Why American whiskey is the real winner of St. Patrick's Day
By Jordan Valinsky, CNN
On St. Patrick's Day, it might seem appropriate to knock back a shot of Jameson Irish Whiskey. However, when it comes to the luck of the Irish, US whiskey-makers might have the upper hand.
American-made whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits in the United States, with sales soaring nearly 11% last year to $5.1 billion, according to a recent report from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). In particular, sales of premium whiskeys from both small and large US distilleries are spurring growth, as customers increasingly treat themselves to a high-quality drink.
"Spirits consumers appreciate the rich heritage, tradition and authenticity of American whiskey," Lisa Hawkins, senior vice president for public affairs for DISCUS, told CNN. She added that's there's a "shared passion" among whiskey drinkers because they want to know where it's made, the type of grains that are used and its age.
One of the most recognizable brands is Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey. Brown-Forman, its parent company, said in an earnings call last week that Jack "continued to be the largest driver" of sales, which grew 12% year over year.
Brown-Forman has even expanded its Jack Daniel's product line to include pricier whiskeys, called Jack Daniel's Bonded, along with the upcoming US launch of its Jack and Coke canned cocktail.
Another factor in the growth of the American whiskey market is small distilleries that are becoming attractions themselves, where people can sample the whiskey and see how it is made.
"These unique experiences have helped to introduce more consumers to American whiskey and build excitement for both legacy and newer brands in the category," Hawkins said.
Westland Distillery, near Seattle, is one of those experiencing a boost. Matt Hofmann, managing director and co-founder of the distillery, told CNN that its sales are "growing faster than ever" following a Covid-induced slowdown.
Westland focuses on making single-malt whiskey that "bridges the gap" between Irish whiskey — which Hofmann describes as "very elegant and approachable" — and American-made whiskeys, which he said are "bolder" in taste.
Hofmann also credited the rise of international sales for helping boost American-made whiskey's popularity. Whiskey exports grew 30% last year to $1.28 billion, according to DISCUS — a welcome reprieve after retaliatory tariffs were dropped. American whiskey is the most popular top spirit to be exported, with the European Union being its biggest market.
Of course, this doesn't mean that Irish whiskey isn't popular. It generated more than $1.4 billion in sales last year and played a "key role" in spirit revenue surpassing beer in 2022, DISCUS said.
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