It began in 2009 with blackberry, the tantalizingly tart bad boy of the genus Rubus, aka the raspberry’s funkier, more roguish counterpart. Ten years and a dozen additional flavors later, Bird Dog now ranks among America’s leading producers of flavored whiskey. And to booze purists who say that’s akin to being valedictorian at summer school, well, as the old adage goes, don’t knock it ‘til you’ve knocked some back.
“Ten years ago, whiskey as a category was somewhat limited. You certainly would have been hard-pressed to find a decent flavored whiskey,” says John Taylor, who’s tended bar at some of America’s finest watering holes, including The Townhouse in Venice, CA, and Philadelphia’s El Rey. “But now, as more and more people are warming to whiskey overall, brands like Bird Dog are having a moment.”
While the folks at Bowling Green, Kentucky-based Bird Dog harbor no illusions of outselling iconic brands such as Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s, they have relished the opportunity to carve out their own niche without restraint. And they’ve done so by delivering variety, consistency and quality at a reasonable price (Bird Dog retails for $19.99).
Oh, and they make damn good whiskey. They’ve got the high-profile hardware to prove it, too. Bird Dog’s latest release, Black Cherry, won Double Gold at the prestigious 2019 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Among the 40-some-odd additional nods the brand has received over the past 10 years are Platinum medals for their apple and peach flavored whiskies at the 2019 SIP Awards, an international spirits competition judged by consumers.
“The thing I find most appealing about flavored whiskey is that it’s great for making cocktails,” says Taylor. “A brand like Bird Dog, with so many flavors to choose from, is really a bartender’s dream. There are literally hundreds of drinks you can make.”
Taylor lists Black Cherry Limeade, Peach Mai Tai and the Rose Crown (Bird Dog Strawberry, vanilla vodka and cranberry juice) among the most popular flavored whiskey cocktails. For those with a sweet tooth, he recommends a Whipped Chocolate Whiskey made with Bird Dog Chocolate, Irish Cream Liqueur and Whipped Cream Vodka.Daniel Rippy of the Corner Pub in Franklin, TN, also is a fan of Bird Dog. “Bird Dog is a great whiskey. The flavors they offer are tremendous. They match perfectly with any mixer and are great in cocktails. Their many flavored whiskies gives our staff the ability to create unique flavorful drinks to satisfy our guests.”
Aging may well be the most consequential step in whiskey production, and Bird Dog ensures their entire flavored whiskey portfolio, which includes peach, apple, strawberry and jalapeno honey, is made with aged Kentucky Straight Bourbon. That means the whiskey’s mashbill is made up of at least 51% corn, and that it was aged a minimum of two years in new charred oak barrels. In short, it means quality.
While the majority of commercially available flavored whiskies weigh in at 35% ABV (70 proof) Bird Dog takes up it a notch — 80 proof, to be exact, which they believe is the sweet spot between… well, sweet and too much alcohol burn.