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How Much Whiskey Was Drunk in 1973?

As I worked my way through the writing of Whiskey: A Global History, I became aware of the major data challenges surrounding whiskey consumption, production, and sales. Thanks to governments forcing their noses into the whiskey-making business, we have some numbers. However, the numbers are not always reliable, and over the years the measures used by government have changed. This makes any sort of effort to estimate whiskey use over long stretches of time difficult. For example, in any given year the government may find that 1 million bottles of whiskey were sold. That does not, though, mean that exactly 1 million bottles were either drunk or produced.

Beyond these hassles, though, are others—such as simply figuring out which government agency has the data. Take the United States, for example. Here the task has been shifted from agency to agency over the past century. Different agencies have employed different approaches to collecting and tabulating data, and therefore have produced different types of data. You might think that the go-to source for booze data would be the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Nope, not any more. The ATF does not keep tabs on booze production. Today, that job is done by Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Trade Bureau (ATTT).

The ATTT has put some statistics online, but they are spotty— data from 1997 to 2004 is missing, and the 1980s numbers are hit or miss. And this neatly exhibits yet another problem with statistics on alcoholic beverages—too many governments simply do not make their booze statistics readily available.

Recently, I happened upon this 1973 ATF report which is chock full of data on whiskey and other distilled spirits in the U.S. (Fair warning—it is a 10 megabyte file, so it may take a while to download.)

As I get my hands on copies from other years, I will post them online. You can get notified of these postings by getting my feed.


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