How do you like your whiskey? Neat? On the rocks?
Purists may revolt, but flavored whiskey is now a quantifiable trend. According to the alcohol industry newsletter Shanken News Daily, the category saw a 40 percent increase in 2015, with “nearly every leading flavored whisk(e)y brand on the rise.”
The popularity of Fireball (five million cases sold in 2015) leads the way. Whatever your thoughts on the cinnamon-inflected tipple (we also know somebody who makes an amazing deconstructed version), it does suggest a new category to explore.
“We do have a spiced vanilla flavored whiskey [we just released],” Hiram Walker master distiller Don Livermore told us (Livermore works with several award-winning Canadian whisky brands, including J.P. Wiser’s and Lot No. 40). “Ours is a little more authentic, I think. It’s more a flavor you’d already find in whisky.”
Below, a primer to a few whiskies that have successfully added a little flavor to their blend.
Fans of the popular Fireball will undoubtedly love Jack Daniel’s entry into cinnamon whiskey. Last year, during a tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery, master distiller Jeff Arnett offered his own thoughts on it: “We didn’t see the cinnamon whiskey craze coming,” he admits. “But we were able to come up with Tennessee Fire, which I’ll hold up to anything. That said, we’re not Baskin Robbins. There won’t be a different flavor for every day of the month.”
Tasting note: A little more bite than Fireball, possibly due in part to the higher alcohol content (Tennessee Fire is 35%; Fireball is 33%). Delivers a spicy cinnamon taste effortlessly with a smooth finish.
The Pumpkin Spice phenomenon has indeed spread this far. If you’re a fan of Pumpkin Spice, this Rhode Island distillery (“American whiskey reborn”) might have what you’ve been craving. It’s a seasonal release, and thus not available for most of the year.
Tasting notes: Slightly sweet, but never cloying — a nice mix of vanilla and spice but still boasting some smoky punch. Like a pumpkin pie Johnny Cash would serve.
Another seasonal Sons concoction, this whiskey started out as an IPA. It was aged in American oak barrels after distillation, then finished by dry-hopping with Citra and Sorachi Ace hops.
Tasting notes: Noticeably hoppy. A pleasant malted feel with a nice kick. This is like beer's tougher older brother who drives a motorcycle and went to prison for a little while that one time.
The best-selling Canadian whisky in the U.S. is from Crown Royal ... which was just named the world’s best whisky. Regal Apple is not that award winner, but it is the second best selling flavored whisky in the States, behind Fireball. Here, a blend of whiskies are infused with Regal Gala apples and “apple flavors.”
Tasting notes: Like any good Canadian whisky, it’s smooth. Definitely for the novice whisky drinker or, better, cocktails. Maybe in the fall.
Louisville upstart Saloon Spirits launched a line of chocolate whiskey expressions late last year, “designed for flavor cravers.” Though not as strong as the aforementioned cinnamon whiskeys (Ballotin is 60 proof), they do offer variety: Original Chocolate, Bourbon Ball, Caramel Turtle and Chocolate Mint.
Tasting notes: We admittedly downed a bottle of Caramel Turtle in just under a week at the InsideHook office. It’s rich: works for sipping, but our creative director preferred using it to spike his late-night coffees.
Purely in terms of variety and history, Bird Dog is a champ of the flavored whiskey scene: Peach, Hot Cinnamon, Maple, Apple, Chocolate, Spiced and Jalapeno Honey are just a few flavors (plus a Peppermint Flavored Moonshine which, admittedly, sounds interesting). Their Blackberry won a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition in 2010. It’s not for everyone: one of our writers, Richard Thomas, once noted in another publication “I fail to see much point to drinking Bird Dog Peach neat. I can see much merit to it as a summertime whiskey served on the rocks.” And even if it’s not your cup of brown, Bird Dog should definitely be commended for their preservation efforts.
—Clint Headley (additional reporting/tasting by Kirk Miller and Danny Agnew)
— Main image via Jack Daniels' Facebook