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Cheers Weekly


No End in Sight for American Whiskey Growth  

“Anyone who says he can predict what’s going to happen in the whiskey industry 20 years from now is crazy,” says Wesley Henderson, co-founder/chief innovation officer of Angel’s Envy. Being able to guess how long the current boom for American whiskey will last and stocking up inventories, he says, is “like throwing a dart at a wall.” But Henderson adds, “I don’t think there is an end in sight right now.”
Indeed these are boom times for American whiskey makers, a golden age for brown spirits connoisseurs and an ideal opportunity for new customers to delve into the category. Producers have the enviable, yet mixed, blessing of demand outstripping supply. They are ramping up production, building new rickhouses and otherwise aiming to satisfy customers — old and new. Helping to further drive growth is a wave of experimentation with mash bills, batches and barrels
“We’re seeing growth in this category like we haven’t experienced since the 1970s,” says Mark Bacon, global brand director for Woodford Reserve. Brown-Forman’s American whiskey portfolio also includes Old Forester, Jack Daniel’s and Early Times.
American whiskey — bourbon, Tennessee and rye — continues to captivate U.S. consumers, with volumes up 6.8% to 21.8 million cases and revenues up 7.7% to $3.1 billion in 2016 according to the Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS). “The American whiskey trend has plenty of room for growth as the country trends back toward historic levels of whiskey consumption,” says DISCUS chief economist David Ozgo.
“How long will the boom last?” is the question on the minds of producers who have to plan to meet future demand. That’s a long-term project, given that whiskeys need time in barrel.
“The vodka boom lasted 30 years — that’s a long time to be in love with an odorless, colorless, tasteless spirit,” points out Tom Steffanci, president of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, whose portfolio includes Redemption Whiskey. “Now there is a desire for flavor among consumers,” he says; an appetite that has fueled the craft beer explosion as well as interest in American whiskey. “The whiskey trend could last as long as the vodka boom did.”
“We continue to see plenty of opportunities for the American whiskey category. Retail bourbon/whiskey shelf sets are continuing to grow and consumer acceptance is at an all-time high,” says Jon Holecz, vice president of marketing for Western Spirits, whose portfolio includes Lexington, Calumet and Bird Dog bourbons. “We do not see any signs of this slowing down for a number of years.”.
“While some folks are predicting a slowdown in the category’s velocity in the coming years, American whiskey is working from such a large base that no one expects the category to stop growing anytime soon,” says Michael Price, category marketing director, Whiskies, Campari America. The company’s portfolio includes Wild Turkey, Russell’s Reserve and the new Whiskey Barons project (Old Ripy and Bond & Lillard).
single vineyard
What’s Next for Barrel Aging?
Wood aging has reached new levels. Whiskey now matures in ex-beer barrels, beer in former mezcal casks, bourbon barrels are holding cab sauv, and everything in between.
Has it gone too far? Do some barrel-aged products lose track of the original alcohol flavors? And what about combos &Mdash; say, rye whiskey in former milk stout barrels — that don’t work but are released anyways?
These are helpful mistakes, argues Jane Bowie, Maker’s Mark maturation specialist. “Learning is always good,” she said during a panel on wood influence held Oct. 23 at Fine & Rare in NYC. “Innovation from a learning standpoint allows us to move forward.”
“People want more flavor,” she added. “Our palates are so much different now than they were 50 years ago. So we’ll keep pushing it because that’s what people want.”
Bowie believed “seasoning” wood was the most underrated part of barrel aging. Maker’s leaves wood outside for a full year so that these staves naturally dry. This pulls out tannins and highlights vanilla and spices, Bowie explained. Maker’s also chars barrels a lighter level than most distilleries, which they believe increases esters for more fruit and tertiary notes.

Cowen & Co estimates that 2016 cannabis sales will be $6 billion, and will rise to $50 billion annually by 2026.

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