Hunting season for beverage buyers varies for specific categories. In spring, the population of light rums or liqueurs may be plentiful. In summer, one expects packs of tequilas to generate exquisite, refreshing cocktails. In autumn, migrating global gins and vodkas are always abundant. And in winter, the target is herds of brown spirits.
But new brown spirit Red Stag is an all-season animal. Introduced in June, it has a unique flavor and an approachable character that give it the agility to leap into cocktail glasses all year long.
Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Hakim shows off his Red Stag―based Bourbon Blossom at Mi Piace in Pasadena, CA.
PHOTO: DAVID GADD
“The idea behind Red Stag was created by a true Kentuckian,” says Kelly Doss, Senior Director, U.S. Bourbons and Whiskies, for Beam Global. “An individual from our R&D department at Beam in Clermont, Kentucky, created it for personal use and would take the spirit camping and hunting.”
The Red Stag elk actually roamed the Kentucky’s eastern mountains in the days of Jacob Beam, in the late 18th century. Hunted nearly to extinction, the giant deer were reintroduced in regional forests in 1997, and happily the species is thriving.
The concept of mixing cherries with bourbon is not a new one. “It is not uncommon to see huge vats of bourbon on bar counters,” Doss points out, “and in those over-sized jars are cherries, soaking up the flavors of the whiskey. Red Stag mirrors that flavor profile, with a heritage."
The cherry-bourbon infusion needed an identity, and the scientist’s formula was a natural evolution for this species.
“Jim Beam four-year-old bourbon provides the stamp of bourbon authenticity and quality in Red Stag,” Doss tells THE TASTING PANEL. “The natural black cherry infusion is a twist on bourbon, a contemporary take on an American spirit."
Doss and her marketing team at Beam pursued a month-long ethnographic study to discover consumer drinking trends. “We spent time in homes, we caught up with bourbon drinkers in bars and hung out with their friends,” she muses. “This was one of the most exciting launches I have been involved with in my career."
Targeting 25- to 34-year-old males, Doss and her colleagues discovered an unintentional following. “Women, especially those who were out with the guys, found Red Stag to be easy drinking and enjoyable. We heard everything from ‘versatile’ to ‘extremely mixable’ to ‘smooth without a traditional bourbon aftertaste’—the feedback was amazing."
In October 2008, Beam Global changed the face of rye whiskey with its exquisite and elegant super-premium rī1. Now, bucking the system with a new breed of bourbon, Red Stag expands an American whiskey category even further.
Contemporary and fun, the fresh take on bourbon will focus heavily on on-premise. “We believe in trial: Try Red Stag and you’re sold. That’s our message for restaurateurs, mixologists and bar managers.”
Doss recommends switching out regular bourbon for Red Stag in traditional mixed drinks such as the Manhattan. “It turns into the Red Manhattan,” she says, enthusiastically describing the addition of sweet and dry vermouth to Red Stag. “Garnish it with a long-stemmed black cherry,” she advises.
The mixability of Red Stag, along with a long black cherry finish that happens to stay extremely pleasant on the palate, makes it an appealing partner for fresh citrus or berry juices. Bar chefs into savory flavors such as basil, rosemary or black tea are sure to find a trail of recipes for Red Stag.
Or, drink it on its own, chilled, without anything else. Perhaps that shot should be called the Stag Party.
|Rack & Roll:
Red Stag Partners with Kid Rock
PHOTO COUTESY OF RED STAG BY JIM BEAM
Hoof Prints: Red Stag facts
Suggested Retail Price: $18 (750 ml.)
Bottle sizes: 50 ml., 750 ml., 1 Liter
Innovation: Artisanal infusion process; black cherry flavors are slowly infused into four-year-old Jim Beam bourbon.
Flavor notes: Corn sweetness meets ripe black cherry; mellow oak and a hint of spicy orange blossom and vanilla on the finish.
Multi-platinum superstar Kid Rock will play his 2009 Rock N’ Rebels Tour this summer in 25 cities across North America. Fifty cents from every ticket sold will be donated to Operation Homefront, a non-profit organization that provides assistance to America’s military veterans returning home to their families.
Red Stag and Kid Rock will help fund emergency aid, moving assistance, computer programs and care packages in local chapters throughout the country.
