A love-it-or-hate-it whiskey from Jim Beam, who have flavoured their bourbon with natural cherry flavour to make Red Stag.
Tasting Notes by Lew Bryson for Whisky Advocate
Smells like sweet, dead-ripe cherries, mashed up in bourbon with some brown sugar and just a dust of cinnamon. It’s sweet, a bit thick, but 80 proof warming, and the bourbon – the Beam cinnamon note comes out clearer now – is dominant over the cherries here. The finish sees more cinnamon, even a hint of barrel oak, and manages to dry out a bit. 83 Points.
Red Stag by Jim Beam is the bourbon giant’s answer to cherry-flavored whiskey. It was one of the brand’s first ventures into flavored whiskey and has gained many fans over the decade since its release.
While Red Stag may not be the whiskey for everyone—traditionalists will likely not appreciate it—the black cherry flavoring is rather impressive. It’s nice on its own, but really shines as a cocktail mixer, so it’s an excellent bottle to stock in your home bar.
What Is Red Stag?
On the bottle of Red Stag, you will notice that it says “Black cherry liqueur infused with Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey.” This means that rather than infusing the cherry flavor directly into Jim Beam Bourbon, it’s the opposite: the bourbon is blended into a cherry liqueur.
The method is not uncommon in the distilled spirits industry. The majority of flavored whiskeys are technically liqueurs because they’re sweetened as well as flavored—Fireball and Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey are two well-known examples. It’s also seen a lot in flavored brandies.
While that technicality can throw off whiskey purists, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the point is that the end product is a drinkable liquor with a taste that people enjoy. Red Stag has an underlying flavor that is distinctly Jim Beam, so you don’t lose its whiskey-ness, and the sweetened cherry flavor is rather pleasant.
Red Stag by Jim Beam was first released in 2009 and is bottled at 35 percent alcohol by volume (ABV, 70 proof).
A Great Cherry Liquor
Adding cherry to alcohol always runs the risk of producing a cough syrup-like taste. It’s the nature of this particular fruit and, when poorly executed, the cherry whiskey can easily give you a flashback to your mother stuffy medicine down your throat as a kid. This is more apparent in vodka, though cherry whiskey can cross that line, too.
Jim Beam has found a nice balance of flavors in Red Stag. Aside from liqueurs like maraschino and Cherry Heering, it is one of the best cherry-flavored liquors available. It lacks most of that medicinal aspect that can make you cringe and bourbon drinkers will definitely appreciate the oaky background. It also helps that they chose black cherries, which are known for their candy-like sweetness.
The aroma holds a soft, dark cherry sweetness backed by the oaky bourbon one expects from Jim Beam. The palate is warm and the pleasant mix of cherry is somewhat overpowering to the whiskey but not so much as to be distracting. The black cherry and alcohol heat become most noticeable in the finish, but it comes about in a sweet way.
Drinking Red Stag
Straight bourbon is nice, though many whiskey drinkers reserve that for higher-end bottles. Jim Beam is one of those affordable brands that is enjoyable on its own, but better suited to mixed drinks, and Red Stag follows this line of thought perfectly.
Using Red Stag in something like a bourbon and water tames the sweet cherry just enough to take off any medicinal edge if you’re going to drink it straight. Red Stag and cola is a natural choice that is very enjoyable. It’s also surprisingly pleasant in a Manhattan, following a recommendation from Bill Samuels Jr. of Maker’s Mark, who sometimes prefers a splash of cherry to a dash of bitters with his sweeter bourbon.
Among traditional bourbon drinks, Red Stag is most charming in an old-fashioned. You’ll find that cherry and orange are an ideal pairing for the sweet black cherry, which gets a little help from the sugar. The optional club soda is essential, however.
Given its liqueur base, Red Stag also has the potential to be used in some (not all) cocktails that call for other cherry-flavored spirits. For instance, it could put a nice whiskey twist on the American dream cocktail when substituted for the black cherry rum. You could also use it instead of cherry brandy in the cola-based black cat recipe. Don’t pour it to delicate classics like the Martinez and you’ll be ok.
Red Stag Cocktails
Of course, Jim Beam has developed a number of signature cocktails to feature this particular whiskey liqueur. In these recipes, you’ll realize just how versatile Red Stag is.
When you first bring home that bottle, mix up a Red Stag lemonade. It’s a little more complex than you might think (though still incredibly easy). You’ll enjoy the refreshing twist of the cherry bourbon against a strawberry liqueur in a tall glass of lemonade with lemon-lime soda.
Strawberries make another appearance in Jim Beam’s fruit punch recipe. This party-worthy mix combines Red Stag, strawberry liqueur, and passion fruit juice. It’s finished off by topping each guest’s glass with sparkling wine.
And, for a really unique taste, there’s the cherry cobbler. In this cocktail, Red Stag meets coconut rum, amaretto, pineapple juice, and cinnamon schnapps. There’s even some cherry puree tossed in that accents the bourbon. It’s served in a graham cracker-rimmed glass to create a rather impressive dessert cocktail.
Use these as inspiration to discover your own personal creations. If you think beyond the typically cherry drink boundaries and explore new flavor pairings, you’ll find Red Stag to be a fascinating addition to your bar.