Honey flavored whiskey may be a threat to the manlihood of purists, but if trend stories and staggering data on the quickly emerging market are to be believed, even the manliest of drinkers should know that real men, these days, drink syrupy hooch. Indeed, the rise of flavored whisky ("e" or no) was supposed to attract ladies — who don't like "real" alcohol, obviously — but it's cross-brand appeal has shown staying power among men, of all genders. "I'd say more men drink it now than women do," Jimmy Russell, master distiller at Wild Turkey, which has a honey infused offering, told The New York Times's Robert Simonson. Beam tells the paper that its new-ish Red Stag bottles, which come in cinnamon, honey, and cherry varieties, claim 45 percent of its drinkers as women. Which means that no matter how well Skinnygirl is doing for the classic Kentucky purveyor, a majority of the people buying its sweetened-up bourbon... are dudes. The dudes at GQ find Bushmills Irish Honey "smooth." The fellas at Esquire, while conflicted about mixology-purist-vs.-swilling-masses divide, are getting Obama's budget involved. Evan Williams Honey Reserve, 7 Crown Honey and Cherry — flavored sales are going up across the board.
And yet: The trend's infection among men has been lost on manly men who still see flavored whiskey as some sort of girly loser drink.
"Flavored whiskey, as a category, is not meant to create new whiskey drinkers, but to make flavored-vodka drinkers feel like grown-ups," one Manhattan bar owner told the Times's Simonson. The implication being that flavored vodka drinkers — traditionally women — aren't "grown-ups," while flavored whiskey drinkers — sage old white men, apparently — are the big kids of drinking. Many of the companies getting into the new market (which is to say, almost all of the major liquor brands in the world) have admitted to diversifying with flavors as an easy grab for people who typically enjoy vodka drinks over darker spirits. Kansas Spirit Whiskey even went so far as to create a crystal-clear whiskey that tastes like "marshmallows and cotton candy." One whiskey purist called that creation a "whiskey for horrible people," while also saying the creator's wife, who came up with the idea, "ain't much in the intelligence department."
But the market grab has worked: Flavored whiskeys are popping up all over the place, as distilleries see the trend take off and open up whole new customers converting at the bar and at home. And, it turns out, most of these flavored whiskey drinkers aren't vodka swagging women — they're guys who've secretly discovered that honey-flavored Jack tastes good. Enter the real problem for these drink-expert mixologist types — or just plain old whiskey-neat boozehounds: Not only do all these females sipping a dark drink on the rocks threaten their romanticized image of manlihood, but with other men joining in on the sweet-brown-stuff parade, they fear they, the purists, might actually like the new drinks, too. And what would Hemingway have to say about that?
Of course, it's ridiculous that a beverage could just be for boys or girls. People should drink whatever they like, and it turns out a lot of people of all genders like a less harsh variety of whiskey. (Though, it should be noted, nobody is forcing any honey flavored whiskey down anyone's throat.) Sorry if that makes some of you staunch whiskey advocates feel a little less cool about yourselves, enough so that you need to make fun of people with different palates than yours. If it makes you feel any better, "many serious Scottish whisky distillers have infused herbs and other flavours (note: UK Spelling) into whisky (note Scottish spelling) in their product lines for years," according to one Atlantic Wire commenter. See? It's all a part of the great drinking tradition.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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