Thursday, October 30, 2014

If You Like Them, Drink Them. Just Know They Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Whiskey

Fireball, a hot cinnamon concoction, is the spirits fad of the moment. Of Canadian origin, it seemingly came from nowhere and has soared to massive popularity. There was a misunderstanding in Finland about the product's ingredients, but that means Fireball is now sold in Finland.

Then Diageo introduced Pie Hole. According to the web site, Pie Hole is "a tempting blend of premium whiskey & delicious pie-flavored liqueur." There are now a million of these products. Diageo's Crown Royal has apple and peach flavors. Honey is everywhere. Maple is nearly as ubiquitous. Scotch and Irish whiskey makers are in the act now too.

Clearly, a lot of people like these products. There has always been a market for sweet and fruity (or nutty) drinks. They're made in a lab with, essentially, vodka as a base. Even products like Jack Daniel's Honey and Pie Hole probably contain more vodka (i.e., grain neutral spirit) than they do whiskey. Fireball is 'whisky with natural cinnamon flavor,' but the whisky base is nearly flavorless.

These products are cheap to make. Most of the expense is in marketing.

What does whiskey have to do with it? Nothing. Drink these products if you want to, really. It's your mouth. Just don't tell yourself you're drinking whiskey. It's kind of great that whiskey is so popular right now that everybody wants to slap that word 'whiskey' on their label. Kind of great, kind of not.

But drink them if you want to, it's fine, it just has nothing whatsoever to do with with whiskey. Whiskey should taste like whiskey. These products don't. Many, like Fireball and Pie Hole, have Canadian whisky as their base. The whiskey flavor in Canadians is light to begin with. Throw in other alcohols, sweeteners and flavorings, and what little whiskey flavor there was disappears immediately. The whiskey is contributing nothing to the drink except its alcohol, which vodka could do just as well.

Seemingly, the main thing it contributes is the word "whiskey."

So drink whatever you want, just don't kid yourself. This stuff is not whiskey.


Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck,

I follow your blog and appreciate your writing. I discovered bourbon about two years ago, and am doing intense research on the matter, mainly trying to figure out the core bourbons for the cabinet. So far, buffalo trace, evan williams bib, VOB-BIB, Wild Turkey 101 are the key players.

I thought you were joking about "pie hole." Then I found their website.

One really has to wonder about what some of these marketing folks are thinking. Pie Hole? Really?


This is my first post to a bourbon blog.

Thanks again.


Andrew said...

Piehole? PIEHOLE? I had to check the TTB to make sure that this isn't a joke, because what in the Sam Hill is this? Will the flavoured whisky market ever hit saturation like flavoured vodka did?

I don't know why someone just doesn't go for broke and make a flavoured spirit whisky, it's already 95% vodka and people can still tell their friends that they love drinking whisky. But then maybe it's a good thing that the factory runoff at Crown Royal and Canadian Club is being taken away instead of bottled under it's own label.

Anonymous said...

I just read about fireball. The issue is they use polypropylene glycol a type of antifreeze in the chemical soup they lovingly refer to as whiskey.This had something to do with some European countries initiating a recall of the stuff. Chuck what did you think of Knob Creek entering the "flavored whiskey" game. I personally feel this type of product should be clearly labeled as a liqueur. Also at what point do we need to ask for ingredients to be listed like food products require. I wonder do I have a legal right to know that Fireball has glycol in it before I decide to purchase and more importantly consume it. I would not drink a product like that regardless but just generally speaking.

Rob K said...

Much like how so many cocktails have been called Martinis that had nary a drop of dry vermouth or gin (or being generous, vodka). People want the caché without the reality.

Anonymous said...

This blog from the Department of Redundancy ........Department.

So, what your saying is, I should drink whatever I want?


Mr. Sausage said...

I'm all for these abominations. Let the chuckleheads have their candy hooch. Lord knows we don't need more folks drinking the real thing.
Finland is a start. We need all the emerging whiskey markets to develop a serious sweet tooth. Leave my bourbon alone.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Ethylene Glycol is the one you can't drink! PG is just fine.