“Kid Rock is such an energetic and generous performer,” Doss states. “He’s a long-time Jim Beam fan and, like Jim Beam, an avid supporter of the U.S. military. A different breed of bourbon and a different breed of rock star—there’s no better match.”
RED STAG ON-PREMISE: WEST COAST
Mi Piace, Pasadena
Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Hakim is a pro. “I started bartending when I was 18,” he says, “and I’m 44 now; that’s 26 years behind the bar.” He runs his own mixology and catering business, Perfect Mix, but his five nights per week as Head Bartender at Mi Piace in Old Town Pasadena constitute his main gig.
Brandon Bartlett, Beam Global’s Western Division Senior Sales Manager (left), with Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Hakim at Mi Piace.
Hakim is known far and wide for his expertise in spirits history (which he calls “the story in the bottle”), his engaging personality and ready laugh and, not least, his masterful technique. The latter includes taking time to muddle properly, even when the bar is packed three-deep. “I have a few regulars who drive 30 or 40 minutes to come here for my Old Fashioneds,” laughs the master muddler.
“You can tell Henry cares,” notes Brandon Bartlett, Beam Global’s Western Division Senior Sales Manager, as he watches Hakim muddling the heck out of fresh blueberries and lemon for one of his most recent creations, the Bourbon Blossom, made with Red Stag. “Although it’s usually considered a masculine drink,” says Hakim, “women are starting to drink more bourbon, so I try to ‘feminize’ this cocktail a bit.” Women who order the Bourbon Blossom get an edible flower as a garnish, while men get a flamed orange twist.
Although Mi Piace is one of the best Italian restaurants in the area, weekly DJ evenings have made its bar the most popular night spot in Old Town on Thursdays; the younger crowd that shows up likes to drink Red Stag as shots, according to Hakim. The restaurant’s dinner patrons appreciate the new infused bourbon, too, especially given Hakim’s skill at crafting perfectly balanced mixed drinks.
Hakim thinks that his customers’ experiences with infused vodkas have prepared them to be receptive to Red Stag, with its black cherry infusion. “It’s a very unique product, with natural flavors and a smooth finish,” opines Hakim. “A lot of people have been very surprised by Red Stag, and the response has been wonderful."
For some, bartending is just a job; for Hakim, it’s a profession. “It’s my craft and I respect it highly,” says Hammerin’ Hank, mixing up another perfect Red Stag cocktail. “I live it and I breathe it.”
|The Bourbon Blossom
by Henry "Hammerin' Hank" Hakim
Juice of half a lemon
1¼ oz. Red Stag
Muddle the first three ingredients thoroughly in a bucket glass. Add ice and Red Stag and top with soda water. Serve with an edible flower or a flamed twist of orange.
Henry Hakim’s Bourbon Blossom at gets an edible flower garnish . . . just for women.
Russ Meek co-owns and operates what has become one of Pasadena’s premier live-music venues, redwhite+bluezz, where blues and jazz are the favored genres.
Co-owner Russ Meek and his team at redwhite+bluezz have run wild with Red Stag: (left to right) the Red Julep, Ace’s Special and the Stag Slammer. PHOTO: DAVID GADD
|His partners—wife Marie and friend André Vener, who books the music—have created a multi-faceted space that offers low-key gourmet dining, an intimate nightclub, two bars and a spacious patio. The three-year-old venue is also doing something unheard of in the current economic climate: expanding.
Thanks to talented staffers such as lead barman Ace Frame, who was twice voted Pasadena’s best bartender, Meek has a loyal clientele, some of whom often stroll over for an afternoon cocktail. These days, Meek and company can offer the regulars several new options, thanks to Red Stag.
Ace’s Special combines the black cherry–infused Red Stag with triple sec, blood orange, bitters and powdered sugar. The Red Julep is the Red Stag take on the classic Mint Julep, using rock candy syrup (or sugar in the raw) and a whole squeeze of lemon in addition to mint. The addition of citrus helps balance the sweetness of the black cherry in Red Stag, notes Meek.
“Having cocktails before dinner and after dinner—that’s dining,” says Meek, who honed his chops in the restaurant world by working his way up through the Friday’s organization before opening redwhite+bluezz. The restaurant-slash-club also has an off-premise license and an astounding wine list. Meek, who is a Certified Sommelier, is equally versed in wine and spirits. “I originally came to wine through spirits,” he says, “and now I’ve come back to spirits. It all comes back to the spirits.” —D.G.
