Back in February, when Beam Global announced that it was launching Red Stag, "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey infused with natural flavors," I couldn't decide if they were brilliant or crazy.
Many other American whiskey enthusiasts used much stronger words. Even before anyone had tasted it, they were calling it "Red Gag" and worse. The reaction was visceral and the anger real. There are, of course, some people who take personal offense if you put water or ice in your whiskey, let alone Coke or, heaven forbid, concentrated cherry juice.
Beam Global now reports that Red Stag has been the most successful new product launch in the whiskey category in the past five years. They also said this: "With the creation of a new segment through Red Stag, Beam Global continues to grow the American whiskey category and entice new legal purchase age consumers to try whiskey for the first time."
The Red Stag haters should ponder that. Younger people (and I mean young adults, not kids) tend to like sweeter drinks. Most of today's popular cocktails feature sweet fruit flavors. If a young adult goes for Red Stag rather than a drink made with Captain Morgan Rum, or Southern Comfort Liqueur, or Starbucks Coffee Liqueur, which choice is better for keeping the bourbon distilleries in business?
I doubt anyone would accuse me of giving any producers a free ride. My main criticism of Beam, as I wrote here, is that even if I, as a serious whiskey lover, accept that Red Stag has its place, what are you doing for me?
Another way for the serious whiskey lover to look at Red Stag is that, for what it is, Beam did it the right way. Every cook will tell you that you can't make a great dish without great ingredients. To make Red Stag, Beam took their four-year-old flagship bourbon and infused natural cherry flavor into it using a fairly complicated process that they tried to explain to me but I don't quite understand. Suffice it to say that they didn't take shortcuts.
It would appear that Beam set out to make the best, finest quality cherry-flavored bourbon that they could. They didn't have to do that. There are flavored whiskeys out there that don't go to all that trouble. Beam did and they were proud enough of the outcome to risk their most valuable asset, the Jim Beam name, on it.
I like it when companies take chances.
They didn't just do it right on paper. The product delivers, you can taste the difference. It has a richness and depth of flavor that, for example Phillips Union cherry-flavored whiskey can't touch.
Ninety percent of the time, my drink of choice is bourbon neat, but last night I had a whiskey sour. (Okay, I had two.) I've also been known to quaff a manhattan or margarita.
I found that I liked Red Stag on-the-rocks with a little Stirrings orange bitters and it didn't take me long to go through my first bottle.
Some people worry that accepting something like Red Stag lowers the standards and threatens the quality of American whiskey, which is admittedly always battling a bit of an inferiority complex vis a vis single malt scotch. Though before any scotch snobs get all high and mighty, what do you think a sherry cask finish is?