What’s hotter than American whiskey? The category is amidst another golden era. Newer brands like Angel’s Envy and High West have exploded in popularity, while classics such as Buffalo Trace and Four Roses have again enjoyed boom times.
With that in mind, here are three American whiskey brands on the cusp of bigger things.
Virginia’s craft distilling industry is ramping up quickly, with this producer at the forefront. Opened in 2011, Virginia Distillery Company is reminiscent of Wyoming Whiskey. It’s another new, large-scale operation that has invested the correct amount of capital and time to achieve long-term success.
Virginia Distillery makes American single malt. While their 3,000+ barrels age, the company sources malt whisky from Scotland. This they blend with young homemade stock, then finish in different casks before bottling. Virginia Distillery will begin launch activities this year for their first 100% Virginia whisky (which is how they’re spelling it) called Courage & Conviction. The official release is 2020.
Do U.S. consumers comprehend American single malt? Education is key. “Consumers are generally very knowledgeable these days and want to understand what they are drinking,” says Gareth Moore, Virginia Distillery CEO. “Explaining that ‘American’ does not mean it is just bourbon or rye, and that ‘single malt’ does not mean it is Scotch, allows the consumer to appreciate our new category.”
The company’s demo includes “mid-to-higher income early 30s to mid-50s, [who] appreciates innovation, localization and premiumization,” says Marlene Steiner, brand director. As well as Millenials, who have grown up with craft beer and “are looking for new experiences and often appreciate supporting the ‘drink local’ movement.”
Traditional single malt drinkers will also reach for the American style, adds Steiner, because it’s “an easy local translation of a more traditional approach to single malt.”
What’s old is new in the brown spirits boom. This Kentucky straight bourbon dates back to 1958, but has grown exponentially in recent time. Owner Luxco revamped the Old Ezra branding in 2016. The result, says Brand Manager Fletcher Buchman, was 20% growth in one year.
Other factors helped. “The Ezra Brooks brand family is higher proof and real cork vs. some of our other competitors,” explains Buchman. “For the price and proof, you are getting more flavor.”
Named after the “King of the Bootleggers,” this is a brand of high-rye bourbon from MGP Ingredients. Normally this gigantic Indiana producer sources stock for other companies. Remus is part of MGP’s recent foray into creating premium house brands.
The company acquired the George Remus label in 2016. Revamped, the line now includes two variants. George Remus Straight Bourbon Whiskey (SRP: $44.99) is a blend of bourbons more than four years old, while George Remus Repeal Reserve (SRP: $84.99) contains bourbons older than ten.
Whiskey fans will recognize MGP for its trademark high-rye style. The company altered the blends in Remus to avoid stepping on the toes of its sourcing customers, explains Andy Mansinne, VP of brands. Still, expect that classic MGP taste.
“Our demo includes serious whiskey collectors who enjoy the palate challenge of our high-rye style,” says Mansinne. “There’s a willingness and readiness to try our products, because these people know our rye expertise.”
Each year, the company will release a new version of Repeal Reserve on Nov. 13, Remus’ birthday. MGP has rolled out additional marketing that taps into the brand’s core theme. “There’s still an immense amount of fascination around the Prohibition era,” says Mansinne. “It helps us tell the truth of the story behind ‘The King of the Bootleggers’.”
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece The Most Important New Products from 2018.