America’s Spirits Business Is Booming

Distilled Spirits Council, "Economic Briefing," Feb. 2017.
Source: Distilled Spirits Council, “Economic Briefing,” Feb. 2017.

The U.S. drinks business is booming, despite the finger-wagging by neo-prohibitionists. Last year’s liquor volume sales climbed 2.4 percent to 220 million cases, and the revenues were up 4.5 percent to $25.2 billion, according to data released by the Distilled Spirits Council.

Does this means America is on a bender? No. In fact, Americans are not drinking more per capita. Binge drinking is down as is underage drinking.

The growth of the sales of spirits volumes partly reflects that more Americans are adding spirits to their intake. Some 28 percent of Americans call spirits their first choice for tippling, according to a Harris poll. Robert Simonson’s recent book, “A Proper Drink: The Untold Story of How a Band of Bartenders Saved the Civilized Drinking World,” well tells how cocktails have gone from low-quality and uncool to top-notch and chic over the past 20 years.

And when Americans drink spirits they increasingly are drinking pricier stuff from the top-shelf. High end and super premium sales are growing for nearly every category, as the table below shows.

Source: Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, “Annual Briefing Support Tables,” Feb. 2017.
Source: Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, “Annual Briefing Support Tables,” Feb. 2017.

Rising sales and revenues also also reflect continued export expansion. U.S. spirits exports increased 6.8 percent, despite the dollar being strong relative to many foreign currencies. Canada, the U.K., Australia, Spain, Germany, and Japan were the top export markets, each purchasing more than $100 million in hooch.

What will the future bring for drinks sales? Certainly, the neo-prohibitionists pose a threat. They continues blaming alcohol as an evil and advocating higher taxes and more restrictions on access. To date, the domestic market has ignored their macabre tales. Indeed, over the past decade states and localities have expanded access by permitting liquor tastings at distilleries and paring back Sunday sales restrictions. 

Internationally, things are a bit more difficult to predict. Certainly, the world is falling in love with American whiskeys—as well they should. However, our teetotaler President Donald J. Trump’s threats to renegotiate trade deals adds a wildcard into the mix. If he can cut America a better deal or partners with Congress to enact policies to weaken the dollar, drinks sales could climb. But exports could suffer if Trump greatly antagonizes foreign leaders or pulls a Brexit-type maneuver, sales could fall—which would hurt American distilleries and anyone with drinks stocks in their portfolios. Time will tell.

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Want a $950 Shot of Cognac?

columbia-roomFritz Hahn of the Washington Post reports:

“For your average barfly, the Columbia Room’s prix fixe Tasting Room cocktail menu — which starts at $79 for three cocktails paired with small bites in the meticulous Blagden Alley lounge — is a splurge. But even the Columbia Room’s priciest “experiences,” which incorporate champagne and osetra caviar, are far cheaper than the cost of a single ounce of cognac in the bar’s Spirits Library.

Okay, it’s not just any cognac: It’s an 1811 Napoleon cognac, from one of the most renowned cognac vintages in history, which is why its price tag is a hefty $950, the most expensive of almost two dozen vintage spirits priced by the ounce.

For Columbia Room founder Derek Brown, a library of historical spirits is like a cellar of vintage wines. “You’re not just buying something old, you’re buying something indicative of a different era, something very rare,” he says.

Read more at http://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/style/2016/12/08/washingtons-high-life/

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Machine Lets You Blend Your Own Wine

Source: CambridgeConsultants.com
Source: CambridgeConsultants.com

The Economist reports on the Vinfusion, a marvelous machine made by Cambridge Consultants:

To create a new wine the customer manipulates three sliders on a touch screen attached to the machine. One moves between the extremes of “light” and “full-bodied”. A second runs from “soft”, via “mellow” to “fiery”. The third goes from “sweet” to “dry”. No confusing descriptions like “strawberry notes with a nutty aftertaste” are needed. The desired glass is then mixed from tanks of each of the four primaries, hidden inside the machine’s plinth. The requisite quantities are pumped into a transparent cone-shaped mixing vessel on top of the plinth. Added air bubbles ensure a good, swirling mix and flashing light-emitting diodes give a suitably theatrical display.

Read more at http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21709491-how-get-wine-you-really-want-war-terroir

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Interesting News About the Flavored Liquor Craze

Chocolate cookie dough vodka. Source: AlcoholReviews.com
Chocolate cookie dough vodka. Source: AlcoholReviews.com

Are we done with stuff like Pinnacle Chocolate Cookie Dough Vodka?

The Wall Street Journal’s Saabira Chaudhuri has an engaging piece on drinks-makers’ flavored liquors and product-line extensions.

To flavor or not to flavor: That is the question for booze makers. Alcohol executives argue that flavored extensions of existing spirits brands can attract new customers—particularly women—while reviving interest among existing drinkers.

But flavors often tend to be fads, meaning sales plummet when customers tire of the new taste. That piles pressure on alcohol makers to continually discover the next big thing or brace for wild revenue swings. “If you overdo it, you get into dangerous territory. You’re a little bit like a hamster on a wheel who has to run faster and faster just to stay still,” said Bob Kunze-Concewitz, chief executive of Davide Campari-Milano SpA, which owns brands such as Campari liqueur and Skyy vodka.

Read more at: http://www.wsj.com/articles/flavoring-their-drinks-can-be-risky-for-booze-makers-1479485114

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How Drinks Writers Got Suckered By a Story of a Long-Lost Cocktail

Source: Imbibe magazine, http://imbibemagazine.com/
Source: Imbibe magazine, http://imbibemagazine.com/

Robert Simonson of the New York Times reports:

“For the last 20 years, if you were in the bar business and knew one thing about the bartender Adam Seger, it was that he was the man behind the Seelbach cocktail.

The Seelbach is named after the Seelbach Hotel (today the Seelbach Hilton), a storied century-old lodging in downtown Louisville, Ky., that is mentioned briefly in “The Great Gatsby.” Shortly after being put in charge of the hotel’s bar and restaurant operations in 1995, Mr. Seger declared that he had discovered a recipe for a pre-Prohibition cocktail that was once the hotel’s signature drink. He tested it, liked it and put it back on the menu.

The news media soon picked up on the tale, and within a few years, the Seelbach cocktail was regarded as a rescued classic. It’s a tantalizing back story, one that has charmed cocktail writers and aficionados for years, and there’s only one thing wrong with it: None of it is true….” (Read more)

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