The popularity of Fireball shots at bars prompted a friend to ask, “why in the world do people drink this stuff?” Having not really tried much of it myself I found the question a valid one and sought to get some answers.
To that end I purchased 50ml size bottles of Sinfire, Fireball and Jack Daniels Fire in an effort to compare some of the offerings.
A little bit about each. Fireball is the original of the three, while there may be other whiskys with cinnamon flavor fireball is by far the most well known and most widely consumed. Fireball as a brand dates back to 2006 when the Sazerac company rebranded their Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Whisky. The product had been in production since the 1980s but with the rebranding came an increase in distribution beyond its native Canada. Bottled at 33% ABV it is actually the lowest alcohol content of the three but only by a small margin. It is billed as a Whisky with natural cinnamon flavor.
Sinfire is produced by the Oregon based Hood River Distillers who also make Pendleton Whiskey, Lucid Absinthe, the Monarch brands of liquors and HRD vodka. HRD is perhaps best known for producing a somewhat rotgut level cheap vodka sold in large plastic bottles. Having just driven by their plant in Hood River Oregon I can say that the place is somewhat forbidding and is perhaps the largest or second largest distillery in the state. Having not had a chance to visit Bend Distilling I can’t really compare but they are far larger than any of the craft distillers in Portland. HRD and Sazerac actually got into a legal scuffle over the branding on their bottles. Sazerac filed suit when sinfire was about to go on sale in Kentucky stating that the tradedress of the bottles was too similar and was likely to cause confusion in the marketplace. As you can see from the photo above they were quite similar. Sinfire has since changed to a black label with different styling. If this was the result of the suit or some form of gentlemen’s agreement isn’t publicly known but the change was made. Sinfire is bottled at 35% ABV and is billed as a Whiskey with Cinnamon Flavor.
Jack Daniels Fire was a limited release in Oregon, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. It has since expanded to Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, South Carolina, and Texas with plans to serve the entire country by spring 2015. So if you can’t find it in your area yet, wait another three months and check again. Like Sinfire it is bottled at 35% ABV but is labeled as Tennessee whiskey blended with a cinnamon liqueur. Further research shows that they use standard Jack Daniels no. 7. This means that in general the Jack fire is mixed with a bourbon rather than just a whiskey and that the cinnamon flavor could be far more complex than just a cinnamon additive.
All of this in mind, I sat down with two friends to compare the various merits of the three.
Much like their possible namesake, the atomic fireball, this whiskey has a very distinct flavor akin to a handful of red hots. The sugar content and artificial nature of the cinnamon are apparent from the first taste and linger long after you swallow. The so called natural flavor is something of a joke as anyone with an ounce of experience with actual cinnamon sticks could hardly identify what is presented here. As a “dare” shot I’m sure this will persist for a long time but there isn’t anything to recommend this beyond that.
Of the three of us who sat down to taste this, one selected this as their favorite. The flavor is much more mellow than fireball, and despite the slightly higher alcohol content it does not burn any harder. The whiskey is prominent and similar in taste to the canadian style whiskey used in pendleton. I can’t say that the cinnamon flavor is much more natural but it is considerably less harsh than fireball.
Jack Fire –
By far the best liked of the three options presented. Jack Fire presents the best whiskey flavor of all three and the cinnamon flavor is less artificial than the other two as well. Jack Daniels is a well presented whiskey and Jack Fire does credit to the brand.
Big thanks to my two co-testers Jess Hartly and Chano