During the last two weeks there has been quite a bit of speculation around the European recall of Myrtle Beach’s best-selling adult beverage. Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey has been removed from shelves in bars and retail outlets in some European countries.
As it turns out, the wanderlust of the spirit world contains propylene glycol in small quantities. This agent is approved by the FDA for food processing and a Fireball representative told Time Magazine last week that the substance “can be ingested over long periods of time and in substantial quantities (up to 5 percent of the total food intake) without causing frank toxic effects.”
Europe has a much lower tolerance for such chemicals in food products and found that the levels in some bottles of Fireball that contained more than one gram per kilogram of propylene glycol. Thus, the ban and recall took place in those countries.
The producers of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey have refuted the recall by issuing their own set of statistics which state the approval by the FDA and the other products that use propylene glycol. Among those are beer and cookies. Propylene glycol is, primarily, used as a stabilizer and thickener according to the FDA. While this recall is not likely to influence sales in the U.S., it does present a major bump in the road for this industry darling.
Sales and drinking preferences aside, why does America allow these things to be added to our food? Why do we operate on an “FDA approval” system where chemicals are allowed to be added if they are not deemed “too harmful?”
Sazerac, the company that makes the fiery liqeur, posted on its Web site that a North American batch of whiskey was sent to Finland, Sweden and Norway. The producers were aware that this batch did not meet the standards of containing less propylene glycol and have reacted swiftly to correct the mistake.
The take away from this post on the company Web site is that it is producing different batches with various levels of chemicals in them based upon where they are shipping them. According to the statements issued by Sazerac, this is to comply with European standards and that both versions of the drink are equally safe. The fact that you are likely to react to alcohol poising before any reaction to propylene glycol is, at first, reassuring... and, then, alarming.
This fast food mentality is the real problem at hand. Sazerac is not the only company utilizing these methods in the spirits industry, I am certain. It is not operating illegally or producing something that will poison thousands of people with the current recipe. However, it is operating under a big business model that is only focused on making a dollar rather than actually producing a great product. The chemical in question is not required to produce the beverage. It is required to produce mass quantities of the spirit that are consistent in flavor and will sit on a shelf for years at the time. Fine. I get it. Make a lot, sell a lot and profit. The American dream. Is this the only way to profit as a company making booze these days?
We live in an craft beer and micro-distillery world right now. To produce a more expensive, better tasting, all natural version of the spirit is not that hard. In fact, you can make it yourself with three or four basic ingredients. Sans propylene glycol I might add. Many craft distillers are doing it, and making money at it, why do we allow these practices to continue?
It is no different than arguing which is better, McDonald’s or a burger made with, say, real meat. Fireball is equal, in comparison, to a Big Mac. It says that it is whiskey, it tastes like whiskey, it looks like whiskey. In reality, these claims just appease the legal definitions of whiskey.
Fireball is only 66 proof, or 33 percent alcohol by volume. Sure, that is, technically, whiskey. However, most traditional labels are more than 80 proof. Some top out beyond 100 proof. On the label it reads “natural cinnamon flavor.” Then why is there a recall? Our federal regulations allow this labeling to occur based on very loose criteria. “All natural, with some other shit thrown in so that we make some money.”
While the recall and debate over ethical labeling of food products is not one that will effect the sale of the beverage, it is one to consider. Not just with Fireball, but with all of our food. The word “safe” has been morphed into something that simply has not been proven to have “frank toxic effects.” Why not sell glasses of propylene glycol in bars if it is the key to making good flavor? Why not have a jar in the grocery store for home use? Can you order it online? I suspect the reason is that it hides behind a money trail that would cause the greater profit margin to whither. I also suspect that it is not safe in higher dosages. Relying that someone will be harmed by the alcohol before they are harmed by the chemicals is a dangerous line to walk.
Yael Vengroff, bar manager at Harvard & Stone in Los Angeles, summed it up in the Time article by saying that “ I don’t feel like its (Fireball) market and drinkers are in the business of playing it safe, if you will.” Is that a jab at the buzz-seeking population or a slap for all of America to wake up and change philosophies when it comes to food and beverages?