Flavoured whiskey: Honey to the Bee?

6th August, 2012 by Becky Paskin
Mickey Finn Apple Irish Whiskey Liqueur

Mickey Finn Apple Irish Whiskey Liqueur launched in June alongside the Euro Championships

Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard, meanwhile, has said that while it’s not planning to release a flavoured Irish whiskey in the short to medium term, it is also actively looking at the potential growth of the category.

“We’re in a fortunate position where Irish whiskey is enjoying enormous growth right now, and a lot of that  momentum is coming from the US,” says Brendan Buckley, global innovation and category development manager at Irish Distillers Pernod Ricard. “The rate of growth of some flavoured brands is quick and allowing new entrants to come in. By having more entrants, it will naturally draw more attention to the category and create critical mass.

“There is potential that in a short space of time it will encroach on the flavoured vodka and rum categories, and as such we are seriously watching the sector.”

Buckley adds that if Pernod Ricard launches an Irish flavoured whiskey, it will be a “less expected flavour than honey”. His view of avoiding the medicinal cliché is shared by liqueur producer BABCO, which at the end of last year released Mickey Finn Apple Whiskey Liqueur, an apple-flavoured blend of American and Irish whiskies.

Global phenomenon?

Although Mickey Finn’s apple-green whiskey has been launched specifically with the American market in mind, Dublin-based BABCO is only testing the Stateside water in California, choosing to make its global mark in Europe first to coincide with the Euro 2012 football tournament held in June.

“We’ve launched in Europe with our Golden Boot campaign, targeting the markets that we’re strongest in and can get growth through the Irish bars,” explains John Davies, co-founder of BABCO. “We are supplying 150 bars in Ukraine and Poland, with more coming on board in the UK, France, Germany, Scandinavia and Barcelona. We’ve been working in America for 10 years and if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s to start somewhere, get it right and then move out. So it will be another six to nine months before we start looking at other US states and cities with strong Irish connections to roll our first whiskey out.” For more on BABCO’s Golden Boot campaign, see the August edition of The Spirits Business.

With both American and Irish brands focusing on the US market thus far, the question remains whether the category’s success will be mirrored in other areas of the world. Like Mickey Finn, Jack Daniel’s is testing the out-of-America markets – which aside from Canada have not been introduced to flavoured whiskeys – with the release of Tennessee Honey this June to the UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand markets.

Jim Beam, on the other hand, has noted the potential for a honey expression to succeed in the Western European market, launching Jim Beam Honey only into the UK, Germany and also Australia.

“Things are changing now in Europe and the US is leading that,” says Spiros Malandrakis, alcoholic drinks analyst at Euromonitor International. “The fact that flavoured whiskeys are much more accessible because of their sweeter flavours, even to audiences who are not so aware of the nuances in whisky drinking culture, could be a stepping-stone for younger and female audiences in mature western markets to get into the whisky category. This kind of product could have an opportunity in emerging nations as well, which is something that hasn’t been tapped into until now.”

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