Probably not anytime soon, no.

Probably not anytime soon, no.

 

Let's start with something pretty to the point on this subject: we won't be covering many flavored spirits. That includes cupcake vodka, maple whiskeys, coconut rum, and the like. I'll try to lay out a rationale for this. 


I suppose the first place to start is my own personal MO: all of my reasons for wanting to write about good liquor comes from a place of passion. That is, a passion for exploring the nuance of a spirit, learning how the production process of alcohol creates a unique product, seeing how industry decisions shape product mixes, and discussing how different people appreciate (or revile) certain expressions.

I'd argue this degree of discussion and introspection is lost when we analyze spirits that have been engineered not to taste like spirits. Fireball cinnamon whiskey obliterates whatever base spirit is underneath by diluting the ABV and adding so much cinnamon and red hot taste that there's nothing to really dig into beyond that. Smell it and it's cinnamon. Taste it: gross cinnamon. On the finish? Cinnamon. What else are we going to talk about?

The biggest reason I won’t be devoting much space to flavored spirits is because the flavors tend to suck.

It strikes me that with Fireball, for example, the goal isn't to transform people's impression of what whiskey is. Instead, we're widening a product category by creating spirits that play exactly to the expectation of someone trying it at a grocery store. The surprise or sense of discovery that excites me is left on the cutting room floor. 

As a result, it's hard not to look at the products as straight-up commodities. It doesn't matter what the production process is on either end of the consumer/supplier relationship: the distillers don't care to tell us, and the buyers aren't interested in listening. I imagine these products are formulated based on projected demand and the input of marketing teams.

Example: someone at Smirnoff realizes that there's a niche market for vodka that tastes like blackened catfish, and all of a sudden we're awash in slick magazine ads. You know the kinds: the ones with models barely old enough to drink captured mid-laugh or mid-dance, and look at how much fun they're having! This catfish vodka is reinvigorating the entire spirit category!

 
 Someday, catfish.

Someday, catfish.

 

But maybe the biggest reason I won't be devoting much space to flavored spirits is because the flavors tend to suck. My girlfriend refuses to drink liqueurs or cocktails based around them because to her they almost invariably have a cloying, fake, Robitussin-like syrup taste. Even for a guy like me whose sweet tooth is so large that he can enjoy amaretto on the rocks, there's something very ersatz and unpleasant about the flavors of orange, lemon, or cherry in most flavored spirits.

I'd go one step farther and say that if you really want to marry a spirit and a flavor, go ahead and make your own cocktail, because you'll come out ahead. There are all kinds of liqueurs that pair nicely with a base spirit and all kinds of fresh juices to play with. Maybe you won't be able to find "essence of birthday cake" on the shelf, but I'm hard pressed to find a rationale for lemon-flavored vodka. Cut a damned lemon in half and squeeze it for god's sake. You'll live.

Now, writing about how bad a flavored spirit is individually might seem like a fun stream of hatchet job reviews, but my worry is that the joke will end up getting old after a while. Once people figure out a writer has a "thing," the jokes start falling more and more flat and eventually the guy's getting booed like Carlos Mencia or Dane Cook.

All of this said, I will leave you with one of the few good applications of flavored whiskey (courtesy of my friend Sarah), where Wild Turkey American Honey is used as a cocktail ingredient rather than consumed straight.

“The Mild Turkey” (Alternately: the Oscar Wild) 
2 parts limeade
1 part Wild Turkey American Honey
Muddled Mint.

Easy.