Over the last 10 years or so, flavored whiskey has become hugely popular in America. Brands are releasing all kinds of flavors in the hopes of expanding their customer base, including vanilla, apple, peach, cherry, maple, orange, and even peanut butter. But the first flavor to be added was honey. And it is only fitting that the first recipe for honey whiskey comes from the birthplace of whiskey: Scotland.
Honey is a natural food product produced by bees that dates back over a thousand years. Over time it has been used as a sweetener, a food product for sacred animals, as currency, as offerings to the gods, and for medicinal purposes. It also has been used for industrial purposes, including furniture polish and in the early production of cement.
Because of its natural sugar content, honey also became a fermentable product going back as far as the 7th century B.C. Its documented use goes back to some of the earliest records of the production of Mead, a wine made from fermented honey that was considered a drink of the gods. Spices were also considered to be medicinal, so it would only be natural that they would be added to Mead.
As distillation evolved, honey would be distilled in to a Liqueur, such as Barenjager today. Honey would also start to be added to wines, beers, and other spirits such as rums and vodkas.
Famous Faces of Honey Whiskey
Then, in the late 1800s, a man named John Ross was given a cocktail recipe that called for a mixture of Brandy, honey, and spices. Eventually he began switching out the Brandy for Scotch. In the early 1900s he started to bottle the recipe as Drambuie, and the first honey flavored whiskey was created. It is labeled as a liqueur, since Scottish law prevents the use of the term "Scotch" on the label if any flavoring has been added to it.
In the late 1940s, Irish Mist was created at Tullamore Distillery. The distillery had been producing whiskey since the mid 1800s and they were looking for an alternative product. They modeled it after an ancient recipe for heather wine, and it became the first cordial produced in Ireland. Around the same time, Yukon Jack was created in Canada, though it wouldn’t be imported in to the US until the 1970s. And while it is based in a similar recipe of whisky, honey, and spices, what sets Yukon Jack apart is that it is bottled at the higher proof point of 100 proof.
Jimmy Russell launched the first honey flavored whiskey in America in the 1970s, Wild Turkey Liqueur (now known as American Honey). Since then, seemingly every major brand has released one. Evan Williams, Jim Beam, and most recently Jack Daniels have all brought their own versions in to the market. And while they are all honey flavored, they have their own distinctive taste. Wild Turkey even expanded their honey whiskey line with Sting, a version of American Honey the is spiced up with a hint of ghost pepper.
The Original Flavored Whiskey
Flavored whiskey has become its own category, and new flavors are constantly being developed and appearing on shelves. Even whiskey purists now have to admit that some of these flavors are well made with some of their favorite whiskies as the base. The drinks can be quite tasty and truly have a place in the world of whiskey.
While there will always be new flavors to try, honey will always be the original. And the originals will always be from Scotland, Ireland, and Canada — though here in America we do make some pretty tasty honey flavored whiskey ourselves. Honey flavored whiskey may also be the most versatile flavor of whiskey, and maybe the most natural flavor combination. Not only is it delicious to sip on the rocks, it also goes great with ginger beer and a slice of lemon, or with tea, hot or iced. As a nightcap, mix it with some hot water and a lemon for a perfect Toddy.