We hoity-toity cocktail snobs don’t like to admit it, but cinnamon is a full-fledged booze phenomenon. Fireball wasn’t the first cinnamon-flavored liquor out there, but its massive success has seen it catch on among everybody from frat boys to retired fishermen, not to mention Pitbull. And imitators are jumping aboard, with sweet-and-spicy, shot-friendly bottlings based on whiskey, tequila and more.
In the interest of…science, I guess, and because my editor is a sadist, I blind-tasted a dozen of these popular tipples. Here are the results.
12. PELIGROSO CINNAMON TEQUILA ($23)
Started by two SoCal surfers, Peligroso sells a full line of straight tequilas as well as this 70-proof liqueur. As soon as you open the bottle, there’s no mistaking that it’s tequila-based, with a powerful and unmistakable agave note. Unfortunately, the “cinnamon” part doesn’t so much taste like cinnamon, and more like an artificial flavor.
11. CINERATOR HOT CINNAMON FLAVORED WHISKEY ($15)
High ABV is usually a good thing, but this 91.1-proof entry from Heaven Hill, which owns such beloved bourbon brands as Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, might be too strong for its own good. The alcohol drowns out the cinnamon’s complexity, leaving a sugary shot that’ll have your lips tingling but without much impression of the actual spice.
10. JACK DANIEL’S TENNESSEE FIRE ($23)
Released just a few months ago, Tennessee Fire is the latest shot across Fireball’s bow, this one joining Tennessee Honey in the venerable distiller’s flavor stable. Like the regular Jack Daniel’s whiskey, this one is quite mellow, which lets sweetness dominate the cinnamon and whiskey flavors.
9. SINFIRE CINNAMON WHISKY ($17)
The nose on this one is lovely, a nice spice-and-caramel mix that screams, appropriately enough, cinnamon and whiskey. Sadly, that cinnamon fades when you taste it. There’s a bit of burn going down but overall it’s just not cinnamon-y enough.
8. CANNELLA CINNAMON CORDIAL ($26 FOR 375 ML)
Of all the spirits on this list, Cannella smells and tastes the most like real, actual cinnamon. That makes sense, as it’s the most artisanal one, infused with real Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka, as well as cassia, which is what most of us think of as cinnamon (and what’s more, creator Joe Cannella’s last name actually means cinnamon in Italian). The downside is that all that real cinnamon adds a bitterness that can be challenging if you’re drinking it straight. It’s perfect for mixing in cocktails, though.
7. HOT STUFF CINNAMON FLAVORED WHISKY ($15)
Made from a blend of bourbon and Canadian whisky, Hot Stuff definitely does taste like whiskey. The cinnamon spice is weak on the first sip but builds over time with a lingering burn. An odd mint note comes through, though, which takes away from an otherwise tasty spirit.
6. JOSE CUERVO CINGE ($17)
Cuervo’s cinnamon entry starts with Jose Cuervo Especial Silver, adding sugar and spice to bring it down to 70-proof. The stuff doesn’t have the same strong tequila presence as Peligroso, but the overall experience is much more pleasant. It tastes like a slightly-too-sweet cinnamon cocktail with a tequila hint in the background.
5. REVEL STOKE CINNAMON FLAVORED WHISKY ($18)
Made by the same company as Hot Stuff, Revel Stoke has a base of just Canadian whisky, but its flavor is better balanced than its slightly cheaper sibling. There’s a nice mix of sweet and spice, with some complex honey and maple notes.
4. JÄGERMEISTER SPICE ($23)
You’d think that adding cinnamon and vanilla to classic Jäger’s melange of 56 botanicals wouldn’t make much difference, but this new product is quite a change. The minty bitterness of the original takes a backseat to a pleasantly tingly spice, creating a drink that tastes a lot like a cinnamony Old Fashioned, albeit one that goes heavy on the bitters.
3. FIREBALL CINNAMON WHISKY ($18)
There’s a reason Fireball started this trend and everybody else is chasing its coattails: It’s tasty stuff. Strangely, it has almost no smell at all, but when it hits your tongue, you’ll get a blast of sweet spice. Fireball’s balance is key—it’s neither too sweet nor too fiery. (If you want to add to its cred, tell your whiskey-geek friends that Fireball’s owned by Sazerac, the same company that makes Pappy Van Winkle.)
2. JEREMIAH WEED CINNAMON WHISKEY ($19)
Jeremiah Weed is the most complicated of all the cinnamon-flavored spirits here, with intriguing floral notes that blend really nicely with the tongue-tingling spice. The end result is like drinking a cinnamon candy cane—you want to sip and savor rather than shoot this stuff.
1. JIM BEAM KENTUCKY FIRE ($16)
It’s probably not a coincidence that the top bottling in this story is the one that tastes most like actual whiskey. Jim Beam’s cinnamon spirit has been on the market for about a year, and its base is the company’s best-selling Kentucky bourbon. The sweet and spice serve to enhance the whiskey rather than overpower it, and it leaves a pleasantly warm sensation on the tongue.
Jason Horn is Playboy.com’s spirits columnist. He lives in Los Angeles and you can follow him on Twitter @messyepicure.
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