by Neal MacDonald, Proof66 Editor
Hiram Walker provided us with a bottle of their new Watermelon Sour schnapps to review. It was first launched in 2012 as a “permanent addition” to their lineup of flavors featuring an “easy-to-drink” spirit that is “bursting with watermelon flavor” (this according to the press release).
In reviewing spirits, we have a couple of principles at Proof66.
Principle 1: you can’t hate a spirit for being what it is. That is to say, if something is trying to be sweet and potent and candy-like, then you can’t get mad at it for achieving those goals even if you don’t happen to personally like sweet, potent, and candy-like spirits. This is particularly important when trying a schnapps, which is historically very low proof and very, very sweet.
Principle 2: every producer is out there trying to make something delicious with a particular aim in mind and it’s our job to help connect that producer with its audience. That is, we put these spirits in a lot of different environments searching for those keys to deliciousness. Sometimes the audience is big and sometimes quite small (or “niche”) but there is usually some kind of audience.
So it’s rare for us to announce a spirit as a failure based on these criteria but in this case, that’s our verdict. Hiram Walker Watermelon Sour Schnapps is not good at what it attempts to do (be sweet and intense) and we cannot imagine any potential audience for it. In short, we can’t recommend this to anyone in good conscience.
Hopefully that’s enough to convince folks to move on. For those interested in the gory details, here’s the postmortem from our tasting.
Schnapps are very lightly proofed—in this case, 30—and very, very sweet. This brings them dangerously close to what we would normally think of as flavored syrups. For example, if you were to buy some coffee syrup of some flavor or another (say, watermelon) off the shelf for $8 and mix in some halfway decent vodka with it, would you have the equivalent of the schnapps? To be on the market, these spirits need to bring something more to the table than just syrup. It appears Hiram Walker answered this challenge with more sour and more sweet and more intensity for both than you can find in syrup (and that’s saying something).
The good news is there is no alcoholic heat whatsoever to the Watermelon schnapps. Of course, that’s because it’s lost in the sugar/sour rush and you probably couldn’t taste 15% gasoline in the thing if you mixed it in. But if you’re one of those who can’t stand to taste the alcohol but want some of the effects, than this is in the genre of what you’re looking for. But if you’re going to have something that tastes like a syrup—and this does—then you’d better have it taste as good as syrup. To test this, we actually did some comparisons to actual flavored syrups. In the case of Hiram Walker, the watermelon flavor is there and the sour is there… but they’re so intense that they immediately make the poor imbiber wince, shiver, grimace, and immediately reach for ice water and/or sandpaper to cleanse the palate. In tasting side-by-side with actual, honest-to-god flavored syrup concentrates, we found the concentrated syrups to be more subtle (!) and genuine in flavor than the schnapps. This was true tasting neat at room temperature and even chilled/diluted with a little ice. The flavor is overpowering and diabetic-inducing sweet with eye-watering sour.
Not a good start. But maybe it’s a mixer.
We tried this in several cocktails. First, we tried in a straight up vodka martini (3:1 vodka to syrup/schnapps) shaken on ice and served. This is a classic bar trick of ours where a little flavored syrup and a little bitters/garnish can make an excellent cocktail on the spur of the moment. Would schnapps do as well? No, it won’t. Not even close. More grimaces; more shivers; more pleas for mercy. In a fit of pique, we muddled some real watermelon and a bit of agave syrup with the vodka and made a very passable drink. It’s not the watermelon, it’s the schnapps.
We went ahead and mixed this in a margarita and then again in some spiced rum. Here, the stronger flavors of agave and the spices in the rum actually started to complement the schnapps. But the drinks simply did not work in the proportions recommended by the website (equal parts of schnapps to spirit in many cases). Again, the intensity of the spirits overwhelmed like the teen-girl mob at a Justin Bieber concert… there may be music there, but who can say? The only place where this achieved some level of drinkability was if you approached such minute portions of mixing that you’re talking drops and dashes. Yet if that’s the case then one may as well use bitters. Or the aforementioned syrups.
In short, we eventually threw up our hands: there just wasn’t much we could do to save this spirit. With such intensity of sweet and sour, this might work nicely as a hazing ritual in the college environment but outside of that, it’s hard to imagine a use. Its highest and best use is as a tincture to add a dash of color or sweet to other cocktails—which might give some purpose for having it on the shelf—but really, a little sugar and an actual watermelon would do better.
In an era that is featuring sweeter drinks and desserts and cakes and candies and whatever else can be invented, this is a spirit too sweet and too much even for the modern market. Avoid.