Posted on | April 22, 2015
Written by | Sara Kay
Wild Turkey Tastes the Sweet Success of its Venerable American Honey Brand
Flavored whiskey—that’s a modern thing, right? Truth is, Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey, has been on top of it since the 1970s. As the domestic whiskey industry struggled during those times, Russell began to experiment with flavors, introducing honey into the original Wild Turkey bourbon, and launching Wild Turkey Honey Liqueur to market in 1976. “There was no way I was changing Wild Turkey, but I wanted to make whiskey more enjoyable to new groups of people too,” says Russell. “So, I started to play around with different flavors. When I tasted our bourbon with honey added to it I knew I’d hit on something special.”
Tough times for bourbon sounds unthinkable today. According to a recent Rabobank report, flavored whiskies (or whiskey-based liqueurs/cordials) have been the hottest growth segment in the U.S. spirits market, having generated more than half of the spirits segment volume growth in 2014. Wild Turkey remains one of the strongest brands in the bourbon arena, which has been a boon to American Honey all along. “American Honey is unique in that we’re a premium flavored whiskey and have a history the other flavored whiskey brands don’t have,” says Andrew Floor, VP, Dark Spirits, Campari America. “Everyone is courting Millennials, as are we, but American Honey also has a very loyal fan base we have built up over time.”
When the product was rebranded as American Honey in 2006, fans of the original stayed loyal, and new-to-whiskey drinkers discovered it. Now, close to a decade later, American Honey is tapping directly into three distinct trends:
**All-American whiskey is hot, with bourbon leading the way.
** Flavors continue to have appeal across multiple spirit categories.
**American Honey serves as an excellent entry point for new whiskey drinkers, providing a taste of the original with a sweet addition.
“I think we’ll continue to see organic growth as these new drinkers continue to adopt bourbon whiskey as their drink of choice,” Floor notes.
Recent sales tracking indicates that American Honey has also helped to boost the base brand. According to Floor, in 2012, 17% of Wild Turkey drinkers were also drinking American Honey, and 57% of American Honey drinkers were drinking Wild Turkey. In 2014, those numbers climbed, as 25% of Wild Turkey drinkers were also drinking American Honey, and 74% of American Honey drinkers were also drinking Wild Turkey.
While the Iron’s Hot
As flavored whiskies gain momentum, Wild Turkey has launched nationally a new expression that showed excellent sales in test markets last fall. Rather than take on Fireball and other cinnamon-driven whiskeys head-on, American Honey Sting presents a distinct profile: it is infused with spicy ghost peppers, balancing the heat of the pepper and the sweet honey. Sting is the first hot pepper-infused, bourbon-based liqueur on the market.
As summer approaches, Floor and Russell anticipate continued growth for both flavored expressions, with American Honey in a perfect position for expanded usage opportunities. “It’s become a drink that people will start their night with at home,” says Floor. “And bartenders are starting to recognize how versatile it is, mixing the product more into simple cocktails rather than only recommending it as a chilled shot.” For Russell, American Honey is the ideal summer twist on bourbon; he suggests mixing it with lemonade or iced tea, as a chilled shot, or as he personally enjoys it, on the rocks.