Thursday, February 26, 2009
Are We Ready For Flavored Bourbon?
This is either brilliant or insane, I can’t decide which.
Jim Beam has a new product called “Red Stag by Jim Beam.” The label says it is “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey infused with natural flavors.” The flavor in this case is black cherry.
The potentially insane part is not the product itself. It is their use of the Jim Beam name. The Jim Beam logo appears prominently on the capsule and in the background on the face label. The product uses the standard, square Jim Beam bottle. The side label says, “Made with Jim Beam Bourbon.”
It is 80° proof (40% alc./vol.), like white label Jim Beam.
The letter from Beam Global’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rory Finlay, says it is “something new, something different, and our first innovation in over a decade.”
I suspect he is referring to Jacob’s Well, a bourbon Beam introduced about 10 years ago, touted as “the first micro-distilled bourbon.” The idea was to capitalize on the micro-brewery craze. There was only one problem. “Micro-distilled” wasn’t just marketing fluff, it was a flat-out lie.
Beam had finessed “Small Batch” by honestly explaining that it referred to selection and bottling, not distillation. “Micro-distilled” was just a howler, no way around it. The product quickly failed and I think Beam learned from that experience. Jacob’s Well aside, Beam doesn’t make many mistakes, so although my first reaction to Red Stag was negative, I resolved to keep an open mind.
Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have said, about a book, “if you like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing you will like.” There is some of that here. If you strictly drink whiskey straight, don’t even think about trying Red Stag. If, however, you like whiskey cocktails, or whiskey-based liqueurs, you might go for this. The black cherry flavor is very good, very rich, much better tasting than the Philips Union cherry-flavored whiskey that came out a few years ago.
Black cherry is my favorite Life Saver flavor, so I like Red Stag. Although not classed as a liqueur, it put me in mind of Wild Turkey’s American Honey. It is not a similar flavor, but the same kind of beast, and probably something you would drink on the same kind of occasion.
Finlay’s letter also says, “Red Stag is created though a unique, artisanal, natural infusion process where black cherry flavors are slowly and carefully infused into our fine, four year old bourbon.”
As a whiskey drinker, I probably would dial back the black cherry a little bit to let more of the whiskey taste come through, but I suspect the target audience will be glad it tastes the way it does. It is not as cloyingly sweet as most liqueurs.
Right now, I’m enjoying Red Stag on-the-rocks with a little Stirrings orange bitters. Manhattan-ish, it is a drink I will have again.
The risk is that Red Stag may confuse further a consumer who is already uncertain about what different kinds of spirits really are, but I like it when producers take risks. Therefore, if you like this sort of thing, give Red Stag a try.