For you youngsters in the audience, please offer a little patience here.

Those of us who laughingly refer to ourselves as “your elders,” and you reference us as “the old people,” find the incredible changes that have taken place in the recent past to be both awesome and troubling.

We remember the beginnings of the home computing era and the difficulty we had with the early operating programs sent to us in DOS. We had to carry 2” thick printed manuals just to be able to speak with our new machines. No environmental savings there. Time savings? Forget it.

We actually remember when we had to move our butt up off of the couch to change channels on the TV; when smoking was allowed on airplanes; when cars did not have any back-seat speakers; and television stations signed off the air at midnight not coming back on until 7 in the morning.

We remember when what we consider today to be everybody’s business was not really everybody’s business. We even had a President of these United States who was confined to a wheel chair and everyone thought that was his business, not ours. His wheel chair was never spoken about and it was never shown. Can you imagine an elected official now that has a pimple on his nose? Page 1 with big photos in the newspapers and the continual topic of news shows speculating about whether he really is as old as he says he is, or if he should cut back on sweets.

Likewise, along the path of adult beverages, it was all pretty straightforward. Vodka came in one “flavor.” Beer was predictable. Whiskey’s tastes were sacred, well-defined, set. But now, all bets are off. Every flavor that seems like a workable answer to the questions, “Okay, I know it sounds goofy but will the consumers buy it?” and “does our competitor have anything like it?” gets an outing on the retail shelves.  

Vodka in particular seems to be in the grips of an identification crisis. From Idaho comes North Mountain Huckleberry; Wasilla, Alaska brags about the first hemp seed vodka in the world (were we waiting on that?); Belvedere has orange vodka, a citrus fruit not readily associated with Poland;  Square One from the Grand Tetons offers Basil Vodka; then there’s the vodka whose name turned a questionable adjective into a noun, Effen Cucumber Vodka, made in the Netherlands; French melons ended up in a highly decorated bottle designated Grey Goose Le Melon; leave your truffle-hunting pig at home with California’s Modern Spirits Black Truffle; relive a childhood candy memory with Voli Raspberry Cocoa Fusion Vodka from Cognac, France; then relish the Rhone grape, Viognier, and wheat made into a Mexican delight with Hanger 1 Chipotle Chile Vodka (California); and head for a Pacific Paradise courtesy of Skye, via Illinois, with pineapple-infused vodka, one of thirteen flavors this brand offers to an adoring public. Oh sure, all of that was predictable.

The flavor reviews on each of those vodkas are quite good and the goal any more is to throw so many flavored vodkas at the market in hopes one of them scores and sticks around a bit longer than one cycle.

Absolut has taken a slightly different path by creating flavors that are pre-destined to have limited market lives, then promoting the heck out of the brand and hopefully shortening the length of the publicity effort while maximizing short-term returns. Up until just a few months ago, it was working fine with consumers collecting the flavor-series as soon as they hit the shelves.

Absolut New Orleans allowed for distinctive flavors, mango and black pepper, but also for some exclusive tie-ins at the international level. Other flavors include Pears, Citron, Mango, Vanilla, APeach, Raspberri, Mandrin, Berri Acai, Grapevine, Hibiskis, Kurant, Orient Apple, Ruby Red, Cherrykran, Cilantro, Wild Tea, and Peppar.

The whiskey folks were not about to let this scenario featuring the core-product-plus-some-other-flavor trend slip away without bringing previously unheard-of added ingredients to the home liquor cabinet.  The key to what the whiskey gang has done is that these new combinations are quite good and don’t feel gimmicky at all, assuming you are a member of the vaunted and valued Millennial generation.

Sons of Liberty Pumpkin Spice does sound like a delightful Holiday treat; Red Stag Black Cherry; Wild Turkey American Honey; Bird Dog Blackberry; and Knob Creek Smoked Maple have all been big hits with consumers.

But the brand that is taking America by storm is Fireball, brought to market by New Orleans-own Sazerac Company. Merchants can’t keep Fireball on any shelf in this country. The market cannot get enough of this cinnamon-infused whiskey and drinking the beverage straight has even become a rite of passage in certain whiskey-appreciating circles.     

Which brings us to flavored beers. Once we start noting what’s out there, another twenty pop up. Even huge beer conglomerates, like Anheuser-Busch, have called their peers to task with a commercial aired during the recent Super Bowl deriding a fictional “pumpkin peach ale” craft brew as going too far.

The blend of “other ingredients” and beer is not new. Tossing in extra hops or going heavy on the wheat have been a mainstay of brewing for the past few thousand years. What has become completely prevalent among the thousands of smaller craft breweries and some of the large manufacturers has been the let’s-try-this commando attitude where the brew master tosses his/her last modicum of good sense to the winds. The Old Standby Reliable Brew has now become “What do you think of that one? You don’t? Well, try this one.”

Coffee and figs, Serrano pepper, maple, belt and suspenders, clown shoes, vanilla, bourbon barrel, oatmeal raisin cookie, banana split chocolate, pile-o-dirt, smoked oak, black pepper, and chestnuts all grace the exterior and/or interior of beer cans, bottles and kegs across the nation.

So, you see, it used to be easier. You picked up an adult beverage and you could be pretty certain, within a range, how it was going to taste and smell. Today, it might be something your parents possibly enjoyed or it can satisfy your children’s sweet tooth.

Only one way to find out.

 

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