WHISKEY SPECIALTIES & LIQUEURS
Other classifications can be very divisive in the world of whiskey enthusiasts. Products that include flavoring or finishing in casks from other spirits have exploded in popularity among more casual drinkers, as well as displeasure from the enthusiast crowd. I bring this up because products of this nature cannot be called bourbon. I know, I know, there are products out there bearing designations such as “Kentucky Straight Bourbon Finished in Port Wine Barrels” and other such things. Let’s wrap up our comparison between bourbon and whiskey by exploring the darker side of this category: whiskey specialties.
Image from TTB Online
As of this writing, there is no law preventing the aforementioned style of labeling a whiskey specialty. If the product was Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (KSBW) before it was aged in an ex-wine cask, it can be labeled as mentioned above (even if the final product is no longer technically KSBW). If this changes in coming weeks, months, or years I will happily amend this article to reflect that. For now I think the educated consumer needs only to understand that regardless of the prefixed ‘Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey’, the end product will most certainly carry a flavor that is impacted by it’s final aging, flavoring, or sweetener that has been added.
Flavored whiskeys often draw the ire of bourbon geeks, critics, and enthusiasts alike because these products don’t walk the line as elegantly as some finished products might. Look closely at the label of Jim Beam’s Red Stag for an example of clever marketing that shows the subtle (but mandatory) description “Black Cherry Liqueur Infused With Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey”. This tells the consumer the product has KSBW in it; however, the product itself cannot be labeled as Bourbon. Thus we have a whiskey specialty, which is something of an all-encompassing term for something that cannot truly be labeled as a whiskey.
Image from TTB Online
These distinctions may seem trivial, but they represent an extremely thin line of protection for our beloved bourbon. Many enthusiasts, writers, and critics are rather vocal in their opinion about liquor that falls under this jurisdiction, simply due to the fact that these products–if not properly controlled and labeled–can confuse consumers and muddy the waters of what bourbon really is.
I would not be surprised to see this grow as an even more hotly debated topic in the short term, and to see lobbying for changes on the legality of whiskey specialties (and other liqueurs) that seemingly benefit from the ambiguous use of the word Bourbon.