Flavoured whisky: Honey Trap?

Pernod Ricard uses the words ‘Spirit Drink’ in capitals on its Ballantine’s Brasil before describing what it is and using the words ‘scotch whisky’.

Meanwhile, in Ireland, Paddy Bee Sting hedges its bets and uses ‘liqueur’ and ‘whiskey’ in the same description note.

The spirits companies might not be totally sure what they’re selling but selling they are. And they’re not too fussy who comes along for the ride, either. Southern Comfort has clearly been given a new lease of life by the trend, and isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth. The liberal use of the word ‘liqueur’ could well be pumping new life into that much maligned and oft ignored sector, too.


This would seem to be a remarkable development, given that one would assume the flavoured spirits sector appeals to a younger drinker. But is that right? What the producers do seem to agree on is that the new drinks are appealing to people outside the whisky category.

“With whiskey traditionally viewed as a spirit for an older audience and less accessible than white spirits, the introduction of flavours and brand extensions such as Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey has successfully drawn non-whiskey drinkers into the fold and broadened the category’s appeal,” says Crispin Stephens, head of commercial, planning and activation at Brown-Forman, owner of Jack Daniel’s.

“The addition of sweeter tastes has enabled brands to leverage connections with typically non-whiskey drinkers and become relevant among a new audience, who often prefer sweeter serves and cocktails, invigorating the whiskey category and attracting non-whiskey drinkers.”

It’s still early days for clear trends to be established but Maxxium, which distributes the Beam range of flavoured spirits, has started drilling down into its market research, and while it agrees about the new drinkers, it is also noticing some more surprising results.

“Interestingly from retail shopping data in the UK we can see Jim Beam flavours are over indexed in male shoppers,” says Maxxium UK’s marketing controller for imported whiskey, Janice McIntosh.

“In the UK, we find both men and women enjoy at least one of the flavours within our portfolio.

“The Jim Beam Maple and Jim Beam Honey shopper is more affluent than the Red Stag shopper. In (supermarket) Tesco, the largest shopper group for flavoured spirits is aged 35-55, which is positive news.”

 Brown-Forman backs up its findings with another statistic, which also looks at Tesco customers. It found that well over 90% of customers who bought Tennessee Honey had not bought a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Old Number 7 in the past year, so it is not cannibalising sales.

When you consider that Tennessee Honey accounted for £55.7m worth of sales last year, and has been growing by 24.1% a year in both on and off trade, you can see the attraction.


But the category doesn’t come without its critics. Bacardi with Dewar’s and Pernod Ricard with Ballantine’s have been accused of ‘dumbing down’ the scotch blended whisky sector and denigrating long-established and world-renowned scotch brands.