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World Whiskies Draw Increased Attention From U.S. Consumers

July 25, 2018

While Bourbon, Irish, Canadian, and Scotch whiskies are benefiting from the brown spirits boom, world whiskies from countries like Japan, India, France, and Australia are rapidly developing a profile.Of Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 Whiskies of 2017, two were world whiskies: Rampur Select from India ranked No.-5 at 93 points, while Japanese whisky Fukano 2017 Edition came in at No.-20 with 90 points“Consumers today are open and willing to discover new tastes. They’re looking for new stories, origins, and interpretations of a product that they already know,” says Michael Boccanfuso, marketing manager for Baron Francois, Ltd., importer of Rozelieures and Meyer’s French whiskies.

At retail, Chicago-based chain Binny’s Beverage Depot carries more than 30 world whisky brands, representing over a dozen countries. “They garner a modest percentage of sales, but they’re growing rapidly—enough to warrant a World Whisky section on our shelves,” says Binny’s specialty spirits buyer Brett Pontoni. Binny’s top-selling world whisky label is Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($65). Indian whiskies Amrut and Paul John perform well, as do French brands like Armorik ($45-$120), Brenne ($60-$100), and Bastille ($32-$80).

According to Impact Databank, Japanese whisky shipments to the U.S. were up 34.7% last year to 401,000 proof gallons (about 210,000 cases at 80 proof). Lucas Erickson, senior marketing director for Beam Suntory, says the Suntory portfolio—which includes Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts as well as the Hibiki and Toki blends—has nearly doubled its business over the past two years. It totaled nearly 60,000 cases in the U.S. in 2017. “The growth figures that we’re seeing don’t even begin to represent the true unconstrained demand in the market today,” says Erickson. Nikka, marketed by Hotaling & Co. in the U.S., is also making gains in the Japanese whisky segment, with a 28% rise to 45,000 cases last year.

“As the world whisky category continues to grow, we expect our brands to grow 10%-15% this year, bolstered by expansion into new markets and distribution channels,” says Raj Sabharwal, founding partner and managing director at Glass Revolution, importer of India’s Amrut as well as The English Whisky Co. from England, among others.

“World whiskies are still in a nascent stage, but there’s some healthy competition as more brands are introduced,” notes Bobby Garg, president and CEO of Rampur importer SG Worldwide. “We’re now present in more than 20 states in key retail chains and premium outlets like Costco and Total Wine & More.” Garg adds that the company plans to launch new Rampur expressions in the future.

Boccanfuso says Baron Francois’ French whiskies have shown consistent growth. According to Impact Databank, French whisky shipments to the U.S. market were up 36.6% in 2017 to 108,000 proof gallons (57,000 cases). Brenne, the single malt French whisky launched by Allison Parc in 2012, has steadily expanded, with a current year-over-year growth of 42%. “My plan is for French whisky to become as recognizable as Japanese whisky is today,” Parc says. “I believe that a rising tide raises all boats. The more awareness we can generate together, the more we can all benefit as individual companies.”—Sally Kral

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