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Punch Drunk

Jack Tastes the Liquor Rainbow



For the first time, Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey has cracked the top 10 in overall sales in Richmond and the surrounding counties, according to preliminary fiscal year sales figures out last week for Richmond-area liquor stores.

Although this 66-proof swill, which contains 11 grams of sugar per shot — or about three teaspoons — is repugnant and absolutely will cause the worst hangover that you've ever endured, people love alcohol that tastes like candy. People are really dumb also.

Big Liquor understands these things.

Jim Beam, along with a host of other lesser-whiskey producers, in an effort to compete with the behemoth that is Fireball, have released similar, cinnamon-accented whiskeys, which are equally disgusting and justly as blasphemous to the canon of the cultivated drinker.

Sadly, whiskey is really just a baby in the flavored-spirit game compared with vodka, which long ago explored reasonable flavorings such as lemon and orange. It didn't stay reasonable, or even next door to reasonable. In fact, Big Vodka went aggressively, Carytown-long-gun-totingly deranged with its flavor ideas.

In the past 10 years or so we've seen newer, hip and edgy vodka companies and some old standbys such as Smirnoff producing a kaleidoscope of flavored crap such as PB&J, fluffed marshmallow, Fruit Loops, pumpkin pie, spiced root beer and purple-flavored — just to name a few.

Mmm, purple.

The latest abomination against all that is holy to hit Richmond-area back-bar shelves is this Pinnacle Cinnabon-flavored vodka. It tastes like a liquid version of the giant mall and airport cinnamon rolls, which isn't the worst thing, but come on! Really? Are we not adults?

There's a solid chance that your local bar has picked up at least one bottle by now. Mine has. And yes, I've tried a shot.

I need a new bar to call home, but I digress.

The flavored-spirit phenomenon is going nowhere. But looking on the bright side, these flavors are flagrantly aimed at children. Sort of like bubble gum and chocolate cigarettes are said to desensitize the youth of America, leading them to pick up smoking down the road, these flavored liquors can entice the kids to start drinking today. Right now. On the playground!

While my idea to start producing pureed carrot and pureed peach vodka, in mini-bottles of course, aimed at the toddler set is still considered controversial by many of the various mom coalitions and pro-baby sects, I've found a certain tempered enthusiasm from many executives at Big Vodka.

Clearly I'm joking, but if you really think about it, would a Gerber apple-mush flavor really be that different from a lot of the stuff these companies are producing?
Stuff like Sriracha vodka or wedding-cake vodka or buttered-popcorn flavored vodka or my personal favorite — electricity-flavored vodka?! Yes, there's vodka being produced that pitches its taste as electricity. I didn't think you could taste electricity, but apparently I was dead wrong. Just try getting struck by lightning or sticking your junk in an outlet. While in the throes of death, I'm told, you'll get a bitter chemical taste in the back of your throat.

Mmm, bitter chemicals.

It's difficult to totally hate on liquor companies because most of the top-10 products sold by local ABC stores have stayed remarkably steady through the years.

Jack Daniel's is still No. 1, while Jim Beam, Smirnoff (regular), Grey Goose, Maker's Mark, Absolut, Hennessey and Crown Royal also have remained near the top.

People still know and appreciate a quality brand and product, but — and most liquor companies recognize this — that won't always be the case. As evidenced by Fireball's meteoric climb and Beam's decision to throw its hat into the cinnamon ring.

You could argue that Fireball isn't a sign of the apocalypse, and that it's just the next big shot, like Jägermeister, but I personally reject that on principle. Jäger is diesel swill too, but it isn't whiskey. It isn't something we pride, something that we make trips to Kentucky and Tennessee solely to enjoy.

It's worth mentioning that some Canadian whiskey companies have started infusing their products with — shocker — maple syrup. But what the home of Justin Bieber, Alex Trebek, universal health care, strong yet reasonable gun control laws, Tim Hortons and of course, poutine, does with their liquor is their business.

Crazy Canucks.

Oh hey, have you guys tried Alaska Distillery's smoked-salmon-flavored vodka or Scorrpio's scorpion-flavored vodka, which has a real scorpion in the bottle?

Mmm, I can taste the scorpion.

And it tastes like complete and utter crap.

Connect with Richmond bartender Jack Lauterback at bartender@styleweekly.com. Lauterback also is co-host of "Mornings with Melissa and Jack" on 103.7 Play weekdays from 6-9. On Twitter @jackgoesforth.

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