Give Me a Shot of Maple Syrup, Barkeep

It’s tough keeping up with all the new flavored spirits: honey, cherry, cinnamon, apple, maple syrup. And we’re not talking about vodka, the anything-goes wild child of the spirits industry, which has produced more flavors than there are colors in a Crayola 64-pack. Whiskey, once the most tradition-bound and austere of spirits, has developed a sweet tooth of its own.

Distillers around the world are sugaring and flavoring whiskeys. Wild Turkey Liqueur, a honey-infused bourbon, was an early entry, introduced in 1976 and reformulated as American Honey in 2006. But with Red Stag, the successful cherry-flavored bourbon released by Jim Beam in 2009, the dam burst.

There are now flavored American whiskeys from the bourbon distillers Heaven Hill (Evan Williams Honey Reserve and Cherry Reserve) and Brown-Forman (Early Times Fire Eater, which tastes of red-hot cinnamon, and apple-flavored Blind Archer) and the whiskey giant Jack Daniels (Tennessee Honey).


Canada, too, has gotten into the act; most of its contributions are informed, predictably, by maple syrup. Last year, Bushmills became the first major Irish brand to introduce a flavored whiskey, called Bushmills Irish Honey. And in April, Scotland entered the fray when Dewar’s came out with Highlander Honey.

Today, flavored whiskeys are the fastest growing segment in the bourbon industry. According to Nielsen research provided by Beam, in 2012 flavored whiskey accounted for nearly 75 percent of growth among all whiskeys, and 42 percent of growth in bourbon.

The field has become so crowded that Jack Rose, a Washington, D.C., bar with enormous whiskey holdings, has devoted a section of its menu to 25 flavored whiskeys. “It’s grown dramatically since we opened,” said Bill Thomas, an owner.

Whether the flood of new flavors is good or bad for whiskey’s image depends on whom you talk to. People in the industry say flavored whiskey is a gateway drink that will introduce novice drinkers to the spirit. Eventually, the logic goes, their tastes will evolve and they will make the leap to straight whiskey.

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