We are being invaded by Canada. No, our friendly neighbors to the north are not rolling tanks across the border (although a few more Stanley Cups won in the lower 48 and this might hold to be false.) The intracontinental aggression comes in the form of Fireball Whisky [sic]—capturing the minds (and livers) of our adolescents with a philistine stranglehold and debilitating sticky residue.
Fireball Whisky [sic] is a Canadian spirit with a strong candy-like cinnamon flavor. I won’t mince my words, it tastes like shit. Why not just have a real cocktail and then an Altoid? The Fireball website claims “your dad’s whisky never tasted so smooth.” Actually, I’d rather have my dad’s whisky, it’s probably more aged, doesn’t taste like candy, and stronger than a measly 66 proof.
Before we go any further, allow me to qualify my polarizing claims. I am very much into my spirits. People accuse me of “liquor snobbery” or “alcohol elitism” on a somewhat regular basis. I run a small, members-only, cocktail bar where I do not serve Fireball Whisky [sic]. I subscribe to that whole “I don’t use Vodka, it’s for the sans-culottes” thing. One of the bars I frequent most often actively states on their menu that they don’t serve Vodka. Conde Nast Traveler recently described another regular haunt of mine with “on weekdays, cocktail fans come solo just for the drinks.” You generally won’t find me in a bar on a Friday or Saturday; that’s when neophytes crowd themselves in to take shots of Fireball Whisky [sic]. But at the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal taste. This piece (rant) portrays only my own.
Recently, a dear friend of mine woke up the morning after her birthday party to find that someone had gifted her a 1.75 liter bottle of Fireball Whisky [sic]. Shockingly, the bottle remained unopened throughout the entire party, and now only served as a glaring blemish in an otherwise impeccably decorated apartment. Rather than bemoan her with a lecture about doing a better job of vetting people’s libatious tendencies before inviting them into one’s home, I decided to seize this opportunity to conduct some scientific research.
Hypothesis: No matter what I try, I cannot find a way to enjoy Fireball Whisky [sic].
Fireball is marketed as a “whisky” so I assumed I could use it like I would any other whisky. For my initial experiment, I decided to make a Manhattan. Two parts Fireball Whisky [sic], one part Carpano Antica, a couple dashes of Angostura Bitters—stirred and strained into a coupe glass. This drink turned out to be exactly the opposite of a Manhattan and should thereby be named in apt juxtaposition to New York…say, Fort Lauderdale? It tasted exactly like you would assume: a Manhattan tainted with the god-awful tinge of sugary cinnamon candy, replete with a peculiar chemical aftertaste. A fellow cocktail researcher tried the newly minted Lauderdale and proclaimed, “That’s highly offensive but you could sell plenty on Polk Street!” This did not deter me—I knew it was not going to be an easy project.
Note: I’d like to take a moment to formally apologize to Fratelli Branca Distillerie of Milan and the House of Angostura in Trinidad and Tobago for such brand-tarnishing adulteration. But as they say, science makes strange bedfellows.
Next up was the Old Fashioned. This mess turned out to be even more reproachable than the Lauderdale. The overly ambitious blend of Fireball Whisky [sic], oranges, and simple syrup triggered a stomach-wrenching nausea after just one sugar-laden sip. Now, I admit, I would not normally make an Old Fashioned with an entire fruit salad muddled into my glass, but for sake of science I decided to make the cocktail in the same fashion one would find it in an average bar and not fuddle over historical accuracy. All in all, this ended up being a waste of a perfectly honest Luxardo cherry.
At this point I noticed a peculiar customer service phone number printed on the back of the bottle: 1-866-SAZERAC. Of all the vanity numbers available, Fireball was awarded one named after a bastion of American cocktailing and arguably one of the oldest cocktails native to our land. I understand that Fireball Whisky [sic] is owned by the Sazerac Company but still, is nothing sacred?
The next logical test was to mix up a Sazerac cocktail. Nope, another failure. I have truly angered the gods now.
Perhaps an Improved Whiskey Cocktail is our golden ticket? Negative. This drink is a complete misnomer—there seems to be no improving of Fireball, a modern day hemlock.
Forgive me Jerry Thomas, for I have sinned. Next, I decided to try my hand at cocktails specifically designed for Canadian whisky. I dusted off a trusted companion from my shelf, The Mixicologist (C.F. Lawlor, 1895) and began to toil away with various experiments.
No, no, no, and no. This was beginning to become my personal Poincare’s Conjecture.
At this point I felt defeated (and still nauseous) and began to reminisce about my youth when taking shots of Jägermeister was the norm. At least the black licorice syrup was a natural building block towards an illustrious career of sipping Fernet Branca and other delectable amari. But where does Fireball Whisky [sic] lead you? Hyperglycemia?
I give up. Fireball, as a man of business I admire your success. But as a man of culture, taste, and sugar-consciousness I loathe you.
Conclusion: Fireball Whisky [sic] is an abomination—a burning and sticky assault on our tastebuds and bar tops. Q.E.D., it cannot be assimilated into the modern cocktail lexicon.
P.S. The next person to invite me to their home receives a 3/4 full bottle of cavity-inducing mouthwash.