Even five years ago, if someone had offered you "Fireball," you probably would've backed away slowly to the closest fire extinguisher. The flavored whiskey went from almost total anonymity to massive popularity in just a few years' time, and you probably want some answers as to how this all happened. The story begins in '80s Canada, but picks up supporting players like Chris Pratt and Kevin McDermott's 100-year-old nana along the way. Pour yourself your preferred Fireball mixed-shot and get started:
1. It was originally "Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Cinnamon Whisky"
As Businessweek explained in its essential Fireball history, the booze started out as part of Seagram's line of flavored schnapps in the mid-1980s. It was called Dr. McGillicuddy’s Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, named for the mythical Aloysius Percival McGillicuddy, and it was only made in Canada. But as the schnapps fad started to fade, Seagram's sold off its entire McGillicuddy portfolio to the Sazerac Company. The new management wisely decided to spin the cinnamon whiskey off in 2007.
2. The stuff blew up thanks to a careful marketing campaign
Once Fireball was freed from the Doctor and was just "Fireball," the Sazerac Company had to get the word out on this new hotness. So the group hired a brand rep, Richard Pomes. His sole mission was to hype the whiskey, which meant several trips to Nashville (an emerging market) to meet Fireball's most rabid fans and partying with them. Once he'd sold the entire city on the sauce, he moved onto college towns, applying the same techniques. (There were also novelty bikinis and Deadliest Catch endorsements involved.) His barhopping paid off handsomely for the company, but Pomes handed off the reins to a protege in 2012.
3. Fireball's parent company also owns Pappy Van Winkle
So, about the Sazerac Company. Those folks have a number of booze brands, including Buffalo Trace, which is responsible for that rare, precious Pappy Van Winkle. That means Pappy and Fireball are basically on the same playing field. (Please hold your throwing stars until after the article is complete.)
4. There are MANY shot varieties
An Apple Pie is Fireball, green apple mixer, pineapple juice, and sour mix. Dragon's Spit is Fireball and hot sauce. The Fire Extinguisher is Fireball and Irish cream. And of course, "Firenog" is the cinnamon whiskey mixed with eggnog. They all have their disciples, but you could also skip the shooters and go the cocktail route with a Fireball martini.
5. There's an official Fireball game
It's called "Dragons, Dice & Dares" and it's got the kind of drinking-game aspects you'd expect -- sharing dirty secrets, engaging in light nudity, and doing other activities you encouraged at parties in your dorm room freshman year. But it is free at the Apple App Store, so there's that.
6. It appeals to all demographics
While Fireball is more typically associated with 20-somethings, this isn't only a young person's drink. Just ask Vikings long snapper Kevin McDermott's 100-year-old grandma, who's apparently always down for stogies and shots.
7. Sales went from $1.9 million to $61 million in just two years
In 2011, Fireball was moving about 450,000 cases and accounted for only $1.9 million in sales at American gas stations, convenience stores, and grocery shops. By 2013, the sales numbers had exploded to $61 million -- and that wasn't even counting the bar tallies, where Fireball dominates the shotscape. Now, Fireball has surpassed Jägermeister and shows little sign of slowing down.
8. It's poised to take over the country music scene
Or at least the bro-country (real term) market. Chase Rice romantically compares his love interest's effects to a Fireball shot in "Ready Set Roll," while Florida Georgia Line famously gave it a shout-out in the song "Round Here," and even has the stuff at conferences. Plus Blake Shelton's on board, so it's only a matter of time before Toby Keith releases an updated version of "Whiskey Girl."
9. Everyone's copying Fireball's moves
Big dogs like Jack Daniel's and Jim Beam have introduced their own cinnamon whiskeys since Fireball's insane rise, but people are also attempting to recreate the magic in bars and kitchens. A quick Google search yields plenty of homemade recipes. And whether you're at the ChurchKey in DC or The Penrose in New York, you can find a local spin on the proven formula. (It's "Grandpapa Reusch Ol’ Time Fireball Style Whiskey" at ChurchKey and the "Red Hot" at The Penrose.)
10. Chris Pratt has a killer slogan for 'em
“Fireball: drink it out of a paper cup. Don’t be a dick about it.”