Flavoured whisky: Honey Trap?

18 September, 2015

There is concern that they are encouraging consumption of increasingly sweet drinks, rather than the drinks reflecting the already existing demand for sweet products, as the industry would argue.

And, although there is no hard evidence to support it, there are plenty who argue that these drinks, at 35% abv or more, are aimed at first-time alcohol drinkers in their late teens and are the logical next step for UK school leavers who have experienced alcohol through flavoured ciders.

Three recent flavoured spirits releases have been flavoured with apples, and Jack Daniel’s even did a limited-edition Winter Jack, containing cider.

It’s a fine line between providing a bridge for non-spirits drinkers on their road to bourbon and whisky, and to targeting young drinkers.

Meanwhile, the spirits industry argues that flavoured spirits are a force for good. It insists clear water exists between the new flavoured spirits drinks and established whiskies such as Dewar’s, J&B and Ballantine’s.

That may be true, but how long will it be before a flavoured spirit drink is released that is linked to a single malt? Can’t happen? Five years ago neither could whisky flavoured with limes, cherries and maple syrup.

For now though, the figures speak for themselves. Flavoured spirits remain primarily a phenomenon of the US and UK, with the biggest sales growth in urban areas. And on the back of them, imported whisky sales in the UK are outperforming spirits sales in general. Tellingly, both Jack Daniel’s and Jim Beam point to the performance of their flavoured spirits as a share of the imported whiskey category.

Who knows where it will all head next? But with no sign of the trend abating and with more flavours on the way, the big players are claiming flavoured spirits remains an exciting, distinct and innovative category.

“Flavoured bourbons are definitely considered innovative,” says Maxxium’s McIntosh. “Flavoured spirits recruit new consumers to the category and contribute to the overall growth of the category.

“Discovery is a big part of a consumer’s journey with spirits. Today, consumers are looking for new and exciting experiences. Flavours lower the barrier to entry and allow consumers who may not have chosen bourbon to trial it. Once a consumer enters the Jim Beam family they want to try additional
bourbons and often trade up as their journey continues.”

Certainly a phenomenon then. But whether flavoured spirits are a force for good or bad – the jury’s still out.

And one more thought: we have been some way down this road before. Anybody remember Bell’s Red Devil? No, thought not.

Tides can go out as fast as they come in.                  

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