The mention of whiskey—or whisky, if it’s Scottish—often conjures up images of intense conversations set in smoky bars and white-haired scholars poring over books in their oak paneled-studies. It’s been considered a man’s drink for centuries, but well-established distillers are challenging that notion.
In an effort to attract more female customers and fledgling drinkers who might be intimidated by whiskey, distillers like Jim Beam and Wild Turkey have begun adding different flavors, especially honey, to their spirits. According to The New York Times, the move has paid off: in 2012, flavored whiskey accounted for about 75 percent of growth among all whiskeys.
Sales of Red Stag Black Cherry, from industry giant Jim Beam, have risen in double-digit percentages every year since its debut, according to The New York Times. The company rolled out Honey Tea and Spiced Cinnamon flavors in 2012, and plans to release an apple cider blend later this year.
Chris Bauder, Jim Beam’s general manager for whiskey, said that about 45 percent of Red Stag drinkers are women.
Sales of Fireball, a cinnamon flavored whiskey, have also been steadily climbing. According to Restaurant Sciences, a Newton, Mass. firm thta analyzes sales data about food and beverage consumption, Fireball whiskey is close to 7 percent dollar share of spirits. In April 2012, it was at 3 percent dollar share.
Chris Ellis, chief executive and president of of Restaurant Sciences, said that sales of flavored whiskey in general more than doubled in 2013. Next
The jump into flavored whiskey, however, was not made without some reservations. Bauder admitted that people in the whiskey industry and within the Jim Beam company itself were wary of tampering too much with tradition.
Diageo, an international spirits company, has purchased multiple flavored whiskey brands like Bushmill’s Irish Honey, Cabin Fever Maple Whisky, and Seagram’s Seven Crown Dark Honey and Stone Cherry. The company also owns Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, and Captain Morgan, among others, but recently said that it has no plans to introduce any new flavored whiskey drinks.
Nicholas Morgan, Diageo’s head of whiskey outreach, told Just-Drinks.com in March that the company will instead focus on how actual production process can affect a whiskey’s flavor and highlighted Talisker Storm, a smokier whiskey, as an example.
Triple Eight Distillery, a branch of Nantucket’s Cisco Breweries, is also looking askance at flavored whiskey.
While locally grown cranberries and other fruits are infused into its vodkas, brewmaster Jeff Horner said that adding fruity flavors to whiskey blurs the lines that define what, in fact, constitutes a whiskey.
“Why should whiskey appeal to everyone who drinks alcohol?” he said.
Instead, Triple Eight is looking into taking different base fermentations, such as coriander or other spices that would work well with whiskey’s natural flavors, and aging them in oak barrels, Horner said.
Pictured: Early Times’ Blind Archer, an apple-flavored whiskey.
The ambivalence hasn’t prevented some smaller distillers from getting in on the act.
Hochstadter’s Slow and Low whiskey takes its original 6-year-old Rock & Rye straight whiskey and infuses lemon, grapefruit and orange, pure cane rock candy, honey and a hint of horehound, a bitter wild herb.
Prichard’s Distillery, in Kelso, Tenn., steeps its signature Double Barreled Bourbon in discarded chocolate nibs from a local company for four months to make its Double Chocolate Bourbon. Josh Childs, who has been tending bar for over 20 years and runs Boston.com’s Straight Up blog, called it “a wonderful rich baker’s chocolate-like whiskey that’s not sweet at all” in an e-mail. Next
Bob Ryan, owner of Ryan and Wood Distilleries in Gloucester said that such flavorings are well worth it — if they’re done right.
“I think it’s an exciting world, but there’s a difference between processing it with the flavor and adding it in after,” Wood said. “I see, as a craftsman, the introduction of flavors through the process as exciting. Adding it in just to increase sales is concerning.”
Ryan and Wood does not currently flavor its whiskey and, Ryan said, has no plans to in the future. “For mom and pop, it’s hard to step into 22 flavors,” he said.
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