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Growth Ongoing Among Bourbon’s Biggest Players

February 26, 2019

Bourbon and other American whiskies are continuing their strong upward expansion. Last year, the Bourbon market in the U.S. added nearly 1 million cases on 4.5% growth, reaching 22.8 million cases, according to Impact Databank. Though the strongest growth in the category has been seen at the super-premium end, the top three brands by volume—Jack Daniel’s (a Tennessee whiskey classified as a Bourbon by Impact Databank), Jim Beam, and Evan Williams—still make up more than half of the overall market and continue to make gains as America’s thirst for whiskey grows.

Jack Daniel’s core Tennessee whiskey inched up 0.3% to around 5.25 million cases in the U.S. last year. Among the franchise’s other offerings, Gentleman Jack increased 4.4% to 406,000 cases, Single Barrel advanced by 8.7% to 50,000 cases, and Tennessee Rye leapt 41% to 45,000 cases. Meanwhile, the Tennessee Honey and Fire flavored whiskies combined form more than 1.1 million cases. “Every brand in the family grew last year,” says Erin Schlader, marketing director at Brown-Forman. “One of the highlights was Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Heritage Barrel—an expression that was aged in a low-temperature, heavily toasted barrel that we bottled at 100 proof.” Whisky Advocate named the release its third-ranked whiskey of 2018.

Jim Beam, meanwhile, was up 6.2% to 4.1 million cases last year, excluding its flavored varieties, which sell above 1 million cases in their own right. “Consumers are trading up to Jim Beam Black at strong rates,” says Rob Mason, vice president of whiskey at Beam Suntory, referencing the brand’s higher-priced extension.

Last year, Evan Williams—Heaven Hill’s biggest whiskey brand—was up 4.9% to approximately 2.6 million cases, making it the third-largest Bourbon on the market. “We’re seeing people trade up, but I would argue that we’re seeing them trade across the portfolio almost as much,” says Susan Wahl, group product director at Heaven Hill Brands. The company is also seeing success with Larceny, its wheated Bourbon. After reaching national distribution last year, Wahl says Larceny is increasingly a priority for Heaven Hill, given its strong reception in the market. Some line extensions for Larceny are coming soon, she adds.

Wild Turkey—the sixth-largest Bourbon brand in the U.S.—continues to capitalize on the increased interest the category, up 7.1% last year to 705,000 cases. Last year, the Campari-owned brand capped a four-year run of consistent growth in which it expanded by an aggregate 20%. The flagship Wild Turkey 101 has performed well recently and has been particularly successful in the on-premise, with its higher proof allowing it to play well in cocktails.

“We’re feeling bullish about the future of American whiskey,” says Wahl. “When we look at the runway for growth, we’re not yet back to where we were in the 1970s.” Other producers also note that the U.S. is still well below its historical peak, and they add that whiskey is reaching new consumers. “The number of women drinking whiskey, as an example, has doubled since the 1990s,” says Schlader at Brown-Forman.—Shane English

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