Drinks with Pat: the flavored whiskey boom

This week, a pretty cool whiskey brand founder was in town.

Amani Macaulay, co-founder of Duke & Dame Whiskey, was in Grand Rapids to show off his salted caramel whiskey at restaurants and stores. The inspiration for Duke & Dame is Fireball, the oddly syrupy cinnamon whiskey. Unlike Fireball, however, Macaulay prides itself on the way the whiskey shines through the caramel. Although it tastes a bit like Werthers Original, it still tastes like a whiskey.

Also of note, Duke & Dame is one of the few black-owned independent spirits brands on the market.

Tap: Why whisky?

Amani: I worked on Wall Street for a while, but you come to a certain point (when) you have to ask yourself if what you’re doing is achieving the highest level of success with how you define it. Is this where I reach the highest levels of happiness achievement? I got to the point (where it’s) not investment banking.

At the time, I don’t know what I was doing, but I knew I had to build something, whether it was my business or helping a small business grow. I wanted to leave big business. While trying to figure this out, I traveled around a bit and ended up in Miami, where my co-founder came up with this crazy idea.

“Why not make flavored whiskey that tastes like Werther’s Original?”

We started researching, and what we found was that flavored whiskey is emerging, but the options were too sweet, too syrupy, and not the whiskeys you’d want to sit by the fireplace and sip. Maybe there was an opportunity to do something different. If we create a whiskey flavor, it had to be whiskey first with amazing aroma and flavor. We had a visit to a distillery asking all the questions, different types of whiskey and flavorings. We had chemistry sets in our kitchen. We’re on the phone, and finally we come to a formula where, “Oh, wow. That’s it.”

I do a lot in New York. He’s doing a lot in Florida. I’m having friends try it. He makes them try in Florida.

We decided to give it a shot. Two weeks later, I moved to Florida. It was a great ride. Why not have flavor with some scotch and bourbon complexity? Why not have the whiskey you like to drink? We feel we have succeeded.

Tap: With whiskey culture and flavored whiskey culture, how does having premium flavored whiskey fit in?

Amani: If you’re looking at what’s driving segment growth, you have to look to Fireball. It’s not only the top-selling flavored whiskey, it’s one of the top five selling spirits in the United States, so when you think about it, the category is dominated by flavored whiskey that you wouldn’t consider premium.

For us, that’s a good thing. We can walk into a new establishment and say it’s not something you’ve experienced before. Do we have the impression that there are other actors in space at our same level? We think not. But no good idea remains without a copy. We’ll start to see other players come into the market – smaller craft players.

We have friends in the industry. We hear all the time that they want us to use neutral grain spirits and just put in caramel flavor and coloring so we can sell more for less. It’s the model that works for a lot of brands, but it’s not for us.

For us, we want to play in the space where someone tries the whiskey and can taste the quality.

Tap: How do you drink it?

Amani: When I do a tasting, I always want people to try it neat first. I want them to try it out of the bottle out of the car at room temperature. If you like it like that, you’ll love it on the rocks or mixed with blenders. And try two sips. It’s avant-garde. Depending on the palate, some people get more vanilla, more butterscotch, or more caramel. What they notice is that there is no whiskey burn which puts off a lot of people. Then on the second sip the bourbon notes start to round out, it’s a 100% corn whiskey base so you get oak and spice notes on the back. Some palates get a little citrusy. It’s amazing to see the faces light up. I call it magic. We made it so aromatic, and that’s because 50% of the taste comes from smell. Then the senses adjust, you taste and you get the beautiful layered portfolio of tastes. Then, after that, I wonder what to do with it.

Some Duke & Dame recipes

Amani said the whiskey should start appearing in more stores and restaurants across West Michigan, but he said it was already in Smitty’s, Rishi’s and Total Wine. He said some restaurants had already ordered it, like Gravity and Brick & Porter.

He said the drink is great but can be turned into classic cocktails, more unique specific cocktails or even shooters. Here are some recipes:

Pineapple whiskey mule

2 ounces Duke and Lady

1 ounce of pineapple juice

1/4 ounce lemon juice

2 ounces of ginger beer

Shake the ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Pour into a mullet mug over ice and top with ginger beer. Garnish with sprig of rosemary.

Minty Lady shooter

2 parts Duke & Lady

1/2 dose of coffee liqueur

1/2 part peppermint schnapps

kiss the lady

3/4 ounce Duke & Lady

3/4 ounce yellow chartreuse

3/4 ounce maraschino liqueur

3/4 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into the glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

Espresso Martini

2 parts Duke & Lady

1/2 ounce coffee liqueur

1/2 ounce Irish cream liqueur

1 ounce espresso

Shake all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Strain into a chilled glass. Garnish with coffee beans. (Note from Pat: I use chocolate covered espresso beans).

What is Pat drinking

I’m in Boston for the weekend, so I try the local beers, like Jack’s Abby lagers and the delicious line of Trillium beers. I also check out great beer pioneers, such as Boston Beer Co’s Samuel Adams and Harpoon.

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