When you press bourbon distillers about flavored whiskey, those who make it all say the same thing: It’s a great introductory line for new consumers, and flavored whiskey won’t become flavored vodka with a wide-assortment of flavors. One of the greatest proponents of this argument has been Heaven Hill Brands (they recently rebranded to Heaven Hill Brands).
Heaven Hill has built a strong following with its Evan Williams bourbon line, adding extension after extension. I’ve been critical of them for using such a core bourbon brand in the flavored whiskey market. There’s potential brand fallout when you add flavored line extensions to existing bourbon brands. A new drinker drinks Jim Beam Honey, doesn’t like it, or drinks too much of it, and all he/she remembers is Jim Beam, never touching another drop of Beam again. That’s a theory, sure, but it’s one shared by many.
James Espey, the former North American president for United Distillers and founder of the Keepers of Quaich, told me earlier this year that flavored whiskeys exist because executives are trying to earn short-term profits for their end-of-year bonuses. In fact, when you talk to most current distillery people, they agree, but end the conversation: “But they sell. And you can’t dispute that.” I guess all companies have a fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders.
Well, at least, Heaven Hill’s latest flavored whiskey is not riding on the brand coattails of Evan Williams. But it is entering a new flavor into the category. Granted, I am no connoisseur of flavored whiskey, but I’m fairly certain Raven’s Lace PeachBerry Whiskey is the first with peach and sweet strawberry. From the press release: “…with the smoothness of Bourbon whiskey at an approachable 60 proof. Raven’s Lace PeachBerry Whiskey primarily appeals to the growing segment of female consumers for whom traditional whiskey is not necessarily their drink of choice but are interested in the sweet taste of flavored whiskeys. By all accounts, flavored whiskey is growing tremendously and makes up 12% of whiskey sales according to the Wall Street Journal. And women are playing an increasingly important role in the whiskey category with about 40% of flavored whiskey consumed by females.”
Oh, boy. I know many whiskey-drinking women who hate flavored whiskey more than me, and they’re not too keen on this whole marketing to women notion. Believe me, I know.
I honestly thought distilleries were done trying to promote flavored whiskeys to women or at least they were scaling back public efforts. With this incredible growth in Bourbon Women, Women Who Whiskey, Whiskey Chicks and dozens of other great female-based connoisseur clubs, I’ve seen a shift from flavored whiskey marketing to just pure-and-simple education. I was hoping the distilling industry had turned a corner on this effort.
I guess it’s a wider corner than I thought.
Stay In Touch!