Liquid Thinking

Whisky gets meaty

Why BBQ’d drams are in

22nd March 2023

The world’s of food and drink have been slowly merging over the past few years, with food inspired drinks and drink inspired foods. Now, as two genres continue to play off each other, the term ‘don’t play with your food’ has become well and truly redundant. As Scotch brand Ardbeg announces its new BBQ-inspired liquid, we ask, do consumers really want to drink their food? 

You’ve heard of peated whisky, but have you heard of meated whisky? You have now. Scotch brand Ardbeg has just launched BizarreBQ. Described as the distillery’s first ever limited-edition barbecue-inspired whisky (because why possibly would there be others?) it has been produced to capture the flavours of smoky barbeque. 

There’s no meat in it. But by working with ‘grilling guru’ Christian Stevenson, the distiller has figured out a process using double-charred oak casks, Pedro Ximénez sherry casks and the distillery’s unique BBQ casks, that give the liquid a “meaty, peaty punch” to compliment BBQ’d food. To hear them tell it, the taste is like: “Puffs of charcoal and soot mingling with smoky wood and aromatic herbs and spices”. Apparently there is: “The undeniable smell of bonfire and BBQ embers linger in the background. Deep, warming smoke follows in flame-grilled steak, chilli oil, cured leather and clove.” 

The release marks the next phase of the distillery’s journey to uncover new ways of experiencing and enjoying smoky flavours. But will it ever be more than a curiosity? A dram to drink as a dare? Does it belong to the canon of serious whisky making and experimentation, or is it a novelty fad? 

Meaty launches 

The past suggests that novelty is at the heart of meaty launches. Look back to around 2012-2015 and there were plenty of them, across both the US and the UK. It was the era of Conwy Brewery’s lamb-flavoured Sunday Toast beer and the Rogue and Voodoo Doughnuts collaboration beer, Bacon Maple Ale. 

It’s worth noting that this was an era where bacon seemed to creep into everything, from Manhattans to Brownies. And it was also the age of the overloaded, calorific and frankly ridiculous Bloody Mary serves. Piled high with everything from lamb chops and chicken wings to sliders, these colossal cocktail serves seemed to inspire a wave of meaty spirits, from Baller Chilli Bacon Vodka to Proof Maple Bacon Cocktail Syrup. Non-drinkers were not left out with drinks such as Jones Bacon Soda and Maple Bacon Iced Teas. 

Following food fads 

Since then, trends in both food and drink have moved on. With plant-based being the flavour of the decade, we’ve seen a shift to plant-based cream liqueurs among other things. But conversely, there’s also been a shift to junk-food inspired drinks, from Mountain Dew and Cheetos’ Flamin’ Hot Soda to noodle and even mayonnaise flavoured beers. 

So where does this shift back to all things meaty fit in? Ardbeg is quick to assert the level of craft, knowledge, experience and know-how that has gone into creating this liquid. It might be a curiosity, but it is not a throw-away novelty. The brand has taken the long path to imparting flavour, rather than hooking up with a flavour house to simply purchase some. And there are of course legions of whisky devotees, always on the look out for the next step-forward in liquid experimentation from their favourite brands, who will greet this launch with enthusiasm simply because it pushes the boundaries. 

Experience thirsty

But what this launch points to more than anything else, is that consumers are still seeking out new, slightly off-kilter experiences. Following a brutal few years of sitting at home with nothing happening at all, followed by a full-throttle launch into world wars, spiking interest rates and ever-squeezed incomes, seeking out fun, new, and affordableexperiences wherever possible remains a priority for many consumers. And increasingly, brands are willing to give it to them. 

In fact, get used to the juxtaposition; high-end brands exploring and being playful when it comes to low-brow flavours and ideas will become a fixture over the next couple of years, as a desire by all to indulge in what we find both comforting and fun, will dominate. Expect prestigious spirits brands who have never dared launch a flavour to do so, while those already exploring limited editions to launch ever-more madcap takes on what’s possible to convey in a liquid.  

The mega-trend for taking care of yourself and your body better will not go away; that one is here to stay. But in these stressful times, consumers want the permission and possibility to play a little more. Multi-dimensional, themed, and experiential launches from the brands they trust and that are viewed as premium, are just one way of doing that. But there is a ‘watch out’; with budgets squeezed, new flavours need to be enticing enough to persuade consumers to part with their cash. Curious is in, but bonkers is out. In this time of perpetual and mounting stress and angst, novelty has a newfound credibility. 


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