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.


Jeff and Leslie said...

In a word, "NO," we're not ready for flavored bourbon. And never will be! BTW I liked Jacob's Well! They should have stuck with that.

Rob K said...

I wonder if they do something cool like a second aging in black cherry wood casks? I've been cutting a bunch of black cherry for firewood and the smell is strong and distinct (and marvelous!).

Tuthilltown Sprits said...

Hi Chuck. Far as I'm concerned as long as it's clear on the label it's cool. It ain't whiskey if you're adding flavors. Any major producer trying to extend its brand recognition is savvy but these things can backfire as we know. Because you can't be a mirco or artisan distiller and be producing 500,000 cases a year, drawing from reserves to make your "small batch" goods. But in the end the label will tell all, and that is in the hands of the Fed and States.

Tuthilltown Sprits said...

As long as it says what it is on the label, who cares. People will either like it or not. The Fed specs say it all, for now at least. As long as we're all playing on the same level field.

Unknown said...

Flavored bourbons bother me in a way I can't really explain. It's like they cheapen the image of bourbon, or commercialize it too much. I don't know, I just needed to get that off of my chest. I understand the bourbon industry is a business like any other, but it makes me uncomfortable when it tries to be gimicky. Phew, I feel better already...

Lew Bryson said...

Has anyone dug up your comment from from December, 1999?

Rachael: "Wondering if anyone knows if they make Cherry Flavored Bourbon???"

Chuck: "I certainly hope not."

Heh. Just came across this while looking up 'cherry baunz' to put in my review of this stuff.

Chuck Cowdery said...

To quote Bob Dylan, "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now."

Unknown said...

I drank some today for the first time. Very interesting... I love Jim Beam, and this is pretty good stuff too...