Whisky Advocate

Guest blog #4: Flavored whiskies

September 2nd, 2010

Today, I introduce Jason Cretacci, a Fine Spirits Consultant in Western New York as a guest blogger. Jason explores the flavor of things . . .


My question to the What does John know? readers concerns flavored whisk(e)ys.  I have always enjoyed Compass Box Orangerie, Wild Turkey American Honey & Phillps Union Cherry Whisky.  I have also had the good fortune to try Bird Dog Blackberry Whiskey and Whitetail Caramel Flavored Whiskey.  Now, these are not something I would drink on a regular basis, but they have their place on whiskey rack, the store shelf, and on the back of bars.  These are great ways to introduce people to whiskeys, the same way I would introduce friends to wine with sweeter, more approachable ones before they move on to the dryer varietals.

What flavored whiskeys have you enjoyed? Did you get your start on whiskeys through flavored whiskeys? What other flavors would you like to see on store shelves? What bad experiences have you had from flavored whiskeys?

Good Drinks,

Jason Cretacci
Fine Spirits Consultant
Passport Wine & Spirits

30 Responses to “Guest blog #4: Flavored whiskies”

  1. JT says:

    Strange that this topic is discussed today because I’ve been thinking about it for the past week or so…

    I bought a bottle of “Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon” about 3 weeks ago. It was only $20 (30% ABV), which made the decision to buy fairly easy–if it was terrible, I’d pawn it off on a friend. With some degree of caution, I opened the bottle & gave it a go. I am happy to report that the bottle only lasted 2 days’ worth of drinking! Aside from being quite (no, very) sweet, it was an easy drink…I just had to cut it with ice to lessen the sweetness.

    There are currently 20+ bottles of Scotch/Bourbon on my whisky shelf at home and that’s not going to change…but I am thinking that I’ll always have a bottle or two of these flavored whiskys for friends, particularly beer-only drinkers or women, who wouldn’t touch any of my 40%+ ABV whiskys. I think they could potentially represent a gateway whisky by which people could be introduced into more complex, more standard whiskys…and what could be bad about that?

  2. WhiskyNotes says:

    Compass Box Orangerie and a dark chocolate mousse is a perfect match, but I like it less on its own. In fact, I think of it as an orange liqueur (just not a sweet one) rather than a whisky. The added flavour takes away a lot of the subtlety and complexity of the original spirit.

    • Liqueurs have additional sugar or other sweetners added as part of the recipe. Orangerie is a whisky infusion: fresh orange zest (24 hrs off the orange), cassia bark and clove. The whisky is actually a blend similar to Asyla, with grain and single malt, all 10-12 yrs.
      After tasting so many whisky drinkers on it, I’ve come to realize that, in fairness, you have to judge it on its own merits. If you’re thinking whisky, yes, you’ll probably be disappointed. When you approach the nose, you’re going to think Gran Marnier, but then the palate is so distinctive because it has none of the sweetness you’d expect, and it has a light lushness with some spice notes. It blows people’s minds because its different, but that’s the fun part of it.

  3. RM says:

    I bought a bottle of Red Stag on the recommendation of some friends. I was very excited to try it , but was sorely disappointed the moment it hit my tongue. It tasted of melted gummy bears and the smell of cherry cough syrup. I tried diluting it , chilling it, mixing a manhattan with it, but that gummy bear flavor always shone through. Another time I bought Jeremiah weeds sweet tea. And that was gone in a few days. Very easy to drink on a hot day. I would get that again. It just goes to show you, there is a whisk(e)y for everyone who’s openminded!

  4. Rick Duff says:

    I’m personally not a fan of flavoured whiskys. I do keep a bottle of the honey bourbon around.. but mostly for sore throats. Of course, I don’t like flavoured teas either.
    I suppose they have their niche.
    Peat is a flavouring that has it’s fans as a flavouring in whisky.

  5. Michael says:

    Peat is the basic part of whisky making process, not a flavouring, I believe.
    I am not a proponent of wine finishes so flavouring is not even anything, I would consider. I am very much a traditionalist who tries to buy whisky from 60s and 70s and I only reluctantly making exceptions for NAS whiskies, such as Corryvreckan.

  6. Mashbill says:

    Flavored Whiskeys are not Whiskeys at all, but rather liqueurs.

  7. JWC says:

    I’ve always believed that flavored whiskys are for people who can’t/don’t appreciate good whisky. From the companies’ perspective, I’d assume that their profit margins are higher on flavored whiskys than their “regular” whisky.

