Report: U.S. Spirits Sales Enjoyed Another Record Year in 2018

Bourbon Barrel Storage Room with barrels standing and rolling

Good times continue rolling for American distilled spirits.

The Distilled Spirits Council today reported at its annual economic briefing that 2018 marked the ninth straight year of record spirits sales and volumes, reflecting continued market share gains.

Supplier sales were up over 5.1%, rising $1.3 billion to a total of $27.5 billion.

Volumes rose 2.2% to 231 million cases, up 5 million cases from the prior year.

Spirits in 2018 gained market share versus beer and wine, with sales rising seven-tenths of a point to 37.4% of the total beverage alcohol market. It is the ninth straight year of market share gains overall, where each point of market share is worth $740 million in supplier sales revenue.

“These robust results show adult consumers are continuing to favor spirits over beer and wine, particularly among millennials,” said Distilled Spirits Council President and CEO Chris Swonger. “The spirits sector is benefiting from millennials who demand diverse and authentic experiences, and desire innovative and higher-end products.”

Growth Drivers: High-End and Super Premium Spirits

Council Chief Economist David Ozgo pointed to the strongest growth in high-end premium and super-premium products across most categories. The revenue for those price points increased 8.9% and 10.5%, respectively, and by 8% and 7.5% for volume.

Key category drivers of sales growth included American whiskey, up 6.6% or $224 million to $3.6 billion; tequila, up 10.2% or $279 million to $3.0 billion; Cognac, up 14.2% or $250 million to $1.8 billion; and Irish whiskey, up 12% or $108 million to $1 billion.

Ozgo also noted the return to growth of single malt scotch, up 9.4% or $72 million to $843 million — as well as the sales strength of super premium gin, up 15.6% — and super-premium rum, up 28.5%.

Vodka, the sector’s largest category and representing one-third of all volume, had another solid year with volumes up 1.6% and revenues up 2.9% to $6.4 billion, Ozgo said. Vodka sales were paced by high-end premium products with revenue growth of more than 11.4% to $2.6 billion.

“Growth was concentrated in the higher priced categories, allowing the industry to enjoy significant revenue growth while also picking up drinking occasions from other beverages,” said Ozgo. “The continued excitement surrounding super premium American whiskeys is creating a halo effect for the entire whiskey category.”

Important Social Responsibility Progress

“Underage drinking is at historic lows as the country continues to make progress on social responsibility,” said Swonger, who also serves as the CEO of Responsibility.org, a foundation funded by distillers to lead the fight in eliminating drunk driving and underage drinking and promote responsible decision-making regarding beverage alcohol. “The entire spirits industry is dedicated to promoting moderate and responsible alcohol consumption among adults.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, alcohol-impaired driving fatalities as a percent of total vehicle traffic fatalities is at its lowest level since 1982.

“The distilled spirits sector has been an important contributor to this progress through the evidence-based underage drinking programs of Responsibility.org, and the support for strict enforcement of existing laws and comprehensive anti-drunk driving legislation,” Swonger concluded.

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