Whiskey is a varied spirit that’s been around for a long time. That rich history is in part what makes the drink so sophisticated. There’s a new phenomenon from established distillers and startup brands alike where everything from chocolate to peanut butter to cookie dough is being added to whiskey. It’s called “dessertification” and Thrillist says it’s “bringing sweet flavors and a lot of playfulness to a typically traditional corner of the drinks world.”
Before you knock this as a gimmicky trend that won’t last, some industry experts believe it could be a way to open whiskey up to new drinkers, including those who may be unfamiliar with the spirit and what it offers.
One-third of the Generation Z population will turn 25 sometime this year. Given they’ll be past the legal drinking age, it’s important for spirit brands to understand their drinking habits. And here’s why: people born between 1996 and 2010 make up 40 percent of the general consumer base, or over $140 billion worth of spending power.
Writer and author Kara Newman predicts a similar pattern with whiskey that happened with spirits in the ‘90s and ‘00s. “Flavored vodkas started with fruit flavors to please the vodka-soda crowd,” she told Thrillist. “As time marched on, flavors became more ‘over the top,’ giving us cinnamon, vanilla, and even s’mores vodkas.” And those flavors reach the younger demographics who are used to other flavored spirits and hard seltzer. “Sweet, dessert-like flavors can help draw in a group accustomed to candy flavors in vaping, fruity hard seltzer, sweetened cocktails, etc. … and they’re not so far from nostalgic childhood flavors.”
There’s a big difference between the flavor profiles of whiskey and vodka, which makes it hard to know whether the dessertification trend will catch on in the whiskey world. Vodka is neutral by design and can support various flavors added in. And although caramel, maple, and vanilla are “sweet” flavors often found in certain whiskeys, there’s a distinct difference between naturally occurring characteristics versus artificial whiskey infusions.
Will this trend make the whiskey category more fun and appealing to newcomers?
The data says it’s a good possibility. According to NielsenIQ data released in October 2022, the flavored whiskey category is up 14.6 percent over the last two years, outpacing the 8.4 percent growth of the whiskey market overall. Drink analysts also predict “promising figures for this side of the whiskey industry.”
Legacy brands like Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s are getting in on the action but small craft distillers are, too. Kentucky’s Bird Dog Whiskey launched a blackberry flavor in 2010 and New York’s Southern Tier Distilling Co. tried a pumpkin-flavored whiskey after a pumpkin imperial ale was one of the best known beers in their taproom.
Of course, more traditional whiskey aficionados would argue that if you blend any kind of flavor with a standard whiskey, it’s no longer considered whiskey. Open-minded drinkers say it’s always great to offer options, especially when first introducing whiskey to someone who’s never acquired a taste for it before.
By their very nature, drinks are supposed to be a fun and worthwhile experience. Which end of the spectrum are you on? Are you a fan of the dessertification trend? Would you like to see it continue?If you’re a fan of really good whiskey and like keeping it separate from your dessert (or let’s be honest, drinking it AS your dessert), check out RackHouse Whiskey Club. RackHouse scours the U.S. looking for the best craft distilleries with the most interesting stories to curate a unique subscription box filled with full-sized bottles of small batch whiskey. We’re building a community of premium craft whiskey drinkers and you’re invited! Join us!