MxMo Bourbon Followup

{Somehow I posted this originally as a Page, rather than a Post. I nearly convinced myself I was insane when I didn’t see it here!}
I was surprised how much I actually liked the Manhattan I made for the last Mixology Monday, but I still don’t think I’m going to become a Bourbon drinker. I have been at least paying attention to Bourbon a bit more since then, looking for ways to put the Blanton’s I bought to work. It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.
But I recently ran across an article, via my favorite “wire service”, Instapundit, at Knoxnews.com about the boom in overseas sales of America’s Spirit, Kentucky Bourbon. While overall U.S. sales of straight whisky are essentially flat, distillers like Jim Beam, Heaven Hill, and Maker’s Mark have begun, and are accelerating, major expansions in capacity. Wild Turkey (which, like Absolut is owned by Pernod, I was surprised to learn) is essentially doubling its production and expects overseas sales to leap 12% this year alone.
The article postulates that much of the overseas boom can be attributed to the weak US Dollar, but I doubt this is responsible for more than timing and perhaps some acceleration. It seems to me that the Bourbon industry has reinvented itself in the last ten years to celebrate and be driven by its premium end, sort of in the mold of its cousin, the Scotch Whisky industry.

Big deal. Every liquor out there sees fifty new brands a year billing themselves as Ultra-Premium. Are Bourbon’s marketing dudes that much better than everyone else?

I doubt they are any better, since in today’s globalized marketplace, they are probably the same dudes. But I think that Bourbon is more suited to sustaining a premium product over the long-term than many other, especially unaged, liquors. Double especially Vodka.

Your cocktail snob scales are showing! I sure don’t see any signs in the store of premium Vodka slowing down. There’s a new brand on the top shelf every time I stick my nose in!

Maybe so, but I don’t see that lasting another five years. Partly because the market will cannibalize itself, partly because there is only so much space on the shelf. But mostly because there is only so much variation in taste and even in quality in Vodka. Marketing dudes are able to fool consumers for only so long. Consumers can be very easily led for short times, but are pretty darn smart in a free market over the long term. In a reasonable number of years, most of today’s new Vodka drinkers will have settled down to buying a far smaller number of relatively commoditized brands. A smaller number of today’s Vodka drinkers will (re)turn to beer and wine as tipple of choice. The rest will flow into drinking spirits like Gin, Rum, Scotch, and yes, of course Bourbon.
I would suggest that the growth in Bourbon is a harbinger of this. And yes, I’m also calling flat US sales growth. The Bourbon drinkers that made up the base of consumption are dying off. Baby Boomers never drank the stuff. That domestic Bourbon sales are flat is a testament to the rate at which young Americans are adopting it as spirit of choice.
The Knoxnews article ends with a telling quote:

Jim Meehan, bar manager at PDT in New York City, said the same premium small-batch products that made him a bourbon drinker in college are attracting new fans.

“You get a taste for bourbon, you don’t stop drinking bourbon,” he said.

If that trend continues, domestic sales will trend upward soon too.


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