Spirits these days are coming with an increasing variety of flavors, including cherry, honey, cinnamon, maple syrup, and apple. And while you may think these are strictly for vodka, the anything-goes liquor of the spirit industry, and which has such bizarre flavors as Froot Loop and whipped cream, flavored whiskey is joining the game, too. Once one of the most tradition-bound of spirits, whiskey has developed a sweet tooth of late. Just take for example Wild Turkey Liqueur, a honey-infused bourbon that was reintroduced to the market as American Honey in 2006. But this was just the beginning. It seems that when the flavored whiskey Red Stag, Jim Beam’s cherry bourbon, was released in 2009, the dam burst.
Now there are flavored American whiskeys from Heaven Hill (the Cherry Reserve and the Evan Williams Honey Reserve) and the Early Times Fire Eater from Brown-Forman, which tastes like spicy cinnamon. Jack Daniel’s is getting in on the racket, too, with Tennessee Honey, whose name speaks for itself.
American whiskey distilleries aren’t the only ones. Canada is joining the revolution with a variety of maple-syrup flavors, while the Irish Bushmills became the first of its country to introduce flavored whiskey under the name of Bushmills Irish Honey. It wasn’t long after that Scotland joined, when Dewar released the Highlander Honey in April 2013.
These days, flavored whiskeys are the fastest-growing trend in the bourbon industry. Beam-provided research from 2013 indicates that there has been nearly seventy-five percent growth in all flavored whiskeys, and a forty-percent growth in bourbon.
This trend has not gone unnoticed in bars and other establishments that serve spirits. Jack Rose, a Washington, D.C., bar known for its whiskey selection, has a section of its menu devoted to twenty-five flavored whiskeys. Owner Bill Thomas has noted that the section has grown dramatically since it was revealed.
While it is undoubtedly popular, not everything thinks these new flavors are good for whiskey’s image. Some industry members think flavoring is a good way to introduce novice drinkers to whiskey; the logic goes that their tastes will evolve, and soon enough they will make the leap to classic whiskey from flavored whiskey. But some purists think that flavored whiskeys have more in common, commercially speaking, with faddish popcorn vodka than with what whiskey ought to be. Flavored whiskey, they argue, is not meant to cultivate new whiskey drinkers but to appeal to flavored vodka drinkers who may want to try flavored whiskey.
Indeed, many were skeptical as Jim Beam prepared to roll out its flavored whiskey, Red Stag. Even the company itself wasn’t so sure it was a move in the right direction Despite these concerns, the market for flavored whiskey has continued to grow, and later this year, Beam will release its fourth flavored whiskey, Hardcore Cider. Industry officials also recognize that adding flavored whiskey to the menu may have bring in more women drinkers. This tactic has worked, by the way: almost half of Red Stag drinkers are women. Still, gender is only half the story. Just as flavored whiskey appeals to women, it’s undeniable that men are becoming more fond of it, too.