Slow & Low will get you high, fast

Know that feeling when you’re three beers in at a beach party and struck with a craving for a sophisticated cocktail even though you lack the motor skills or implements to make one? (No? Just me? Anyway…)

Next time something like that happens, all you have to do is raise a toast to union workers in Kensington and pop open a can of Slow & Low.

Officially called Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye, the stuff is a rye whiskey lightly sweetened with Western Pennsylvania honey and flavored with Angostura Bitters and dried Florida oranges. It’s one of the newer brands produced by Cooper Spirits, the hip offshoot of century-old Philadelphia liquor company Jacquin’s.

Many spirits companies these days hype their terroir, their connection to their local community.

But not this one. Tours of the Kensington distillery aren’t offered, and requests for press visits are declined, because the facility is “union and not easy to schedule.” After a Hidden City writer made it inside last year, the company is even more wary of outsiders. “You can leave a voicemail but it’ll have to get approved by the office in New York,” the receptionist who answers the phone will say, in a tone that indicates little hope for a response.

The reclusiveness doesn’t keep the products from being immensely popular. Cooper’s most well-known label is elderflower liqueur St. Germain, and it also makes high-end ginger liqueur Canton. Unlike those spirits, Slow & Low isn’t meant for mixing. It’s entirely ready to drink, and it tastes amazingly similar to a smooth Old Fashioned. Since its 2014 introduction, the pre-blended concoction has won praise from a surprising number of aficionados, including local expert and former Whiskey Advocate editor Lew Bryson, who described it thusly:

“It’s all honey and orange and grain sweetness up front, pretty much tamed only by the alcohol, but the rye starts to have a say toward the back of the mouth, and by the time we’re sliding into home, it’s standing bitter rye and orange, like somehow someone mixed a cocktail in your mouth while you were taking a swallow.”

Bryson, who was sampling a limited release bottle of the special 100-proof version, concluded that Slow & Low was “[f]lavored whiskey: let’s not mince any words. But exceptional flavors, and pretty damned good.”

As of this fall — September if you want to hop over to NJ/NY/DE/etc., later in the year in Philadelphia because PLCB — Slow & Low will become what the Cooper’s claims is the “first-ever high proof, high quality proper cocktail” available in 100ml cans.

Why single-serving cans? Because they’re portable, giftable and unique. Also because cans are the new hotness across all booze markets.

Beer has come in cans for decades of course, but nowadays it’s not just the old standards — just about every craft brewery is either already canning or looking to add a canning line. Wine has stepped solidly into the can game, from Sofia Coppola’s sparkling Blanc de Blancs to Underwood’s pinot noir. There’s also already a raft of mixed drinks now available in easy-access aluminum, including Bloody Marys from Ballast Point and various “Mixtails” marketed under the brand Bud Light.

What’s different about Slow & Low is its intensity. It’s 84 proof, aka 42 percent alcohol by volume, aka about the same strength as straight vodka or whiskey or tequila.

When you get them in your hand, these canisters of flavored fuel look adorably tiny. A bit of math shows they’re not. Each one holds 3.38 oz., which is essentially equivalent to a “double” — a super-easy-to-drink double. If being able to pop the top on something like that and chug it sounds dangerous…well, yeah, it probably could be.

The promotional material for the cans calls them “perfect for outdoor pursuits, from camping and poolside BBQs to tailgating at sporting events and concerts.” Maybe don’t go swimming after swallowing one of these?

Embrace of low-level debauchery is part of the brand identity. You might not want to pull up Slow & Low’s Instagram at work, because it’s full of barely-covered female bottoms and uncovered tops (with digital pasties applied to get past Insta’s p0rn filters). A Serious Eats writeup of the spirit noted that “the marketing campaign skews a little sleazy.”

But the cans themselves don’t show any of that skin. They’re understated, even tasteful.

And the drink itself is very good, as multiple reviews attest. Especially when poured over ice.

Whether the PLCB will actually approve them for sale in Pennsylvania is another matter entirely.

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...