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By: Spiros Malandrakis

As the saccharine tide of flavoured vodkas in the US begins to finally subside, flavoured whiskies are leading the charge for the taste buds of millennials, female drinkers and young professionals searching for the next trending shot – from the nation’s bars to the twittersphere.

There have been few brands that can rival Fireball’s explosive growth trajectory, pioneering confidence and impeccable timing. Securing an impressive 14% share of other liqueur volumes sold in the US in just 4 short years, the brand is actively blazing a trail for flavour sophistication initiatives across the spirits category while burning down decades long taboos in the process. Last week’s stunning public admission that in its US formula Fireball contains propylene glycol (food grade quality of one of the ingredients also present in antifreeze) worked like an anti-climactic fire extinguisher. And it will inevitably reignite the debate around the need for more clarity in alcoholic drinks’ ingredients and formulation while undermining the quality perceptions of the entire nascent segment.

Flavoured Vodka’s cautionary tale

The limited in size – if spectacular in scandalous headlines and outraged social media exclamations- recall was in fact instituted in Finland, Norway and Sweden after Sazerac mistakenly sent a shipment of Fireball made to American recipe specifications to the Scandinavian nations. The company called it a “small recipe-related compliance issue.” In fact, the U.S. version contains higher levels of propylene glycol, an ingredient that European countries limit more stringently (up to 1g of the ingredient per kilogram) than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which allows 50 grams of the ingredient per kilogram – does.

Nevertheless, and while the amount of the disputed substance is indeed minimal (less than 8 g per kilogram according to the Company’s website) and apparently present in a wide variety of –yet unnamed- products ranging from biscuits to beers, it is the legacy of such revelations that can be proven to be the most toxic.

In an era when craftsmanship, authenticity and natural credentials are trampling gimmicky positioning, artificial corporate offerings and chemical additives, Fireball’s nonchalant admission will not be enough to dispel doubts and intense scrutiny. While brand sales will not witness a sudden and cataclysmic nosedive, the seeds of purist criticism for the wider flavoured whiskey liqueur segment are now sown. Lest we forget, vodka’s wave upon wave of increasingly more artificial flavoured extensions also worked miracles. Up until it didn’t.

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