3 oz. Red Stag
1½ oz. Amaretto
Juice of half a lemon
2 oz. cranberry juice
1½ ounces sweet & sour
Combine all ingredients over ice and stir.
|The Buckshot: Taking Life by the Horns
Beam Global recommendsThe Buckshot, a quick shooter that’s half Red Stag and half German herbal liqueur (the one with the stag on its label).
RED STAG ON-PREMISE: MIDWEST
The Ugly Mug, Minneapolis
The beauty of the Ugly Mug in the Warehouse District of Minneapolis is its versatility. “Our slogan is ‘Two great bars under one roof,’” says General Manager Jared Peterson.
Jared Peterson, GM of The Ugly Mug, with the Stag Float. PHOTO: LISA POSELEY
Upstairs, it’s a sleek nightclub, with VIP booths and bottle service. Downstairs is “sort of a Cheers bar—your local corner pub,” says Peterson. “We’ve got great regular customers who come in and see us all the time.”
Peterson says that the versatile Red Stag has found a receptive audience on both floors. Bar patrons who just want to chill out go for his Stag Float, which Peterson describes as “a twist on a Colorado Bulldog [which is essentially a White Russian with Coke]. It tastes like an adult version of a root beer float.” He’ll even add a scoop of ice cream if someone wants it.
Over the past year or so, Peterson has noticed that more women are ordering whiskey drinks. “It’s kind of a phenomenon here in Minneapolis,” he says. The addition of Red Stag to the Ugly Mug’s repertoire plays into that shift perfectly. But it’s not just a call of choice for the ladies, he insists: “It spans all demographics. With its cherry-infused flavor, you’d assume it would have more of a female appeal, but for one of our barbacks here, it’s now his preferred drink—it’s just about all he drinks.”
2 oz. Red Stag
1 oz. coffee liqueur
5 oz. root beer
½ oz. cream
Shake Red Stag and coffee liqueur over ice, then strain over fresh ice in a pint glass. Add root beer and stir gently. Float cream on top.
RED STAG ON-PREMISE: EAST COAST
Las Chicas Locas, New York City
THE TASTING PANEL met up with Trevor Schneider, still rosy after his first Tales of the Cocktail, at his regular New York City gig, Las Chicas Locas. Schneider, who recently competed in a national bartending competition, spoke with us about Red Stag and the brand appeal behind the new black-cherry-infused bourbon.
Trevor Schneider of Las Chicas Locas says Red Stag appeals to both men and women.
PHOTO: MARGUERITE RICHARDS
|So, on one hand, we’ve got a manly name (guys do love antlers) and, on the other, a girly flavor (quite the yummy digestif over ice) and, finally, Kid Rock as the face of the product. Curious combination, isn’t it? And somehow you just know Jim Beam is going to pull it off.
But who’s it for? For the man who likes a sweet whisky, but wouldn’t be caught dead ordering “a black cherry bourbon, please”? Or for the young lady pretending to hold her own with the boys? Evidently it’s for both. According to Schneider, the black cherry infusion can and will turn more women on to bourbon, but “there are also guys that ask for Manhattans with a little more sweet vermouth”—the perfect opportunity for a savvy bartender like Schneider to introduce Red Stag.
Aside from playing wise to the taste preferences of today's twenty-something crowd, which defy old-school notions of gender-specific drinks, Red Stag is simply one of the first infused bourbons on the market. “If they can get in on it now,” says Schneider, “and it becomes a trend like with vodka, they’ll be the first to be successful."
What better place to try out this colorful new bourbon than Las Chicas Locas, the new restaurant and lounge that brings something else that's been missing from New York—proper Mexican food. Would you believe that tacos in New York are served closed, and in a flour tortilla unless you request corn? Not the case at Las Chicas, which has been getting rave revues for what Chris Romano, Director of Operations, calls more “stripped down, deconstructed dishes.” And the guacamole is perfect. The carne asada for dinner, a Red Stag Manhattan for dessert, then let’s move out the tables—it’s Tuesday night salsa! It’s enough to make a chica loca!
Red Stag Manhattan
1¾ oz. Red Stag
¾ oz. of sweet vermouth
Dash of bitters
Build first three ingredients in a shaker. Shake and strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with the cherry.