CLERMONT, Ky. — Bourbon drinkers have been mixing Jim Beam for years. Now, the maker of the world's top-selling bourbon is too.
Part of Illinois-based Fortune Brands Inc., Beam is preparing a national rollout of Red Stag, a specialty whiskey that infuses natural black cherry flavors into 4-year-old bourbon.
Even brand ambassador Fred Noe, a great-grandson of Jim Beam, sees the tinkering with a time-tested Kentucky tradition as a positive way to lure new customers.
"The bourbon purists might think it's a little too sweet," Noe said during an event touting Red Stag at Beam's Clermont distillery in central Kentucky. "But for somebody who is not a big fan of bourbon, this may be an opportunity for them to enjoy bourbon in a little different way."
The 80-proof Red Stag by Jim Beam, as the product is formally called, is being billed as Beam's biggest rollout since the launch of Jim Beam black label bourbon more than a decade ago. Shipments start June 1 after about a year and a half in development.
Chuck Cowdery, an American whiskey writer and author of "Bourbon, Straight," likes the taste.
"I think the quality of the infusion, the depth of the flavors is pretty sophisticated," he said. "It doesn't taste like they threw some flavor house cherry flavor in there."
The product could appeal to younger consumers who may prefer bourbon in cocktails rather than straight up, he said.
Beam joins other Kentucky bourbon makers that already flavor their standbys.
Heaven Hill Distilleries Inc., which plans to mix honey flavoring into its popular Evan Williams bourbon and call it Evan Williams Honey Reserve, come September, has offered Evan Williams Holiday Egg Nog in season since the early 1990s, spokesman Larry Kass said.
Wild Turkey's American Honey, a liqueur blended with honey and Wild Turkey bourbon, has been gaining sales the past couple of years, said Eddie Russell, Wild Turkey's associate distiller. But he said it's premature to predict a craze.
And Adam Graber, senior brand manager for Jim Beam, agreed.
"There's probably one or two other flavors that make sense in that category," he said, not divulging those other flavors. `But I don't see it exploding like a flavored rum or a flavored vodka."
Graber said Beam will be "fairly conservative" marketing Red Stag, with the biggest promotional push a sponsorship of Kid Rock's summer concert tour. Red Stag has a suggested retail price of $17.99 for a 750-millileter bottles.