Spirits producers have latched on to an idea that barbecue purveyors have long embraced: There’s nothing wrong with a little “sweet” to temper a bit of heat.
Honey was a leading flavor profile among new spirits introduced in 2012, and other honey-flavored expressions that have hit the market in recent years gained traction. Adult beverage consumers in general and Millennials in particular have shown a heightened interest in exploring the spirits category, and sweeter expressions can serve as an approachable introduction to a spirits segment or even a specific brand.
Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which debuted in 2011 as the brand’s first flavored variation, saw volume growth of 66.3 percent in 2012—expanding to 464,000 9-liter cases from 279,000 in the product’s first year. That placed it as No. 8 among the top 10 cordials and liqueurs brands by volume for the year, according to Technomic’s new Spirits Trends in Adult Beverage (TAB) Report, ranking it among such long-established names as Jaegermeister, DeKuyper and fellow Brown-Forman label Southern Comfort (all three of which lost volume). Of the top 250 spirits labels by volume, Tennessee Honey ranked No. 87 overall.
Campari’s Wild Turkey American Honey, introduced in 2007, also recorded double-digit volume growth in 2012. Volume expanded 26.0 percent for the year, and the brand’s overall ranking among the top 250 spirits brands has leap-frogged since 2010, jumping from 172 that year to 147 in 2011 and 127 last year.
New honey-flavored spirits that rolled out in 2012 included Bushmills Irish Honey, an Irish import from Diageo; Beam Inc.’s Red Stag by Jim Beam Honey Tea; and Rebel Yell Reserve Honey, a Luxco flavored whiskey. And the sweetness continues in 2013: In April, Dewar’s introduced Dewar’s Highlander Honey, which features Scottish honey and natural flavors infused into the brand’s original White Label blended Scotch whisky.
Honeyed expressions are marketed as both smooth sippers on their own and easily mixable. Jack Daniel’s suggests combining Tennessee Honey with lemonade for a Jack Honey Lemonade; Dewar’s claims that pairing Highlander Honey with cola showcases the “perfectly mixable nuances of the blend.” Jim Beam, for its part, offers a recipe on its website for a Blushing Buck, which combines Red Stag by Jim Beam Honey Tea with red grapefruit juice.
With other spirits categories rolling out such farther-afield flavors as salted-caramel and maple-bacon, the simplicity of a product infused with honey may hold appeal for consumers looking for a beverage in which the added flavor is meant to dovetail closely with the original spirit’s natural flavors. And as consumers continue to seek out flavored expressions in all spirits categories, the—ahem—buzz surrounding honeyed varieties is likely only to grow.