs and Buglisi have been able to craft a whiskey that has the versatility and complexity of a top-shelf liquor, but without the cost or exclusivity.
The ginger spice “takes away that burn, that lingering heat,” said Recobs. “It’s a little sweet on the mid-note, so for people who aren’t drinking so much whiskey it’s the perfect balance of sweet with spice, and it still has the whiskey body people look for.”
At the nose, Misunderstood’s ginger-spiced whiskey has hints of toffee, caramel, vanilla, and ginger. The mid-note — the flavor as you sip the whiskey — includes vanilla, chai, and butterscotch, with a smooth ginger finish. It’s “not so sweet that you can’t appreciate the complexity and the grains that are in this whiskey, but it’s also not just straight ginger,” explained Recobs.
“It’s really smooth and without the harsh whiskey burn, which is exactly how we envisioned it,” said Buglisi. “So at the end there’s a slight ginger finish which replaces the traditional whiskey burn, which is really cool.”
The versatility of Misunderstood’s 80-proof, ginger-spiced whiskey is also surprising. It’s warm enough to make a perfect eggnog with a dash of maple syrup and anise, and light and refreshing enough for a spring or summer evening — you can try Misunderstood’s ginger-spiced whiskey on the rocks with fresh citrus, or in a Blue Grass cocktail.
“The Misunderstood Old Fashioned is a fan favorite, but the ginger-spiced lemonade is perfect for the summer,” said Recobs.
Recobs and Buglisi have been sampling their ginger-spiced whiskey at events and bars across Hudson County and into Manhattan.
“At every tasting event we make it a point to find one person who doesn’t normally like whiskey, to have them sample some. So far, we’ve converted most of them,” said Buglisi.
Misunderstood Whiskey is releasing their ginger-spiced whiskey this March. 750ml bottles will be available for approximately $32. Hudson County will be the first to try it, with the rest of NJ and NY soon to follow. You can also purchase Misunderstood Whiskey online at, MisunderstoodWhiskey.com.