The maker of Jack Daniels wants to bring America’s flavored whisky craze to the world

Sugar and spice and everything nice.
Sugar and spice and everything nice.
Image: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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Brown Forman, the company that makes Jack Daniels, has big global ambitions for its new lines of sweetened, flavored whisky.

The company said on its quarterly earnings call yesterday (Aug. 26) that its launch of ”Tennessee Honey” flavored whisky in 2011 and its “Tennessee Fire” flavor this year have been wildly successful, especially in bars.

“Tennessee Fire,” the new cinnamon flavor, accounted 4% of the company’s overall sales growth of 10% in the US in the third quarter. Honey flavor sales grew 18% from last year. The company thinks both can be a huge growth engine worldwide, according to Brown Forman CEO Paul Varga:

When you leave the United States, Tennessee Honey has played a very prominent role, if not the lead role, in developing the flavored whisky category outside the United States. And so, we think that’s why we continue to test and read it very closely, so that we can expand the world that that’s possible for flavored whisky from just over 300 million people to perhaps 7 billion people.

Honey has already done well abroad, the company said, and Fire is apparently very promising in test markets like the UK and Czech Republic.

Fireball, another enormously popular cinnamon whisky, has also caught on rapidly at bars and college campuses. Vargas attributes the popularity, in part, to the fact that flavored whiskeys are “convenient to pour and consume and don’t require a lot of mixers.” In other words, they go down easy when taken as shots.

Flavored vodkas similarly boosted vodka sales in the US to unprecedented heights, until whisky muscled its way in.

One analyst on the call noted that flavored vodka is now going bust, thanks to consumer fatigue and too many crazy flavors. Still, the boom in flavored vodka lasted 20 years, according to CEO Varga, which makes it worth the investment.

Of course, Brown Forman has flavor competition from the likes of Jim Beam and maple-flavored Canadian whiskies. And flavoring whisky palatably is more difficult than with a neutral spirit like vodka.

“I can tell you, we are not going to be introducing a brand every three months in order to chase numbers or something like that,” Varga said on the call. “It would be irresponsible to the Jack Daniel’s trademark.”