Bourbon Popularity Growth

Bourbon Popularity GrowthSomething is always trending, and bourbon is enjoying a soaring popularity growth. And it’s not just any bourbon – it’s the very high-end ones. And it’s not just in America. Bourbon is enjoying global growth.

In 2013, American distilled spirits broke export records, exceeding $1.5 billion, predominantly driven by premium bourbon and Tennessee whiskey, according to a report by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). Sales growth in the U.S of all whiskeys was up almost two percent as well with contributing factors including product innovation, focus on premiumization, heritage, and cocktail culture.

Bourbon versus Whiskey

Simply put: all bourbons are whiskey, but not all whiskeys are bourbon. There are laws regarding the classification of bourbon. Jim Beam lists the requirements:

  • Produced in the USA
  • Made of a grain mix of at least 51% corn
  • Distilled at less than 160 proof (80% ABV)
  • No additives allowed (except water to reduce proof where necessary)
  • Aged in new, charred white oak barrels
  • Aged for a minimum of two years*

*to be called “straight” bourbon

Hats off to Lyndon Johnson for making bourbon all-American. Under his administration in 1964, Congress declared bourbon “America’s Native Spirit.”

Other whiskeys can add color and flavor and re-use aging barrels. Not so with bourbon. Nothing can be added other than water and brand new barrels must be used for aging. Kentucky bourbon must be distilled in Kentucky.

Bourbon Resurgence

After bourbon lost ground and market share to other spirits, bourbon distillers turned to the idea of small batches and single-barrel selections that featured complexity and the quality whiskey connoisseurs desired. Like the beer industry, the idea of a craft product created sales growth. New York Times’ Dining & Wine (“Bourbon’s Masters of the Craft”) notes that only two American craft distillers operated in 2007. Since then, the category has exploded. In the authors’ taste test of bourbons, of the top ten, five came from New York, a state that boasts more than 30 craft distilleries.

Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon (Buffalo Trace Distillery) has gained a following similar to Alchemist Brewery’s Heady Topper that’s sold on the black market at wildly inflated rates (see Craft Beer Black Market). In the case of Pappy Van Winkle Bourbon, 65 cases were stolen, generating a $10,000 reward. In Utah, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control is limiting sales to one bottle per person, and a bottle of 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle sold for as much as $1200.00 (CNN’sBourbon world goes berserk”).

Bourbon History

Bourbon has a storied history dating back to the foundation of the country, but if you want to get the full story, the Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville, KY is now offering a bourbon history tour. Its first rendition of the tour was offered last week (May 18), and the tour includes bourbon lore and the histories of many of the original distillers, the bulk of whom are buried there, including Julian Proctor Van Winkle, better known as Pappy.

There’s no denying bourbon’s popularity growth. Whether or not you choose to shell out over $1000 for a bottle of Pappy’s legacy is up to you.