American whiskey market  – a persistent presence

Throughout the Irish whiskey boom, the American whiskey market has maintained a calm, persistent presence in the Irish on-trade. Our Industry Report looks at the developments in the last year or two in this sector of the brown spirits market.

As with gin, sales of American whiskeys have topped the £1 billion mark for the first time in the UK.

American Whiskey is the most consumed Whisk(e)y sub-category in the US. In the last 12 months Americans consumed a staggering 57 million bottles of Bourbon in the on-trade alone, according to CGA Strategy’s Charlie Duckworth – and spent $5.6 billion dollars in the process.

“American Whiskey accounts for nearly half (49.9%) of all Whiskey consumed in the USA,” he told Drinks Industry Ireland, “followed by Canadian (26.4%) & Irish (15.5%). Scotch comes in at a paltry 7.7% of Total Whiskey sales,” he added.

“Of course much of the American Whiskey consumed is drunk either neat or with mixer, but it’s also worth noting how much more developed the cocktails market is across the pond.

“23% of American consumers drink cocktails out-of-home versus just 16% in GB. This creates an opportunity to drive sales across all spirits categories and Whisk(e)y is certainly capitalising on this.

“Whisk(e)y is the preferred cocktail ingredient for 29% of American cocktail consumers, a significant boost from GB where just 11.5% of cocktail drinkers state Whisk(e)y as their preferred Spirit choice. This can be attributed partly to the more developed & refined cocktail culture in the USA and partly due to the fact that the American version of Whiskey is sweeter & easier to mix compared to the heavily-peated Scotches that many British consumers would associate with the term Whisk(e)y.”

American-made whiskeys have become an increasingly popular choice for British drinkers with sales of American Whiskey totaling £405 million in the GB on-trade over the last 12 months, an increase of nearly £20 million on the year before, he points out.

“We often see trends from the USA filter down in some form or another into the GB eating & drinking-out market and nowhere is this more plain that in the burgeoning ‘Americana’ food scene.

“A raft of new BBQ restaurants and ‘dirty’ burger chains have opened across the country in the last few years and American Whiskey seamlessly ties into their offer. Although cocktails are a key driver of spirits sales in food-led outlets, these restaurants are further leveraging American Whiskey sales through innovative & exciting serves such as Boilermakers (Beer & Shot), Pickleback (Shot & Pickle Juice Chaser) or ‘Hard’ (Alcoholic) Milkshakes.”

Charlie Duckworth concludes, “The growing popularity of American Whiskey in both GB & the USA shows how drinks trends can resonate around the world, key macro-themes of heritage, craft, nostalgia all have a part to play in the success of this incredibly exciting category.”


Irish American whiskey scene

Sales of Bourbon and other American whiskeys on the market here continue to impress. Figures from the IWSR indicate that sales of US whiskeys here grew 4% to 58,000 nine-litre cases in 2016 from 2015’s figure of 55,750 cases.

Of this, some 24,840 cases of Bourbon, Rye and other American whiskeys were sold via the on-trade.

At the same time, sales of Canadian whiskey level-pegged at 75,000 cases of which 38,000 cases went through the on-trade according the IWSR.

So while Irish might dominate the market for brown spirits here, sales of Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, Buleitt and Makers Mark etc are making their presence felt especially amongst the younger consumer demographic, the Millennial consumer, perhaps influenced by the Don Drapers of this world.

A Euromonitor report into the spirits market in Ireland states, “While Irish whiskey remained by far the most popular whisky type in terms of total volume sales, the most dynamic category in 2016 was Bourbon/other US whiskey, which recorded a total volume gain of 4%.

“Sales were driven by rising demand for brands such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniels as well as super premium brands such as Bulleit, which was introduced by Diageo Ireland in 2014.”

Euromonitor figures point to a growth of over 9% in sales of Bourbon and other US whiskeys between 2011 and 2016, from 40,567 nine-litre litres to 44,278 cases.

Mixologists would tell you that the inherent mixability of American whiskeys makes them a popular call in the name of Old Fashioned, Manhattan or Whiskey Sour, where the more traditional Scotch and Irish contenders tend to be somewhat hidebound by conventional consumption patterns.


Jim Beam

Barry & Fitzwilliam has a star-studded portfolio of Bourbon brands.

Jim Beam, the biggest selling Bourbon in the world, is produced in Clermont, Kentucky, by Beam Suntory. Since 1795 seven generations of the Beam family have been involved in whiskey production for the company that produces the brand which was given the name ‘Jim Beam’ in 1933 in honour of James B Beam who rebuilt the business after Prohibition ended.

Here in Ireland Jim Beam sales have increased 400% over the last five years. Jim Beam 200ml was launched this Summer.

In addition, Jim Beam Double Oak was recently released here. First aged in charred American white oak barrels, it’s then poured into a freshly-charred barrel to mature a second time. The added interaction with the oakwood results in a liquid intense in flavour and exceptionally smooth to taste.


Makers Mark

Maker’s Mark Bourbon has been distilled since 1953 and is known as a “wheated” Bourbon, possessing flavours of vanilla and nut. It uses only pure, iron-free limestone spring water, yellow corn and red wheat from specially-selected small farm co-operatives and naturally malted barley. It’s among the few remaining Bourbon distillers that propagates its own yeast with cultures that trace back to the pre-Prohibition era.

Every bottle is still dipped by hand with the iconic red wax seal.


Jefferson’s Bourbons

Dalcassian Wines & Spirits has recently launched the Jefferson’s ‘ridiculously small-batch’ Bourbon to the Irish market.

The exquisite range includes:

  • Jefferson’s Very Small Batch, a smooth full-bodied Bourbon, big enough for the Bourbon connoisseur yet approachable for the new premium Bourbon-drinkers
  • Jefferson’s Reserve, a big sophisticated complex Bourbon with front-loaded flavour and a deep wonderful finish, a marriage of four different Bourbons aged up to 18 years
  • Jefferson’s Ocean, aged for eight years on land and a further six months at sea – during the voyage the Bourbon touches five continents, reaches 30 ports and crosses the equator four times
  • The new Jefferson’s Groth Reserve Cask Finish, said to have first been aged in new American oak for six years. From there it was finished in Groth Cabernet Sauvignon barrels for a further nine months. Groth is a well-respected winery out of California’s Napa Valley and its cabernet in particular is considered an awesome wine in its grape varietal category.


Jefferson’s carefully selects small, esoteric lots of aged Bourbon in barrels of various ages; they’re then skilfully blended to achieve a perfectly balanced taste. The barrels are chosen for their quality, age and taste profile.

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