For generations, whiskey makers prided themselves on developing a signature flavor from a secret recipe. These days, in America and Canada at least, distillers are pumping out new flavors—and copying one another—as if there was a prize for the newest product on the market. For this season, it's looking like we'll be drinking a lot of maple.
First, some context: Flavored bourbons and bourbon liqueurs really kicked into high gear in 2009 with Jim Beam's Red Stag, a black-cherry-flavored bourbon that pairs well with Coke for a boozy take on a childhood favorite. Drinkers went crazy for it, and it wasn't long before other whisky makers jumped on the bandwagon, releasing similar flavors as well as some new ones. Thus, the flavored whisky arms race began.
After cherry whiskey came cinnamon whiskey, most notably evidenced in the sickly-sweet-yet-irresistible Fireball liqueur (which has become a top ironic shot among bartenders in America). Every spirit maker from Chicken Cock to Canadian Mist jumped on the cinnamon bandwagon.
The flavor wars brought renewed attention to Wild Turkey's American Honey liqueur (which has been around since the 70s), inspiring Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey, Evan Williams Honey, and even oddballs like Barenjager Honey & Bourbon, an offshoot of the obscure German herbal liqueur. Honey became such a huge trend that even the too-fancy-for-trendy-flavors Scotch whisky folks got in on it with Dewar's Highlander Honey released earlier this year.
Now many whiskey makers are turning their attention to maple: The list of bottles soon to hit shops—and bars near you—includes Jim Beam Maple, Knob Creek Smoked Maple (also made by Jim Beam), and Hudson Maple Rye Whiskey. They join Maple Mist from Canadian Mist, Crown Royal Maple Finished Whisky, Tap 357 Canadian Maple Rye Whisky, Cabin Fever Maple Whisky, and Sweet Sippin' Canadian Maple Whisky. Most of these taste less like something that comes out of a tree and more like what you might squeeze from a Mrs. Butterworth's container—think "maple flavor" with a margarine finish. You'll definitely want a chaser of pancakes.
The timing is perfect, in some ways, as cocktail fans are looking for seasonal ingredients to add to drinks. Cinnamon whiskey, for example, goes great in hot apple cider. Honey is fantastic in tea, and all these new maple flavored whiskies will make for some mean Hot Toddies.
—Camper English is an international cocktails and spirits writer and the publisher of alcademics.com.
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