November 1, 2014 – Vodka, long the best-selling spirit, is about to be replaced by whiskey, possibly by the end of this year, as the biggest selling spirit in the U.S. The increase in sales of whiskey, especially the made-in-America variety, has been confirmed by the industry trade group DISCUS (Distilled Spirits Council of the United States).
It is also the view of the many mixologists we talk to who all say they still sell “a ton of vodka” but that whiskey is becoming increasingly more popular. Why is this?
There are several factors, one being the cyclical nature of drinking habits or fashion. Another is the move by savvy marketers to offer flavored whiskey. There’s also the influence of cocktails consumed in the popular Mad Men TV series.
Way back in 1976, master distiller Jimmy Russell introduced Wild Turkey Liqueur Honey Infused. In 2006 it was reformulated as American Honey. But the flavored category really burst on the scene with Jim Beam’s Red Stag cherry flavored bourbon in 2009. It was a rip-roaring success and continues to grow.
The range of flavored whiskeys continues to expand with apple and cinnamon and from Canada, maple flavors. William Wolf makes a delicious Pecan Bourbon which we reviewed earlier this year http://wineandspirits.com/whats-better-than-pecan-pie-pecan-bourbon/ Bushmills is offering Irish Honey and even the venerable Scottish have gotten into the swing with Dewar’s Highlander Honey.
Flavored whiskey can be classed as a gateway drink for consumers who want to trade up to something more authentic with heritage and taste. It’s not just women who are being wooed; men, too, are enjoying the flavored category. For many traditionalists, messing with the almost sacrosanct character of American whiskey or Scotch whisky is nothing short of heresy. Will we end up with bubblegum flavored whiskey? Even the marketers cringe at the suggestion. We think (and hope) it will follow the path of wine appreciation. Many consumers start with something a little fruity or sweeter – think White Zin – then move on up to drier wines. Sometimes they stick with the sweeter wines, which is perfectly OK. This well may be the path followed by flavored whiskey drinkers. It is, after all, an acquired taste but as we always say, practice makes perfect.