Flavored Whisky - End of Times for Traditional Whisky Drinkers?

highlander honey
highlander honey

Flavored vodka makes me gag. No, not all of them, but when I hear someone tell me they just purchased the new whipped cream flavored vodka, I do start to get a little queasy. It’s not as if I don’t like vodka, but what’s happened to vodka with flavors like bubblegum, cupcake, root beer and cotton candy is disturbing. If you want something to taste like a cupcake, fer chrissakes go eat a cupcake! So now, when I hear that whisk(e)y and even the good ol’ traditional Scotch whisky is going the way of vodka, I get nervous. Does this mark the end of times for whisky lovers? Will ice cream sundae flavored whisky be on the shelf in a couple years? The answer I’m hoping and praying for is NO.

I’m not alone in this fear. Reading some recent articles about the launch of Dewar’s Highlander Honey has columnists and consumers in an uproar. So why do it? Why take the “Drinking Man’s Scotch” and make it sweeter? For Dewar’s it’s about luring younger consumers (so-called “millennials”)  into the Scotch  market, and while not overtly stated, to get women drinking Scotch too.

I get it, I do. I’m a woman. I had misconceptions about whisky when I first started drinking. However, when I finally discovered it, I loved it. What I used to think only old men drank after a long day at work, suddenly became my go to spirit. I love whisky for what it is – sometimes smoky, sometimes with a bite, sometimes smooth and mild. While I would love for everyone to embrace whisky like I have, I realize there are still folks (and yes many of whom are women) who are a little hesitant to get on board with drinking the brown grain spirit.  And that’s where flavored whisky comes into play.

It’s not a new occurrence – flavoring whisky. It happened a little while ago with bourbon first. Since bourbon tends to be a little sweeter and a little less traditional in the whiskey sector, it didn’t seem that outlandish. However, Scotch whisky never jumped on the bandwagon – until now.  And Scotch traditionalists freaked out. Well, I do have some good news. I had the opportunity to taste Dewar’s Highlander Honey the other week and it is not as disturbing as I would have thought. Sure, it’s a little sweet for my palate, and to me doesn’t really taste like Scotch. But with that said, it’s not artificially sweet. It’s actually quite balanced and I could see it going nicely in a cocktail. Will I drink it on the regular? No. I’d rather enjoy the Dewar’s 18 year Blended Scotch. However, I am not against it, which I think says a lot coming from a whisk(e)y drinker.

For me there are pluses and minuses to the flavored whisky trend. Of course, the negatives that arise are obvious. First and foremost, I’m never one to stereotype an entire group of consumers (i.e. women and young people).  Women like puppies, and manicures and spas, right? So they would like sweet flavored whisky to go along with that.  Uh, no thank you, I’m not that woman. We’ve also got the negative that everyone is worried about – will whisky turn into vodka? By many in the beverage world, vodka is seen as a bit of a joke. It’s a shame, because vodka isn’t bad, but the marketing and ridiculous flavors have made it so.

Now, on the positive side, it may help a young man or woman to discover whisky earlier in life, when their palates are more receptive of sweeter flavors. Let’s face it, our tastes change. When I was younger I did tend to go for the sweeter stuff, so maybe, just maybe this is a great introduction. The rationale is that eventually, say in a couple years later, they’ll move away from the honey whisky and on to the traditional whisky (aka “the good stuff.”) As a lover of all things whisk(e)y, I’m keeping a positive outlook. There’s room for well made honey flavored whisky but we will not stand for bubble gum. Luckily, I think the whisk(e)y producers are in agreement with that – for now.