Whisky, good whisky, and even maybe bad whisky is good, great, even stupendous (as is whiskey, as is bourbon). But what about the new honey-flavored whisky—Dewar's Highlander Honey, for example—in which the drink has been infused with "natural flavors"? It's been done before, of course, with bourbon, with brands ranging from Wild Turkey to Jim Beam, and there are other flavors, like cinnamon, too. "As heretical as it may seem to old-school sippers, the whiskey world has taken a cue from the vodka one and gone the flavored route," writes Charles Passy in The Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch. How should we feel about the flavored new varietals that are coming down the pike, with which manufacturers hope to win over women and "novice drinkers"? Should flavored whisky exist? We discuss.
No. Why must we sully something good?
This is precisely, devastatingly why we can't have nice things: Because someone decides to put honey flavor, or chocolate, or vanilla, or pomegranate infusion, in them. It happened with coffee. It happened with "artisanal mayonnaise." And beer (pumpkin or blueberry, why?), and even potato chips—why do we need "chicken and waffles" potato chips, pray tell, or for that matter, why do we need Halloween-themed, candy-corn-creme filled Oreos? Can't the simple, basic, beloved thing just be the thing, just be enough? Why can we not leave well enough alone?
It can't, and we can't, and now it's happening with perhaps the liquor that should most remain pure. Vodka, schmodka, leave the whisky alone. There was nothing wrong with the whisky we knew, but in the minds of manufacturers, there is a new market to be found, and that market wants honey whisky. Does that mean that market should be given honey whisky? No. Anyone at home can mix some honey in with their whisky (or ask for it to be done at the bar) and I won't judge. That, along with some lemon and some warmth, is a hot toddy.
That is fine. As is a drink mixed with some pure whisky and a bit of lemon zest, or orange peel, or bitters, or cherries, or whatever. These are the reliable, cozy, homey, bar-friendly, stylish, delightful concoctions that we know and love. Add some fruit to your drink, sure, if you insist. But I draw the line at having that honey-whisky pre-manufactured. I draw the line at something called, even in fun, "the Mary Poppins of Scotch Whiskies" that women are supposed to want, with our more gentle, allegedly sweet-seeking taste buds. "Spirits brands make it clear that they’re indeed trying to woo novice drinkers — especially men in their 20s and women overall — who find straight-ahead whiskey too harsh," writes Passy. It's a gateway drink! Women are supposed to like it just as much as wine, if not better. I draw the line at something that is supposed to replace wine. Wine cannot be replaced.
There's another factor at work here, and that is that the more adulterated versions of things we see in society, the more apple-pie vodka and creamsicle gin and pickle-flavored schnapps, the less we know and value true deliciousness, true quality. Our tastebuds lose their ability to differentiate good and bad. Suddenly we want crap, and we start to think it tastes good. Honey whisky, fine, it doesn't sound awful, maybe it seems like it would even be tasty, soothing to our throats, happy in our heads. But it's a slippery slope, and the next thing you know we're leaning over puddles and licking our own hands and thinking those things taste great, too. The flavored whisky category appears, in fact, to be growing, and "the evidence suggests the category is only going to get bigger over time," writes Passy. More whisky flavors, there may be nothing we can do to stop you.
And that's true. I can't stop anyone from making flavored whisky, and I can't stop people from buying it or drinking it, or even enjoying it, either. Perhaps these infused beverages are helpful in at least one way. If you're ordering honey whisky at the bar, you're probably also going to order hazelnut coffee at the coffeeshop. So, it's kind of a getting-to-know-you drink, any way you look at it. —Jen Doll
Inset via Flickr/William Jones.
Yes, because it tastes good to a lot of people.
Have you ever tried this honey infused whisky, Jen? Even if you have—which I highly doubt is the case—and happen to not like it, a lot of other people, myself included, find it totally tasty. In fact, the reason Dewars is getting into the sweet whisky game is because other brands have had so much success selling the candied booze. After Jack Daniels introduced its honey whiskey in 2011, it saw record sales—specifically because of the popularity of flavored spirits. People like flavored booze. You might not like it, but a lot of people do.
Maybe the idea doesn't suit your refined tastes. But I bet if you gave it a chance you would like it. It sounds like one of those saccharine medicine-y things tinged with artificial terrible, I know. But it's not. It tastes like dessert. And on a cold winter's night it makes a delectable night cap for someone looking a little bit of sweet and alcoholic. Also, for people who find whiskey and scotch too harsh—for the record: I enjoy both honey-less scotch whisky, and whiskey—the honey makes a wonderful drink palatable. If that still sounds disgusting, fine: not every food has to suit everyone's pallate. (Food snobbery doesn't look good on anyone, as B.R. Myers so wonderfully explained in this Atlantic article.)
In any case, we should celebrate creativity when it comes to food and drink. Such experimentation led to classics like peanut butter and jelly—lore has it that soldiers during WWII added jelly to their peanut butter to make it more palatable—and ketchup chips. The canadian delicacy is so popular with nearby Americans that it has made its way across the border, now found in Buffalo grocery stores. These food combinations sound weird, until they're not. Ultimately, the consumer—and her mouth—is the arbiter of taste. And the people have already spoken on this one.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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