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U.S. sales of bourbon, Tennessee whiskey up almost 8 percent in 2015

Frosty Four Wood is the latest release in the Distillery Series from Woodford Reserve. Made with the original Four Wood Woodford Reserve that touched four woods in the aging process, this version benefited from extreme low temperatures last winter, resulting in more intense notes of fruit and maple syrup. It’s available at the distillery and select Kentucky stores for $49.99 for a 375ml bottle.
Frosty Four Wood is the latest release in the Distillery Series from Woodford Reserve. Made with the original Four Wood Woodford Reserve that touched four woods in the aging process, this version benefited from extreme low temperatures last winter, resulting in more intense notes of fruit and maple syrup. It’s available at the distillery and select Kentucky stores for $49.99 for a 375ml bottle. Photo provided

Cheers, Kentucky: Bourbon and American whiskey sales in the United States were up 7.8 percent to $2.9 billion in 2015, according to figures released Tuesday morning by the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. Looking at exports, sales of American whiskey were up 4 percent by volume, although the value fell 2.7 percent to about $1 billion, putting total sales of American whiskey at just less than $4 billion for 2015.

Overall, American distilled spirits of all kinds marked another year of growth, with sales by value up 4.1 percent and by volume up 2.3 percent. Overall exports were flat, at a projected $1.56 billion in sales, due to the strong dollar in key foreign markets. Final numbers are expected later this month.

The council estimated that overall retail distilled spirits sales in the United States were nearly $72 billion in 2015. One of the main factors continues to be the world’s thirst for American bourbon, rye and Tennessee whiskey, which is creating an increasing market for American-grown corn and rye, the council said.

“Against the backdrop of an otherwise sluggish farm economy, it’s positive to note that American whiskey sales are benefiting America’s farmers and the agricultural sector,” said Kraig Naasz, president and CEO of the spirits council.

The Kentucky Distillers’ Association estimates that 95 percent of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, and the majority of Tennessee whiskey sales are from Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s family.

The real story is the growth of the super-premium whiskey segment, which includes brands priced at $30 or more, said council economist David Ozgo. By volume, sales of pricey bourbons and whiskeys including Woodford Reserve, Knob Creek and Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel grew 25.2 percent, with revenues growing even faster, at 27 percent, to $411 million, he said.

Rye whiskey sales, while small, are exploding, with volume up 19.5 percent, he said.

Ozgo said sales of traditional and flavored whiskeys grew steadily last year, with cinnamon and apple both popular flavors.

Sales of Irish and Canadian whiskey also were up, he said. Much of the growth of Canadian sales came from the flavored side, with products including Crown Royal Regal Apple leading the way.

Vodka sales remain ahead of total whiskey sales in the United States, but the margin has narrowed to less than 10 million cases as the growth in vodka slowed to 1.8 percent by volume last year, and sales were essentially flat at $5.8 million in revenue.

Looking at 2016, Christine LoCascio, the council’s expert on trade, said countries to watch include Vietnam, where exports of U.S. distilled spirits are estimated to have grown by more than 225 percent last year, plus Latvia, the Dominican Republic, Panama, Brazil, and the United Kingdom. Trade promotions are planned for 2016 in South Africa, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Germany, and Brazil, she said.

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