This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what we are eating, drinking, and buying right now. Here, contributor Liza Weisstuch writes about Skrewball peanut butter whiskey.
As a Serious Drinks Writer and competition judge specializing in whiskey, I have tasted exquisite drinks in dreamy places that read like parodies: a 40-year-old single malt Scotch on the wind-swept coast of Islay; decades-old bourbon extracted from a barrel by an 88-year-old distiller in a humid Kentucky warehouse. And while I’m serious, I’m no traditionalist. I’m always down to try a whiskey distilled from unusual grains or finished in an unconventional barrel, all in pursuit of new flavors. Actual flavored whiskey, however, has never seemed like an exercise in revealing anything new, more an attempt to cover something up. Then Skrewball peanut butter whiskey tossed me a curveball.
The night after Thanksgiving last year, a friend offered to buy a round of Skrewball at a trendy downtown Manhattan bar. I balked. Then I took a whiff and breathed in a generous measure of humble pie. I was floored. The nose offered dense, rich peanut butter notes, not some questionable simulation of the stuff, which is all too often the case with flavored spirits. (I’m looking at you, Fireball and Crown Royal Salted Caramel.) Bolstered by whiffs of buttery pastry, a classic American whiskey note, it evokes warm peanut butter pie. The flavor lives up to the aromatic promise, but with a boozy lift—take that peanut butter pie and soak it in whiskey. I started imagining ways to use it: mixing it with jammy cassis. Giving an old-fashioned a nutty jolt.
I bought the next round.
The creation of Steven Yeng, a Cambodian refugee, and his wife, Brittany, a chemist-turned-attorney, Skrewball was inspired by Steven’s appreciation for and love of peanut butter, one of the first American foods he tried when he arrived in California as a child. In 2021, the brand clocked 1,976% growth over 2020, and in March 2023, drinks giant Pernod Ricard acquired a majority stake. This dovetails with wider industry trends. According to IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, the volume of flavored whiskies, from Fireball to products by Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s, Wild Turkey and many more, grew by 12 percent annually between 2016 and 2021. In 2021, it accounted for over one fifth of the total whiskey volumes in the US.
The product was undoubtedly designed with fun in mind, but my inner Serious Drinks Writer kept wondering, is it bourbon? Rye? Is there an age statement? And how do the peanuts get in there? My detailed inquiries to a press rep were met with, “[It’s] an American flavored whiskey that utilizes corn and barley at its base, infused with natural flavors.” Not quite what I was hoping for, but it’s a lesson: Think too hard and you might ruin the fun.