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Exclusive: Whisk(e)y Looms Large Among Spirits “Hot Brands,” As Vodka Also Has Strong Showing

March 19, 2015

2014 was a challenging year for the U.S. spirits market. Growth has been slowing over the past few years, and many of the market’s top sellers lost ground last year. Despite this, there was an abundance of standout performers across the market, as evidenced by the impressive breadth of the latest list of Impact “Hot Brands,” which includes 20 spirits entries.

Though vodka has long dominated the Hot Brands spirits roster, whisk(e)y emerged as the most prolific category on this year’s list, affirming the continued strength of the U.S. market’s brown spirits boom. Bourbon, Scotch and Irish whiskies accounted for a total of seven Hot Brand entries, even as last year’s top brand by volume—Beam Suntory’s Jim Beam Bourbon—dropped off the list. But even as whiskies and other brown spirits garner major buzz in the U.S., the vodka category retains its sizable presence on this year’s list with a total of five entries. The list also two liqueurs and one brand apiece from the brandy, rum, Tequila, gin and moonshine categories.

The Hot Brands spirits roster features an interesting mix of established players and upstarts—in terms of both brands and their marketers. 17 brands returned from last year’s honor roll, and some have been fixtures for years. Meanwhile, there were two first-time winners, as well as a brand that returned to the list after a long absence. The list was less concentrated among the top marketers than in years past, as only two had more than one spirits Hot Brand: Diageo North America, with three, and Heaven Hill Brands, with two.

To earn Hot Brands status, spirits brands must have achieved double-digit growth in each of the past three years, or they must be established brands with at least 15% growth, or top-10 volume leaders with at least 5% growth in 2014 and at least 15% growth since 2011. Significant new products also can qualify. The minimum volume requirement is 200,000 cases.

The full list and analysis of Impact’s spirits Hot Brands can be found in the magazine’s March 1&15 issue.

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