A rich caramel taste is a common note of bourbon, with toffee and vanilla often creating a sweet finish to this American classic. Even peanut butter has gotten in on the game lately, with peanut butter whiskey becoming a pretty big deal.
But who ever dreamt of banana and bourbon?
Howler Head, that’s who. This young brand took a look at a shot of Kentucky Straight Bourbon and thought, “why not add some banana?”. Even crazier: it just might be a good idea.
The official partner of the UFC, and with a logo of a monkey in sunglasses, Howler Head is never going to be a drink that takes itself too seriously. Instead, it’s fun, fruity, but with a bite of whiskey that just might win you over.
Howler Head: The Basics
Peanut butter whiskey (see also: Sheep Dog Peanut Butter Whiskey Review)has really been the dominating force in flavored whiskey over recent years. But for those who are sick of peanut butter shots, Howler Head has come up with something a little different. This is bourbon flavored with banana.
That may sound like a gimmick, but Howler Head isn’t monkeying around. Made from Kentucky straight bourbon, aged for two years in charred American oak barrels, this is serious business.
Natural banana flavoring is then added, for a banana bourbon with 80 proof. It gives a whole new meaning to jungle juice.
Howler Head was only launched in 2020, but it managed to become a big seller in a small space of time. It’s also the “Official Flavored Whiskey Partner of the UFC” (that’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship — if you didn’t know).
Unexpectedly smooth, and with a nice bite of bourbon, there’s more to Howler Head than meets the eye. Created by Wooler Brands in North Charleston, South Carolina, Howler Head is one to look out for.
You really have to look past the screaming monkey wearing sunglasses on the bright red label to see the bourbon of Howler Head. And while it’s hard to look past that eye-catching image anyway, it doesn’t help that the label dominates most of the bottle.
Howler Head is a light amber, and an appealing spirit to look at. Yes, there is a slight yellow undertone, but it isn’t the neon yellow you might expect from a banana flavored drink.
The initial scent of Howler Head is likely to take you by surprise. Strong and deep, it brings to mind dark toffee, with brown sugar sweetness creating some depth. And then comes the banana. It’s tropical, fruity, and subtly sweet.
It doesn’t smell like that fake banana flavor that tends to be found in sweets. This smells straight from the jungle, like a banana that’s been ripening under the hot sun.
At 80 proof, there’s a fair sniff of whiskey involved as well. It isn’t an overpowering burn, but it certainly stops Howler Head from tipping too far into alcopop territory. You couldn’t confuse a glass of this with your favorite soft drink.
All in all, anyone feeling nervous about trying a monkey branded bourbon will find the nose a pleasant start. There’s something real about the aroma, rather than the artificial sweetness of many flavored whiskeys.
Howler Head starts sweet on the tongue, much like the aroma. It has a toffee sweetness, with more of that dark brown sugar, and some slight vanilla creaminess. The sugar taste is fairly strong, so those without a sweet tooth may want to steer clear.
The mid-palate is dominated by bananas. The flavoring really does come through strongly, and combined with the sweetness, there’s something of the banana laffy taffy to this bourbon — which isn’t exactly a sought after combination.
Howler Head is blended with natural banana flavoring, but the sugar flavors give it an undoubtedly artificial edge.
With that said, Howler Head is still distinctly banana, rather than just candy flavored. And there’s a slight spiciness that gives a warmth to the mouthful, and reminds you of hot jungle days.
As the banana notes light up, so does an undertone of oak. This gives Howler Head a sturdier base, and rounds out the mouthful. The depth from the oak plays nicely alongside the banana, and helps to mellow out the sugar flavoring.
The Kentucky straight bourbon stays prominent throughout, which is refreshing for a flavored whiskey. You can really taste the whiskey on the fade, giving it more bite than you might expect, but it still manages to avoid brashness.
Fans of peanut butter whiskey (see also: Best Peanut Butter Whiskey)might be surprised by how prominent the whiskey really is in Howler Head. It doesn’t just taste like banana liqueur, and the bourbon doesn’t feel like an aftertaste. The two keep a balance.
Howler Head lingers for a while on the tongue, but not necessarily in a pleasant way. Things start off good. The sweetness fades, leaving you with more of the banana, oak, and whiskey. It has a pleasant tingle, and the slightest bite.
The oak helps to round the mouthful out, adding a touch of spice and giving a more complex flavoring.
Unfortunately, what you’re then left with is the banana, and this can feel like a coating on the tongue. If you prefer your bourbon simple, and you don’t particularly care for candy, then this might be a dealbreaker.
The furry effect feels like you’ve had a particularly sugary drink, and makes Howler Head a whiskey that’s difficult to sip.
If you like the taste of banana laffy taffy, then you may find the lingering feeling pleasant. But for those who like whiskey with more tingle and less fur, then we highly recommend adding ice.
Howler Head can be enjoyed neat, although it lacks the complexity of a really good sipping whiskey. It’s fun, if not particularly layered, so not one to slowly contemplate on a cold evening.
You’re likely to find you drink it fast, and seek out some water to wash away any lingering sugars.
That said, Howler Head is pretty smooth. It doesn’t need a mixer, and it doesn’t feel too light. A decent body adds weight to a drink that could easily be lacking.
Water can help loosen up whiskey, but during testing, we didn’t find it had much of an effect on Howler Head. Give it a go if it’s your preferred way of drinking, but we found it diminished any subtleties.
Ice, on the other hand, is a fantastic addition. The cold cuts through the sweetness, and helps to mellow out the banana. It also helps with that furry tongue after effect. In a tumbler with some ice cubes, you’ll find Howler Head is fruity fun.
Howler Head isn’t exactly a cocktail whiskey, although we’re sure some innovators could come up with a banana and bourbon cocktail. If you enjoy experimenting, then you can try and mix up something special.
But Howler Head and coke is a solid choice. Again, we recommend adding ice to counteract that sweetness. It also works well as a chaser between beers, which is the perfect accompaniment for a night of UFC.
During testing, we found that Howler Head does pair best with a handful of banana laffy taffy, an ice cube, and something mindlessly entertaining.
For the price, Howler Head is pretty irresistible. At around $20 – $30 for a 750ml bottle, it’s a bargain price for some quality booze. Compared to other flavored bourbons, Howler Head is a steal.
Especially as it uses genuine quality Kentucky Straight Bourbon as a base, and natural banana flavors.
Howler Head may not be the whiskey you save for special occasions, but it’s certain to liven up a party. It tastes like hot summer days, and would be good between beers at a barbecue.
And with a price like that, you have room to experiment while you find a drinking style that suits you best. Maybe you could nail the Howler Head cocktail?
Bourbon lovers with a sweet tooth who find flavored whiskey tends to be a little too much flavor, and not enough whiskey, should check out the Howler Head. The banana can be candy-like on the palate, but the Kentucky Straight Bourbon comes through in the end.
And Howler Head hasn’t sacrificed ABV either. It’s still a solid 40%.
Howler Head can be purchased from Drizly.com.
It may sound like an insult, but Howler Head is a surprisingly good whiskey.
With the screaming monkey wearing sunglasses that decorates the bottle, and an unapologetic partnership with the UFC, Howler Head sounds more like a gimmick than a whiskey you’ll actually enjoy drinking.
Which means it is a surprise when you find yourself looking forward to the second and third sip.
Howler Head is obviously designed to attract a younger audience, and the taste should appeal to those just starting out in the world of bourbon. It doesn’t taste like an alcopop, but like a whiskey with flavoring.
You can still get the bite of a good bourbon, but the banana sweetness makes it fun.
Howler Head really weren’t monkeying around. This is some good bourbon.