Posted on | December 2, 2013
Written by | Jack Robertiello
The boom in American whiskey and its flavored line extensions has revolutionized the brown spirits business recently, and there’s no better example of what’s possible than the swift and widespread growth of Bird Dog.
Bird Dog, a line of flavored bourbons that debuted in 2009 in select markets and then rolled out nationwide, was initially created as a standalone blackberry-flavored whiskey brand. But according to Klay Kelley, Director for Brand Development at owner Western Spirits, the positive response from consumers, distributors and retailers spurred the company on to develop other flavored iterations. Blackberry was followed in spring 2013 with peach and hot cinnamon bourbons. In late 2013, Western launched a maple-flavored extension and, in a switch on usual trends, a standard unflavored bourbon bearing the Bird Dog brand entered the market. All Bird Dog whiskies are bottled in Kentucky at 80 proof and the suggested retail price is $19.99 per 750 ml.
“The extreme growth that the flavored whiskey category has seen within the past two years has helped to bring further awareness to our brand,” says Kelley. “We were the first in the market with a blackberry flavored whiskey and consumers really made the brand their own. With the continued growth and interest in flavored whiskey, the industry is seeing and projecting, we will continue to see growth and interest as a result.”
Flavors That Make Sense
Amid the slew of flavored whiskies from Kentucky, Tennessee, Canada, Ireland and Scotland now marketed in the U.S. by major suppliers and more nimble companies like Western, Bird Dog has managed to stand out via targeted flavors, says Kelley. “The flavors that you offer very much make a significant difference in your success and growth. As mentioned earlier we offered the blackberry flavor as our initial flavor, and have added flavors since then that have made sense. We will only introduce flavors that make sense for the market and that also have just the right taste.”
Consumer preferences for Bird Dog have proven to be seasonally influenced, with peach and blackberry flavors doing well in warm months and cinnamon and now maple anticipated to do well as the weather cools. Flavored whiskies have been generally seen as a tool to open the whiskey category for new consumers, something Western has definitely found with Bird Dog.
“We are seeing many women who have told us that they are not usually whiskey drinkers but that Bird Dog is a very smooth whiskey and that they were really surprised and enjoy it,” says Kelley. “Also we are seeing a number of consumers who want to get into whiskey, that are really enjoying starting with our flavored whiskey and then moving into some of our straight whiskeys are well.”
A Well-Rounded Portfolio
Western Spirits itself is not much older than its initial Bird Dog offering. Started in 2007, the Bowling Green, Kentucky-based company has grown through aggressive expansion and a robust sales force backing distribution within all 50 states.
Building a portfolio of whiskies at a time when supplies are said to be short can be challenging, but Western is has managed to build a lineup of brown spirits that are diverse, appealing and distinctly American. Lexington Bourbon, named after one of horse racing’s most successful thoroughbred sires, is an 86 proof bourbon that has garnered high ratings in reviews, priced at $29.99 and suggested as an alternative to market leaders. Calumet Farms, another 86 proof bourbon, is priced at the ultra-premium level at $49.99. Sam Houston, a straight whiskey priced at $29.99, and Whitetail, an 80 proof caramel-flavored whiskey priced around $15.99, round out the company’s brown goods portfolio.
Many brands enter the market today aiming to gain attention through a big marketing or advertising splash; Western instead has aimed to develop support for Bird Dog through affiliations with a number of outdoors and conservation organizations, including Ducks Unlimited, the Coastal Conservation Association and the National Wild Turkey Federation. “We saw a natural synergy between our consumers’ interests and their organizations,” says Kelley. “We are committed to habitat conservation and by supporting these partners we have been able to make a direct impact with ongoing programs with our partners.”