Tips & Trends Using Flavoring in Beer and Spirits

picture of many colors of different fruits

By: Alyssa L. Ochs

Every kind of beer and spirit has its unique flavor profile, yet many producers are getting creative by adding their own flavorings. Craft beverage makers can enhance natural flavors by adding flavor concentrates that tap into consumers’ sense of nostalgia and help them stand out in a crowded marketplace. Flavors can make your beverages more enjoyable than ever before. Yet, their addition to your menu should consider your target customers and be part of a strategic marketing approach that reflects their current and future tastes and interests.

  Beverage Master Magazine connected with experts in the flavoring field to help breweries and distilleries better understand this trend and how to make it work to their benefit.

The Role of Flavors in the Craft Beverage Industry

  Breweries and distilleries may use flavorings to add complexity to a beverage or to highlight its uniqueness. Flavorings can draw in new audiences that might not otherwise try a beverage and entice the imaginations of curious consumers looking for the next big thing when they go out for a drink. Adding even a single flavor can offer your consumers a sense of comfort, escapism, adventure, indulgence or reminiscent memories – all powerful concepts that go beyond simple refreshment in a glass.

  Blake Lyon, the senior applications scientist for FlavorSum, told Beverage Master Magazine that flavors provide another tool to bring your dreams to life. FlavorSum is the fastest-growing North American flavor company and has applications for alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, bakery and snack foods, confections and dairy.

  “A flavor company can help create your vision of a strawberry fudge sundae beer or vodka cocktail and make little adjustments until you have a smile that shows you’re proud of something you created,” Lyon said. “Strawberry not juicy enough? We can adjust the flavor. Want to add a slight caramel note to the fudge to bring out more sweetness? Flavor can make it happen. Developing uniquely great-tasting craft beverages without flavor is extremely challenging and time-consuming. Even if your first batch meets your expectations, you may be unable to reproduce it. Flavors have your back!” 

  The type of alcoholic beverage you are developing should dictate the flavors you consider for addition. For example, flavors that typically complement beers and ciders include apple cinnamon, caramel and blueberry. Peach, strawberry and guava flavors work well with vodka, while honey, black cherry and salted caramel flavors go wonderfully with whisky. Lemon and lime flavors pair well with tequila and gin, while fruit-forward flavors like kiwi and cranberry might be perfect for your distillery’s ready-to-drink cocktails.

How FlavorSum Approaches Flavors

  Lyon at FlavorSum shared with Beverage Master that while every company has a mission statement, not all truly embody the words.

  “When I joined FlavorSum, I noticed a different tone,” Lyon said. “We treat customers more like partners, and when a partner needs help, we go further than just supplying them with a great flavor. When I started, I was given a pyramid with three key points to keep in mind for every project and every customer interaction. Our core values are to strive for excellence, be a team player and do what’s right. I try to live those values every day, and I see that commitment in my coworkers as well.”

  When asked about what considerations breweries should keep in mind when adding flavors to beer, Lyon replied, “I may deviate from other companies here, but when we partner with breweries, we first ask, ‘Is your goal to do what others are doing, or do you want to forge your own path?’ 

  The answer to that question helps FlavorSum collaborate on a framework to achieve the brewer’s objective.

  “Flavors get a bad rap in the brewing industry,” Lyon added. “If I traded roles with the brewer, I might agree since creating a recipe as pure to the art as possible is often the objective. The purist approach does constrain what you can develop. I have heard of places ‘dry hopping’ with whole pies, but that won’t have the same impact as partnering with a flavor company. With flavor, you’re more limited by your imagination than by the ingredients available. We can use natural ingredients to help make your wildest dreams come to life and formulate a beverage that stands out at the tap room and parties featuring beer.”

Flavorings from Mother Murphy

Another company that works in the space of flavorings is Mother Murphy’s, a family-owned and operated food flavoring business with headquarters in Greensboro, North Carolina. Mother Murphy’s comes up with innovative ways to serve the beverage, bakery, dairy and confections markets with flavor capabilities that extend to emulsions, extracts, liquids, powders and spray-dried offerings.

  Al Murphy from Mother Murphy’s Flavors told Beverage Master how his company serves the alcoholic beverage industry by working with craft breweries and distilleries.

  “We manufacture flavors and extracts that are used to make flavored beers and seltzers,” Murphy said. “We have over 3,000 flavors that are TTB-approved with FIDS. They are used to make flavored liquors and flavored spirits. Flavors are typically used with sugar & acid to help make flavored spirits.”

  When asked what makes his company unique while operating within the food and beverage flavorings industry, he said, “Our people, knowledge within the industry and our products set us apart from our competitors.”

Benefits and Challenges of Flavors

  Lyon at FlavorSum shared some practical knowledge with us about the benefits flavors provide to brewers and distillers.

  “Flavors can save you time – time fermenting or extracting while your product sits in tanks,” he said. “You’ll spend less time cleaning since you won’t have to climb into the tank to shovel out all the leftover fruit. Flavors also provide consistency. You won’t have to worry about how the crop will turn out each year. You won’t need to spend time adjusting your formula to dial in the same flavor you gave to people last year. Flavors are the same every time and have the same dosage. You’ll gain peace of mind. You put significant time and effort into crafting a beverage for your fans to enjoy. Now, you can turn out great products with a little less effort and a consistent profile. We’re proud of our short lead times, so you won’t have to worry about having the flavors you need to meet demand.”

  The challenges of using flavorings in beer and spirits include staying authentic to the original beverage and retaining customers with the new innovations. There are also regulatory issues to be aware of, as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau must approve flavors before they can be added to alcoholic beverages. Therefore, manufacturers need to be able to disclose the composition of their flavors to be compliant with the law.

Current Flavoring Trends

  There is little doubt that flavors are trending right now as a general concept in the craft beverage industry. An increasing number of producers are becoming interested in highlighting florals, spices, exotic fruits and dessert flavors in their beverage lineups.

  “We are watching the rise of bitter flavors showing up in craft beverages,” said Lyon from FlavorSum. “Drinks incorporating amaro (e.g., Campari) and botanical liqueurs (e.g., Aperol) have been on the rise, which shows me people are looking for drinks with a little more complexity. As people explore beverages such as an Aperol spritz, a ripple effect could lead to more consumption of gin. Cocktails like the boulevardier, which has Campari and bourbon, could increase interest in other spirits.”

  Lyon went on to share, “People may be looking for softer entries into these types of drinks, and the lower ABV found in some ready-to-drink cocktails gives them an option. We have been exploring the bitter flavors space and adding twists to classic cocktails. For instance, we put an Italian twist on the traditional Negroni to elevate the ready-to-drink cocktail experience. We used Aperol instead of Campari and added some blood orange to emphasize the sweetness in contrast to the bitterness.”

  With regard to trends, Murphy from Mother Murphy’s shared with us that his company has noticed classic cocktails and super premium and premium RTDs are extremely popular. 

  “Sweet tea RTDs are on fire right now,” Murphy said. “Flavored whiskeys are trending with indulgent profiles.”

  Mother Murphy’s has a “flavor industry insights and trends” page on its website where craft beverage producers can learn more and stay ahead of the curve of what may interest their customers. For example, flavoring trends often follow the seasons due to the types of foods many people gravitate to around their favorite holidays.

  If your brewery or distillery is new to the concept of flavoring but is interested in learning how it may expand your customer base or help you branch out and try something new, consider reaching out to these companies to discuss your options. Even just a few subtle tweaks in your recipes could open up a whole new world of possibilities and help your business stand out from others in your community. Perhaps now is the right time to get creative and see how flavorings can enhance your current lineup of beverages!

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