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Fireball Whisky: Selling a Brand, Shot by Shot

How a secretive company hired an unknown actor to get people to drink a repackaged schnapps
A three-decade-old Canadian liqueur that tastes like liquefied cinnamon chewing gum is replacing Jägermeister as the challenge shot of choice
A three-decade-old Canadian liqueur that tastes like liquefied cinnamon chewing gum is replacing Jägermeister as the challenge shot of choicePhotograph by David Brandon Geeting for Bloomberg Businessweek

Fireball Cinnamon Whisky is known in the spirits industry as a challenge shot. It’s an orange beverage that comes in a clear bottle with a prancing demon on the label. It tastes like a syrupy incarnation of Wrigley’s Big Red gum. It’s sweet, with a spicy burn. You can try a few Fireball shots on a dare without getting plastered. It’s only 66 proof, less than most whiskeys. And if you have too many, at least you won’t smell like a drunk. Fireball keeps your breath cinnamon fresh.

All of this may sound unappealing if you’re the kind of person who finds comfort in a snifter of peaty single malt Scotch. But it helps explain why Fireball has become synonymous with fun for young hedonists throughout the U.S. It may be the first alcoholic beverage to have a larger presence in the virtual world than it does in taprooms and liquor stores. Fireball lovers post pictures of their whiskey-soaked exploits on Instagram. They celebrate it on Twitter and use Foursquare to monitor the whereabouts of Fireball’s “brand ambassadors,” who go from bar to bar treating lucky patrons to free shots.