  8. Mr Manhattan says:

    I make a pretty decent ‘Rock ‘n’ Rye’ based on LaNell Smother’s recipe. That’s about as much of a flavored whiskey as I would want. Oh, and maybe the Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach—but at 60 proof, that really is more of a liqueur than a whiskey.

    Really: the big problem for me is not knowing what is used to flavor (and color) most of the products that are to be found on the shelves. It’s one of those lovely gray areas. Many fruited beers fall into this same category. Yes, it’s a (insert fruit) ale, but there’s no indication of how it’s made and with what ingredients.

  9. mongo says:

    are whiskies that are briefly wine finished/aced flavoured whiskies?

    • Rick Duff says:

      That’s a tough one. Any whisky aged in a used barrel (including bourbon or sherry) will pick up some flavours of the previous object in the barrel. Technically that’s a flavouring.
      However – for categorization, I’d say only items that are added into the whisky after it’s taken out of the barrel, or a foreign object put into the barrel, would qualify as flavoured.
      (yes.. that means peat doesn’t qualify as a flavoured whisky).

  10. Serge says:

    A few remarks…
    – Peat is mostly used as a flavoring agent nowadays, as it’s not used to stop germination anymore (only in the old kilns that are still working) but indeed, I wouldn’t qualify that as ‘flavoring’ as it’s still kind of traditional. Don’t some distilleries from ‘the rest of the world’, as the Scots use to say, burn other kinds of ‘stuff’ during or just after the malting process?
    – I believe that technically, a liqueur has sugar added to it. If there’s no added sugar, it may not be a liqueur. That may be right only in Europe, not too sure…
    – Many casks are prepared/treated with ‘something’ (often sherry) prior to filling them with whisky. Is sherry poured into a hogshead on purpose and not for maturing that sherry ‘a foreign object’ or not? I don’t have the answer!

  11. Gary says:

    Not much of a flavored “anything” guy. Coffee, tea, water, whiskey, etc. But the sweet tea bourbon does sound interesting. I wonder if I could just make some myself?

  12. George Jetson says:

    Maybe I’m the exception, but I don’t see the parallel between flavored whisky and sweeter wines as an introduction to the beverage. To me, that’s like saying you start off with a wine cooler to get to Chateauneuf du Pape. I would start a whisky neophyte with one of the gentler styles of real whisky, not a flavored whisky. Maybe Glenlivet or Balvenie or a sherried style of Ben Nevis or Glenfarclas.

    A long time ago I bought Revelstoke on a whim and instantly regretted my impulse. It can be consumed, but only with enough ice and ginger ale to to completely subdue it.

    • Michael says:

      I agree that we should not consider sweet wines to be a stepping stone to reaching a sophistication of dry wines. Some simply prefer sweet wines, similarly to to those who love whisky matured in sherry casks. I do not think that someone who likes Chateau d’Yquem Sauternes will eventually graduate to a cheap dry wine.

      • Rick Duff says:

        In my experience of introducing non-wine drinkers to wine.. they generally start with a semi-sweet wine.. not a desert wine. So a Piesporter or Liebfraumilch or White Zinfandel as opposed to Chateau d’Yquem.

  13. two-bit cowboy says:

    Perhaps the fruited whisky could fit into the “other guests” category from yesterday’s post.

  14. B.J. Reed says:

    I particularly like dropping the blueberry/pomegranate Lipton Energized Iced Tea Mix To Go in my Glenmorangie 10 YO 🙂

  15. James says:

    i’m a peat guy. I love Isay and just returned from a trip there recently. One thing i do not understand is the lineup of Bruichladdich whiskeys. There are probably 30 different kinds! My favorite whiskey of all time is lagavulin 16 which is peated and I beleive is matured in a sherry cask. It is simple, aged correctly, bottled correctly and marketed as/is. It is wonderfully peated to perfection. I bought a bottle of Bruichladdich “Peat” (which is their peated version of their already peated whiskey, duh – their on Islay where everything is already peated) and found it absolutely repulsive. I was even wondering if somehow my bottle went “bad” or something, but to my dismay it did not – this was actually how they sold it. And i love peated Islay whiskey and know how they “should” taste/smell.

    I think these distilleries need to simplify their lineup a bit. Do fewer things but do them well, i say. Different ages, casks, proofs, size of casks are fine – but once you start doing all this crazy stuff like flavoring whiskey, making all of these “marketable” sub-whiskeys you cross the line. All you get is a sub whiskey. Do one thing and do it right. Dont do 30 things and do them mediocre at best.

