ROB FLOYD / SLS PHOTOGRAPH BY AMANDA ROWAN
The Rainbow of Flavored Spirits Continues to Expand–on Shelves and at Bars
BY JEFFERY LINDENMUTH
lavor in spirits is nothing new.
When Dr. Sylvius, of the Univer-
sity of Leyden, used juniper berries
to create the original gin in 1608
and when Carthusian monks in
rance added 130 herbs to distilled al-
cohol to make Green Chartreuse in the
1740s, they were flavoring spirits.
Over the ensuing centuries fla-
vored spirits were anchored by cordials/
liqueurs, not surprisingly, since those
products are flavored by definition.
Then, in 1986, Absolut Peppar debuted.
At the time, this pepper-infused vodka
was seen more as a Bloody Mary helper
than a standalone sipper or shooter, but
the seed-notion of vodka being an ideal
blank canvas for flavorization was plant-
ed. Taking advantage of modern food-
science technology, creative marketers
wasted little time populating the vodka
category with a rainbow of fruit and spice
expressions, giving birth to an entire cat-
egory that has just kept growing.
Buoyed by the success of infused vod-
ka, flavors are closing in on being the rule
rather than the exception. According to
the Distilled Spirits Council of the United
States, over 40% of all spirit products in
the U.S. feature a flavor component (cor-
dials included). Flavors now extend effort-
lessly from vodka to rum, tequila and whis-
key. We’re talking about much more than
plain vanilla, too. DISCUS documents
more than 220 different expressions, from
wasabi to watermelon and PB&J to pickle.
Perhaps most important of all, the flavor
revolution has proven lucrative for both
new and iconic brands. Could we be upon
a Golden Age of Flavor?
VODKA: THE STARTING POINT
As the first flavored spirits category
to take off in the U.S., and one whose
neutrality lends itself to flavor exten-
sion, vodka reigns among flavor thrill
seekers. It drives the diversity of flavors
and the imagination of the people who
love them, with options like buttered
popcorn, bacon, key lime and fig. While
the category is often teased by outsiders,
the vodka flavor train just keeps chug-
ging: in 2012, flavored vodka experi-
enced a dollar sales increase of 17% over
the previous year, according to Danny
Brager, vice president group client direc-
tor for Nielsen. This far exceeds the 3%
increase of unflavored vodka sales and
places a hefty 21% of total vodka sales in
the flavored realm.
the fervor for flavor
Rob Floyd helms the cutting-edge
cocktail program at The Bazaar
by José Andrés at SLS Hotel
Shelves at Northwest Wine and
Spirits in Columbus, OH, are
brimming with flavored vodkas.