Thursday, October 22, 2009

Red Stag Doing Just Fine

Jim Beam is doing just fine with its first major launch in Jim Beam Black—the black-cherry-infused bourbon Red Stag.

I figured the red stuff was performing all right; I've seen it in plenty of back bars around New York (more in standard taverns than in high end bars so far). But the people at Jim Beam recently told me that, in the four or five months since the product was introduced, it's moved 90,000 cases, making it what they call the biggest launch in whiskey ever. For now, the distribution is limited to the U.S, but with that kind of success out of the gate, that policy won't last long.

The mind behind Red Stag is one Tom Wilkins, who, if you believe the story, had been mulling over the idea in the back of his head for years before Beam finally took a stab at it. Many names were played with, but Wilkins' original one is the name they went with. Red Stag is made by infusing four-year-old bourbon with fruit essence; no actual whole fruit is used in the process. I asked the Beams folks about the phrase on the label, "Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Infused With Natural Flavors," and if they tussled with the government over the exact wording. No, they said. Surprisingly they had no problem whatsoever.

What's not on the bottle is the word "liqueur." For whatever reason, Beam seems averse to calling Red Stag a liqueur, though, technically, as it is alcoholic beverage that has been flavored and sweetened, it is by definition a liqueur. One of the Beam people explained to me that a liqueur bears the connotation of possibly containing suspect ingredients, but that doesn't really pan out. There may be some such liqueurs on the market, but there are also many, many, fine, upstanding liqueurs. Perhaps the word "liqueur" don't register as a positive with their designated target audience. Moreover, Jim Beam invented the drink to introduce non-bourbon drinkers to bourbon, not introduce non-bourbon drinkers to liqueurs.

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