It’s said that Fireball “tastes like heaven, and burns like hell.”
But could it be that what Fireball, a popular bar shot infused with the bracing cinnamon flavor of a wad of Big Red gum, actually tastes like is America? Because for reasons not entirely clear, this sickly sweet shot favored by college kids has suddenly been deemed the go-to quaff of the Trump administration.
Celebrating President Trump’s inauguration last month, a reveler at the Old Ebbitt Grill demanded Fireball for his “Republican friends,” according to an account in Washingtonian magazine. The Huffington Post announced: “Fireball Now Comes in Boxes — Just in Time for Trump’s Inauguration!” And from Elite Daily: “Trump Staff’s Drink of Choice Is Fireball, and Now Everything Makes Sense.”
“It’s easy drinking, I’ll be honest with you,” says Corey Lockett, owner of the Mason Inn in Glover Park. But he doesn’t buy the notion that Trump administration staffers and fans are igniting a run on the stuff.
“Trump supporters, they’re happy, and so they’re taking more shots these days,” he says. “Fireball is just such an easy one to drink.”
And, he adds, at $5 or $6 for a two-ounce pour, “it’s cheaper than drinking a shot of Patron.”
At a time when political battles are being waged over running shoes, breakfast foods and car-sharing services, it was probably inevitable that a drink would be drawn into the fray. Washington’s bar scene has long had its quiet divisions — bars frequented by Republicans, bars that Democrats prefer.
But why Fireball, specifically?
We have a few ideas. Originally sold as Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Whisky, the drink was marketed in the 1980s as schnapps by the Seagram company. After Sazerac, a Louisiana-based beverage giant with some of the nation’s priciest whiskeys on its roster, purchased the brand, it pared the name down to something easier to call out to a bartender in the haze of a Saturday night. Bartender lore and data suggest that Republicans are the party most infatuated with whiskey. (Though, at only 33 percent alcohol, Fireball is nowhere near as potent as a stiff bourbon.)
Then there’s the fact that bro-country bands seem to love the stuff: “That Fireball whiskey whispers temptation in my ear,” sings the Florida Georgia Line on its hit “Round Here.”
The Mason Inn, which “has a huge Fireball following,” according to Lockett, is in a neighborhood long recognized as a stronghold of the city’s more conservative-minded residents. “There are a lot of Southerners who’ve ended up here,” Lockett says.
The Front Page in Dupont Circle also sells a fair amount of Fireball, and the bar is another long-standing favorite of the city’s young, low-paid political staffers.
Bartender Mimi Hill confirms what several others in Washington’s bar scene say. “I haven’t seen much of a change” in a sales, she says, confessing that she, too, is puzzled by the Trump connection. “I don’t know if he’s even been in office long enough to tell a difference.”
Tanner Smith, a liquor distribution representative whose market includes 95 bars and restaurants in the District, thinks the whole idea is “comical” because Fireball sales are actually slowing in the capital. “If there’s an uptick” connected to the new administration, he says, “we haven’t seen it yet.”
But writers aren’t wrong that Fireball has a following in Washington.
“When Fireball first hit,” says Smith, “we were the No. 1 market in the country.”
And everyone interviewed for this article agreed: Fireball “hit” a few years ago. Specifically, during the Obama years.
“Fireball sales have been great in D.C. for several years now; it is one of the top-selling brands in the District, for which we are very appreciative,” a spokeswoman for the brand confirmed in an email. She would not comment on the stories linking Fireball to Trump supporters.
But Bryce Yetso, beverage director for Old Ebbitt, which is near the White House, offers this: Fireball did sell, but mostly, it was bottles of the good stuff that emptied over inauguration weekend. “Honestly, the week of the inauguration, we sold a ton of whiskey in general,” he says.
Look elsewhere, Lockett adds. It’s probably not Republicans driving the trend.
“There’s probably some bartender somewhere who started it. Bartenders like the shot, so bartenders start recommending the shot,” says Lockett, who has been in the business for more than 20 years. Trends, from Jägermeister shots to apple martinis to today’s craft cocktails, are often “pushed by the bar staff.”
Oh, and there’s one more reason Fireball may not be the favored drink of Trump-voting patriots.
It’s made in Canada.