Spotlight on Spirits Article in The Publican

Here’s the article I wrote for this month’s Publican Magazine. A little insight on Flavoured Whiskey.

Who can ignore the explosion of flavoured spirits on the shelves of liquor stores these days? There are more flavours of vodka than ice cream it seems – from cupcake to marshmallow to peanut butter and jelly. Tequila, gin, and rum are now available in various flavours .

As far back as 1976, commercial bourbon distillers have been adding flavour to their whiskey (Wild Turkey Bourbon). Jim Beam brought Red Stag (cherry) to the market a few years back and Brown Forman has a few flavours on the shelves as well: Early Times Fire Eater (cinnamon) and Jack Daniel’s Honey. The Canadians and the Irish weren’t ready to let the Americans have all the fun – Crown Royal has a maple (of course) and Bushmills became the first Irish brand to produce a flavoured whiskey.

These days, the flavoured spirit category is definitely booming. According to one 2012 Neilson study, flavoured whiskey accounted for nearly 75% of growth among all whiskeys, and 42% in bourbons.

These whiskeys are not for everyone, though. There are the purists who say they’re not whiskey at all and lump them into the liqueur category. Bartenders would prefer to stick with the base spirit and make their own flavour shine through the drink rather than be subject to the flavour in the bottle.

Whether for or against, put your opinions aside and think about what these spirits can do for the whiskey industry as a whole. The person that enjoys Red Stag is probably not the same person who reaches for the high proof bottle of Booker’s, but that Red Stag drinker might be the one who would typically drink vodka-soda-cranberry, or tequila with salt and a lime wedge. Suddenly the person who didn’t drink whiskey is able to enjoy it in his or her own way. Think of it as whiskey with training wheels. Eventually, these drinkers could find themselves with a straight shot or a measure over rocks.

You probably won’t find many people sipping these liquids from a crystal glass à la Don Draper. More likely they will be chilled or added to coffee or coke. But what better way to get a sales lift than to showcase a spirit almost destined for the shooter glass. It’s the Jägermeister effect – shots.

That’s where a good portion of the liquid ends up. It’s a bridge between the man/woman differential as well as the bourbon/shooter divide. It’s a common ground where most can find a flavour that speaks to their profile.

So with the emergence of these new flavours, what is next for the flavoured whiskey category? Will the marketing teams mimic the success of vodka flavours? Cotton Candy Bourbon… Licorice

Whip Canadian Whiskey… Blueberry Blended Scotch? It is doubtful we’ll see that happen. There is a major element of integrity to these whiskeys. They are mindful of the history of the brand and the spirit category. The men and women making flavoured spirits are attaching their names to some of the finest spirits in the world. Not to devalue flavoured whiskey, but I feel it will be a slow and steady introduction rather than an arms race to produce new flavours.




Full issue here.