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Interview: Carlo Coppola, Managing Director, James B. Beam Distilling Co.

July 13, 2022

Beam Suntory veteran Carlo Coppola was named managing director of the group’s James B. Beam Distilling Co. in recent days. Coppola takes the helm of the Jim Beam brand stable amid a period of rapid growth for American whiskey, especially in the above-$25 tier, which is approaching 10 million cases in the U.S. after more than doubling in size over the past decade, according to Impact Databank. Beam Suntory is playing a significant role in the upscale segment’s expansion, with three of its brands—Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek, and Basil Hayden—ranking among the top five super-premium Bourbon labels in the U.S. SND senior editor Shane English caught up with Coppola to hear the latest.

SND: Where within the Beam family have you seen the most consumer interest lately?

Coppola: Jim Beam continues to be the No.-1 selling Bourbon in the world, and we’re excited to see the strong consumer demand for Jim Beam flavors as consumers explore new ways to enjoy their Bourbon. We’re certainly seeing a shift to higher-end whiskies, clearly benefitting our small batch portfolio, represented by Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker’s, and Baker’s. Newer Bourbon drinkers are entering the category through brands like Basil Hayden as they reconsider what American whiskey is and can be. Gone are the days when a brand could exist solely on packaging and good liquid—our consumers today demand great flavors, unique experiences, a rich back story, and a reason to believe in all of that. These expectations go hand in hand with higher-end options, such as a brand like Legent, leveraging our East-meets-West advantage within the whiskey category. Limited releases also continue to be highly sought-after products. Outside of the James B. Beam portfolio, we’re also seeing really strong growth across the Maker’s Mark range.

SND: What’s new in terms of recent innovations?

Coppola: The Bourbon category has been growing for a number of years, but even with that growth, volumes in the U.S. are still well short of their historical peak in the 1970s. If you look at the growth of Bourbon, as well as the trend of consumers trading up, the opportunity is clear, and that’s where we’re leaning in on our innovation. Some of our recent efforts have included Knob Creek’s popular Single Barrel program, which continues to grow, new packaging for Basil Hayden that better reflects its premium nature, and several new expressions including Basil Hayden Toast and Subtle Smoke. As we look ahead, innovation within the James B. Beam Distilling Co. portfolio will continue with more small-batch, super-premium offerings.

SND: What can we expect to see from the smaller-scale Fred B. Noe distillery looking ahead?

Coppola: The Fred B. Noe Distillery, named after the 7th Generation of Jim Beam, is where we’re crafting our future super-premium innovations. The distillery brings to life the rich stories of the first family of Bourbon and the legendary brands that chart the history of American whiskey. This is where you’ll see our small-batch products being developed, such as Booker’s and Little Book and new-to-world products as well. In fact, it’s already starting: the recently launched Hardin’s Creek—a new limited annual series of two to four releases per year—was created at the Fred B. Noe distillery. In the next two years we’ll further expand the portfolio, pushing the American whiskey category forward with unique distillation and aging techniques, mash bills, styles, finishes, and other levers. There is plenty more to come in this category, and we’re excited to lead the way in developing it.

SND: How has the on-premise recovery gone so far from your point of view?

Coppola: When it comes to the on-premise, we’ve seen a desire from consumers to return, and that’s encouraging. It has been a great start to 2022 within this channel; in fact, it’s growing even faster than 2021, and we’re bullish that the on-premise will return to pre-covid sales value levels in short order. That said, it’s not without headwinds—many of our restaurant and bar partners still face challenges related to staffing and supply chain shortages.

U.S. – Top Five Super-Premium Bourbon Brands1
(thousands of nine-liter case depletions)
Rank Brand2 Distiller 2020 2021 Percent
Change6
1 Maker’s Mark3 Beam Suntory 1,988 2,304 15.9%
2 Bulleit Diageo 1,545 1,560 1.0%
3 Woodford Reserve4 Brown-Forman 977 1,119 14.5%
4 Knob Creek Beam Suntory 520 544 4.7%
5 Basil Hayden Beam Suntory 393 475 21.0%
Total Top Five5 5,422 6,003 10.7%
1 at least $25 a 750-ml. at retail
2 includes rye and other straight whiskies.
3 excludes 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 © 2022
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