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Super-Premium Segment At The Vanguard Of American Whiskey’s Growth

August 10, 2021

From 2010 through 2020, Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies expanded by two-thirds in the U.S., adding more than 10.2 million cases to their total, according to Impact Databank. In the last three years alone, the category has tacked on more than 3.7 million cases, as American whiskey’s audience continues to expand and attract more new drinkers from a diverse range of demographics.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the American whiskey boom is its robust premiumization curve. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskies retailing at $25 and over a 750-ml. have grown much faster than the total category over the past 10 years, jumping 12% last year to reach 8.8 million cases. They now account for about a 34% market share, up from a 12% share in 2010.

The top three super-premium Bourbon brands—Maker’s Mark, Bulleit, and Woodford Reserve—are responsible for a large portion of that growth. Maker’s Mark added more than 1.1 million cases to its total over the past decade, while Bulleit expanded by over 1.4 million cases, and Woodford tacked on 850,000 cases.

But those standout labels are far from alone in driving the upscale Bourbon boom. Brands as diverse as Michter’s, Elijah Craig, Basil Hayden, and Old Forester are all much larger now than they were even a few years back. They and others are set to continue pushing Bourbon’s premiumization trend higher.

“Premiumization is something we’re seeing across the entire category—the sub-$20 players are struggling but the brands within $25-$40 are doing quite well, and over $40 there’s incredible growth, and it’s not slowing down,” says Sean Yelle, director of dark spirits at Campari America, which counts Russell’s Reserve and Rare Breed among its upscale American whiskies. The latest offering from Russell’s Reserve is a 13-year-old bottled at a barrel-strength 57.4% abv and retailing at $70.

Among other recent rollouts, Beam Suntory has extended Basil Hayden with a new expression called Toast, which includes brown rice in its mashbill and retails at $50, while Brown-Forman-owned Old Forester added a single barrel rye to its portfolio in June, positioned at $80.—Julia Higgins

U.S. – Top 10 Super-Premium Bourbon And Tennessee Whiskey Brands1
(thousands of nine-liter case depletions)
Rank Brand2 Distiller 2019 2020 Percent
1 Maker’s Mark3 Beam Suntory 1,901 1,988 4.6%
2 Bulleit Diageo 1,430 1,545 8.0%
3 Woodford Reserve4 Brown-Forman 792 977 23.4%
4 Knob Creek Beam Suntory 508 520 2.3%
5 Gentleman Jack Brown-Forman 418 489 17.0%
6 Basil Hayden Beam Suntory 320 393 22.8%
7 Four Roses Four Roses 285 335 17.5%
8 Old Forester Brown-Forman 271 320 18.1%
9 Buffalo Trace Sazerac 235 275 17.0%
10 Elijah Craig Heaven Hill Brands 205 246 20.0%
Total Top 105 6,365 7,087 11.3%
1 at least $25 a 750-ml. at retail
2 includes rye, Tennessee and other straight whiskies.
3 includes Maker’s 46
4 includes Double Oaked and rye
5 addition of columns may not agree due to rounding
6 based on unrounded dataSource: IMPACT DATABANK © 2021
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