Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Honey.
Yes, these are traditional candy bar flavors. These are also some of the flavored whiskeys being produced in San Diego by businesses such as 8-Ball Whiskey, Skrewball Spirits LLC and Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar.
Last year, the total flavored whiskey category grew by 5.5% to 12.28 million 9-liter (19 pint) cases in the U.S. market, representing more than a sixfold rise from 2010 — this according to an Impact Databank report by Shanken News Daily, a news and research website on the wine, beer and spirits industries.
A 2017 report by DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.), states flavored spirits sales are outpacing the rest of the spirits industry and growing 10 times faster than the overall market, with share of the overall spirit market at 11.6% and growing.
The overall global market for whiskey in 2018 was slightly less than $58 billion, according to Grand View Research, which forecasts a compound annual growth rate of 6.4% through 2025.
A 2018 report by L.E.K., a global management consulting firm, credits the growth in the flavored whiskey category to the rise in creative, innovative cocktails and the growing “cocktail culture” in the United States.
“Product innovations such as flavored liquors and nonconventional and/or experimental aging processes are also a factor,” read the L.E.K. report. “For instance, the flavored whiskey category, with offerings ranging from vanilla to salted caramel, grew by 8.5% in 2017.”
Bees on the Roof
At the end of the summer, Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar, located inside downtown’s Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina, collaborated with San Diego-based Malahat Spirits and released a honey infused whiskey, the “MK Honey Barrel Whiskey. ” The barrel-aged whiskey is made with honey sourced from its very own rooftop beehives, according to the company.
“The idea piggybacked off of the current ‘Marina Kitchen Barrel Program,’ which is taking classic cocktails and expertly aging them for several months in our in-house charred American oak barrels,” said Christopher Musco, the restaurant’s general manager.
Honey had been used in the restaurant’s previous beverage innovations, such as honey beer made in conjunction with local breweries, said Musco. But the program was short-lived as demand was too great for supply and product was continually unavailable to those who inquired in hopes of purchasing it, he said.
So, Musco, along with Travis Wolfe, Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina’s resident beekeeper, had the idea to reinvigorate the hotel’s five-year-old honeybee program at the top of 2019 by expertly aging a whiskey with a local distiller; Wolfe and Musco believed that using honey alongside a whiskey would yield higher quantities and a more sustainable program for the company.
To create the honey whiskey, Musco said instead of arbitrarily adding honey directly into the alcohol, the restaurant opted for coating the inner lining of the empty whiskey barrel with 5 gallons of the Marina Kitchen honey and then refilling the barrel with the whiskey product to age. Each barrel of MK Honey Barrel Whiskey produces approximately 17 cases of 705 milliliter (1.5 pint) bottles. So far, Marina Kitchen has been selling about 1.5 cases per month since August, he said.
“After about four months, the batch was tested and it was agreed upon that six months would most likely bring a better flavor that would be spirit-forward to appease the whiskey connoisseur while appealing to many others by having a touch of sweetness on the back end of each sip,” said Musco, adding that the beehives house about 350,000 bees a year and produce upwards of approximately 20 gallons of liquefied honey per year. “At 90 proof, six months of aging was the perfect balance.”
Because of the hotel’s liquor license and the limited annual supply of its rooftop honey, MK Honey Barrel Whiskey is only available for sale at the Marina Kitchen Restaurant & Bar, said Musco. It can be enjoyed via one of four “Buzzworthy Honey Cocktails,” including Honey Old Fashioned, MK Honeycomb Collins, Queen Bee Sour and The Pollenator. It can also be sipped neat or on the rocks as a 2-ounce pour, he said, adding that the second barrel of MK Honey Barrel Whiskey is already aging for patrons to enjoy very soon.
Not a Gimmick
Brittany Merrill Yeng, co-founder of Skrewball Spirits LLC, a San Diego-based peanut butter-flavored whiskey company founded in 2017, said despite the steady growth of the flavored-whiskey category in recent years, she faced a lot of backlash when she initially launched her product.
“When we first entered the market, there was a lot of pushback because the market has been flooded with gimmicky flavors that ended up being a one-time impulse buy,” she said. “We had to work against that current to show people that there was something real and lasting about Skrewball. All the work we put into perfecting the peanut butter flavor has proven to be our biggest asset in being able to open people’s minds about our product. As soon as people try it, or even just smell it, they are excited to give it a shot. And, once people do that, they want more and they want to share this ‘secret’ with their friends and family, which has led to amazing organic growth for us.”
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