    • Michael says:

      I completely agree with you on all the counts:
      – the beauty and simplicity of Lagavulin
      – the craziness of all the multiple releases of Bruichladdich (and other distilleries)
      – “do one thing and do it right” and the need to simplify the lineup

    • George Jetson says:

      The only thing I’ll comment about the cola wars shelf strategy of Bruichladdich is, that it greatly increases the signal to noise ratio and greatly lowers the quality to price ratio.

    • I disagree a lot

      I like a distillery that do a lot of bottlings for the following reasons

      1. There’s something for everyone’s taste
      2. Noone forces you to buy all of them
      3. Everybody should have some idea which whiskys appeals to you

      Does Douglas Laing, Duncan taylor or Cadenheads also put out too many different bottlings ?

      No, the exact reason I love an IB, endless amounts of exciting bottlings, is the exactly what Bruichladdich does. In a simple world, we can go back to the 80’s when there was just 3 blends and Glenfiddichs on the shelves, and noone wants that.

      I wish a whole lot of other distilleries were more prolific

      I don’t like finishes at all, and that includes the Laddie ones. I just stay away from those and is very happe that I can get a something I like like Bruichladdich XVII, or 3D.

      If you want laddie to bottle less expressions I really hope you don’t influence them to stop bottling the ones I like

      and yeah, we might not like finishes, but others do


      • George Jetson says:

        Steffen, it’s a case of different strokes for different folks, I guess. I have nothing against variety, but prefer quality over quantity. Why put out a dozen mediocre whiskies when three or four really cracking ones will do?

        • I agree James & George, to an extent. I loved some of Bruichladdich’s Italian Finished Whiskeys. But their whiskeys lack an identity. Regardless of which Glenmorangie or Balvenie I try, I always can taste their signature house flavors. The finishes just change it up a little. But with Bruichladdich, I fail to taste “their whiskey”. That is my biggest argument about the Bruichladdich house. With IBs, in my opinion, I am intentionally looking for something from the normal house flavors.

  16. Leorin says:

    Celp is a flavoured whisky that surprised me.
    I thought it would just be some sort of marketing hype to put a piece of celp into the bottle but there was some really nice Isaly-style malt inside the bottle.

  17. I want to thank John for including my submission in his blog. I am truly humbled, especially after reading the first 3 guest posts.

    I recently had the pleasure of meeting and talking to David Katz, the founder and owner of Zyr Russian Vodka, one of the best neutral spirits I have ever tasted. During our talk, he made the comment that he would never make a flavored vodka (unless his son, who is not even old enough to walk yet, takes over the company someday and wants one!). This lead to a discussion on the origins of flavored vodkas and their acceptance into the drinking world. Now, while gin might be considered a form of flavored vodka, it wasn’t until Absolut introduced their peppar flavor in 1986 (only 24 years ago) that flavored vodka was introduced without much fanfare. Now almost every flavor from bacon to cotton candy is available. This lead to a discussion of other flavored spirits, from rum, to tequila, to whiskey. Tequila flavors (remember the Cuvero flavors) never quite took off like vodka. Some of the flavored vodkas (Hanger One Kaffir Lime, Dutch Carmel VanGogh, & 4 Oranges to name a few) made today are just as good as the unflavored spirits and are better for sipping than mixing. I just wonder if the number and quality of flavored whiskeys will ever get the same respect flavored vodkas get today.

    I always wanted to try the Charbay Hop Flavored Whiskey & Leopold Bros. Georgia Peach Flavored Whiskey. I would not considered a flavored vodka a liqueur, nor would I consider some of the flavored whiskeys liqueurs neither. I understand they have to be judged on their own merits, but I just wonder if they will ever be held in the same regard as some of the great whiskeys discussed here.


    • John Hansell says:

      It was a good discussion topic Jason. Thanks for taking the time to submit it.

    • PH says:

      Jason, I’ve not had the Charbay Hop whiskey, but the New Holland Hopquila is quite interesting and tasty. I found the Leopold Apple Whiskey to be far too fruity for my personal tastes which tend toward the drier, but it has been universally appreciated by friends and family. I love the fact that flavored whiskies are around – the more choice the better!

  18. Chef! says:

    Does Drambuie count? I enjoy it during the holiday season mostly.

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