Anonymous said...

At our DSP we have been talking about making a Bourbon Flavored Vodka. Under the TTB regulations, you can never "unmake" anything. Just like you can make a whipped cream brûlée bourbon by first aging 51% corn in new oak for somewhere around 30 seconds, there should be no problem first making vodka , filter it, add some corn whiskey, and put it in a barrel for a minute or so. How easy is that ?

Or how about Vodka flavored Bourbon ? First you take 51% corn! age it for somewhere around 30-60 seconds in new charred oak, which then legally locks it in as bourbon. Then take it out of the oak, re distill it to 96ish , filter lightly! and viola ! Yet another TTB masterpiece,

Chuck Cowdery said...

But if you want to sell it, better put in a lot of sugar.

Jeff Renner said...

Anonymous above erroneously said that these products contain polypropylene glycol, not propylene glycol. The former is indeed toxic, but is not used in foods. The latter is used in foods. It is also used as an antifreeze, but that means nothing. My salad dressing has window cleaner in it. Vinegar. Ethylene glycol, the more common antifreeze, is indeed toxic, as you pointed out, Chuck.

Anonymous said...

As Anon said above:"I personally feel this type of product should be clearly labeled as a liqueur"
Yes! I assume it's not a regulatory issue, but a labeling/marketing preference with the producer. I have had a Fireball and a Red Stag from time to time in a bar. To me it was a "shot". Nothing to savor. Dave S

Anonymous said...

I tried Fireball once. I like whiskey and I like cinnamon. Fireball did NOT taste anything like whiskey. It tasted more like cheap cinnamon schnapps.

DMcCunney said...

I tasted the Fireball product at a restaurant in VA while visiting friends. They were trying to make a spirit that tasted like the hot cinnamon jawbreaker candies, and succeeded. The nose announces the cinnamon before you actually taste it. The hot is a restrained overtone.

I wouldn't drink it straight. I *would* use it as an ingredient in something else, like a dessert dish that wanted a splash of a spirit. (The restaurant mostly pushed it as a mixer in something like cider.)

It's an amusing novelty, but I don't pretend to be drinking whiskey if I have it.

Anonymous said...

I heard a radio ad this afternoon for a chain restaurant that mentioned their "Pumpkin Old Fashioned" drink special. Barf.

Anonymous said...

Man, who's being a whisky snob, now? I believe the term you used to describe what your doing here was "busy body"?

Anonymous said...

"Sweet! BUT NOT TOO SWEET." Yeah no, they're disgustingly sweet and chemically tasting. Had samples of the entire line-up at rep tasting. This stuff is just AWFUL. Literally the worst thing I've tasted this years.
This is one instance where Chuck's forthright spleen toward Diageo is absolutely understandable. These things are ghastly.

Anonymous said...

The comment about Fireball tasting like schnapps has a definite basis in reality. Fireball has been around for decades, and it began as part of the Dr. McGillicuddy's line guessed it, schnapps. It was called Dr. McGillicuddy's Fireball Liqueur (or something like that) back then.

It was only after it had been around a long time that it was spun off from the Dr. McGillicuddy line as its own thing. Then some clever promotion (brand ambassadors buying shots for the house at bars, bartender swag) started boosting it big-time.

Anonymous said...

I thought about trying Honey Jack, because I have enjoyed occasionally a cocktail I make at home with Jack and a little local honey, but after reading this, I'll stick with my home cocktails. Good to have this info-- thanks!

Brian McDaniel said...

Example of the kind of people who like this stuff:

Anonymous said...

Just a word about Fireball and propylene glycol. The antifreeze angle is a strawman. PG is commonly used in foods and cosmetics and medicine, it's not the same as EG, but it is not safe for everyone. There was at least one case of PG toxicity from someone overindulging in Fireball, and a lot of people are allergic or sensitive to it. It's hard to avoid since it's sold under so many different names and isn't always listed as an ingredient, but for those of us with a sensitivity to it, propylene glycol (or polyethylene glycol) is no good. It's likely to be put into anything with added flavor to bind the flavor. Straight bourbon for me, thanks.