America Is Thirstiest for Liquor

'Cocktail culture' triumphs in new market data
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 9, 2023 5:45 PM CST
An American Shift: Spirits Gain Edge on Beer
A mixed drink named "Peanut Butter Jelly Thyme," which contains whiskey distilled on premises, is seen on the cocktail lounge at Baltimore Spirits Company, Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2023, in Baltimore.   (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Producers of spirits have new bragging rights in the age-old whiskey vs. beer barroom debate. As the AP reports, new figures show that spirits surpassed beer for US market-share supremacy, based on supplier revenues, a spirit industry group announced Thursday. The rise to the top for spirit-makers was fueled in part by the resurgent cocktail culture—including the growing popularity of ready-to-drink concoctions—as well as strong growth in the tequila and American whiskey segments, said the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. In 2022, spirits gained market share for the 13th straight year in the fiercely competitive US beverage alcohol market, as its supplier sales reached 42.1%, the council said.

After years of steady growth, it marked the first time that spirit supplier revenues have surpassed beer—but just barely, the spirit industry group said. Beer holds a 41.9% market share, it said. Overall spirit supplier sales in the US were up 5.1% in 2022 to a record $37.6 billion. Volumes rose 4.8% to 305 million 9-liter cases. Seemingly unfazed, Brian Crawford, president and CEO of the Beer Institute, insisted that beer “remains America’s number one choice in beverage alcohol." He added: "It’s interesting to hear liquor companies boast about making money hand-over-fist while simultaneously going state-to-state hunting for more tax carveouts from state legislatures."

Benj Steinman, president of Beer Marketer’s Insights, a leading beer industry trade publication, said the beer industry saw unprecedented growth in the 1970s, growing at a pace of 4% annually. As recently as 2000, beer’s share in the alcohol market was 58%. Over the past several decades, beer's growth has essentially been flat. Meanwhile, spirits have flourished, especially over the past two decades. “I think there’s just a long arc on these things,” Steinman said. Steinman and Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, a craft beer industry trade group, agreed there are several reasons for the shift to spirits. “Some of it’s just the younger generation coming up, looking for a lot of variety,” Steinman said. “They sometimes like spirits. Cocktail culture is another thing.”

(More liquor stories.)

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