The Surge Of Flavored Whiskey Shows Signs Of Slowing Down. Is The Fireball Fad Over?
By Richard Thomas
Although many whiskey fans dearly wish to ignore it, a big part of the whiskey boom in America has been the tsunami of popularity behind flavored whiskey. Led by Fireball, a cinnamon-flavored whiskey, the category grew by 28% in 2015. That is far faster growth than enjoyed even by Irish Whiskey imports, which rose by 19% in the same period. Fireball itself is the seventh-best selling spirits brand in the U.S., ahead of even Jim Beam and eclipsed only Crown Royal and Jack Daniel’s.
Yet amid that strong sector-wide showing are signs that flavored whiskey might be plateauing. First, it’s important to realize that 28% growth figure is an aggregate for all flavored whiskey brands, including the honeys, cinnamons, maples and fruitys from a gaggle of big liquor companies and bottling outfits. It represents not just Fireball, Knob Creek Maple and Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Fire, but also Bird Dog Peach and Dark Corner’s Hot Mama.
Within that aggregated picture, the second-best selling cinnamon flavored whiskey is Tennessee Fire, but it ships only a tenth of what Fireball does. Fireball itself literally exploded onto the scene only in 2013, after sales jumped one million cases in a single year. Other flavored whiskeys, such as the honey liqueurs, do better than the Fireball copycats. Yet the numbers suggest that flavored whiskey is not a change in the zeitgeist, as the larger whiskey boom is, but to a transitory fad. Flavored whiskey could go the way of flash mobs: people still do them, but there aren’t a dozen a day in Manhattan like there were a decade ago.
Now the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association reporting for 17 states, indicates that Fireball sales have slowed for the first half of the year. Sazerac’s hot cinnamon shot is up 6.5%, true, but it’s used to double digit growth figures.
That could be just a hiccup, or it could be the first sign that Fireball sales are flattening, and momentum is a funny thing. In it’s broad strokes, trends don’t like standing still. They are either moving forward or in retreat, so the high tide mark for flavored whiskey might be just around the bend.