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Bourbon’s Super-Premium Players Fuel The Category’s Growth

March 20, 2017

The Bourbon boom continues to accelerate in the U.S. market, driven by the super-premium segment. The leading super-premium Bourbon brands (retailing at $25 a 750-ml. and above) were up by nearly 15% to 4.1 million cases last year, compared with a 5.5% increase for the total Bourbon category, according to Impact Databank.

Beam Suntory-owned Maker’s Mark, which sells close to 1.5 million cases in the U.S., leads the super-premium segment. While the brand’s core lineup continues to make solid progress, its upscale Maker’s 46 offshoot—retailing at roughly $10 above Maker’s flagship Bourbon—is also gaining traction. In recent years, Maker’s has expanded its super-premium stable with the launch of Maker’s Mark Cask Strength, an uncut, unfiltered offering.

Beam Suntory’s upscale Knob Creek and Basil Hayden’s brands are also outpacing the category. Like Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek has emphasized premiumization, releasing Knob Creek 2001 Limited Edition—the brand’s oldest offering and its first limited expression—last year. Likewise, Basil Hayden’s has emerged as a star, thanks to its craft-like branding and rye-heavy flavor profile. The brand will debut its first-ever extension, a limited-release Basil Hayden’s Rye, later this year.

Few Bourbon brands have proved as dynamic as Diageo’s Bulleit, which hit the 1-million-case mark on 26% growth last year. Last April, Bulleit extended its lineup—which includes its original Bourbon, Rye and 10-Year-Old variants—with a limited edition Barrel Strength offering. Limited to 3,000 cases, Bulleit Barrel Strength retails at $50 a 750-ml.

Also tapping into demand for super-premium Bourbon is Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve, which neared 450,000 cases in 2016. Bolstered by innovations like its Double Oaked and Rye expressions, the brand relaunched Woodford Reserve Double Double Oaked ($50) as part of its limited edition Distillery Series earlier this year. Portfoliomate Gentleman Jack also continues to show steady growth.

Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace brand has also been thriving, more than quadrupling in size since 2010. Buffalo Trace has effectively targeted the high end with recent innovation efforts, releasing five limited edition whiskies under its Buffalo Trace Distillery 2016 Antique Collection ($90 each) in September. —Christina Jelski

U.S. – Leading Super-Premium Bourbon Brands1
(thousands of nine-liter case depletions)
Brand2 Distiller 2010 2015 2016 Growth
Maker’s Mark Beam Suntory 885 1,324 1,450 8.4% 9.5%
Bulleit Diageo North America 120 838 1,056 47.5% 26.0%
Woodford Reserve Brown-Forman 127 374 446 24.1% 19.3%
Knob Creek Beam Suntory 140 348 383 20.0% 10.0%
Gentleman Jack Brown-Forman 242 349 361 7.6% 3.4%
Buffalo Trace Sazerac Co 35 137 167 31.4% 21.5%
Basil Hayden Beam Suntory 27 111 141 32.6% 26.9%
Maker’s 46 Beam Suntory 30 89 94 24.2% 5.3%
Total Leading Super-Premium3 1,606 3,570 4,096 17.3% 14.8%
1 at least $25 per 750ml at retail
2 includes rye and other straight whiskies
3 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
4 average annual compound growth rate
5 based on unrounded data


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