Premiumisation has been a major trend within overall liquor, but it is one that is particularly pertinent in the spirits category, and even more so in American whiskey.

According to IRI*, premium and super premium Bourbon/North American whiskey makes up for more than half of the Bourbon category and enjoys a greater share of it than value and mainstream combined, a trend that has continued for at least the last three years.

The trade ups available to customers are clear and understandable within each brand. American distillers are reaching new levels of innovation, as well as finding ways to add more to their premium whiskies, to create liquids with real star appeal.

Retailers need to recognise what it is that these whiskies have that sets them above and beyond more mainstream options, and communicate that to their customers in an engaging and entertaining way.

An increase in knowledge and understanding has been driven by the growth of premium whiskies, as people look to learn about what makes a Bourbon a Bourbon, and what the rye grain brings to rye whiskey. Jack Daniel’s whiskies, for example, are Tennessee whiskey, and are legally separate from Bourbons because the process of charcoal-mellowing that all their whiskies undergo. And having learned this, consumers are keen to find out more and taste more. Retailers need to provide these opportunities.

“Consumers are becoming more educated in Bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye styles, and so are starting to broaden their portfolio of drinking and seek out some of the founding fathers of American whiskey tastes,” says Stuart Reeves, Assistant Brand Manager at Brown-Forman, whose Jack Daniel’s brand features a number of premium expressions.

Gentleman Jack remains one of only two double charcoal-mellowed expressions in the Jack Daniel’s family. Gentleman Jack also benefits from a maturation that takes place in the lower levels of the distillery’s barrel houses, giving it a “lighter oak and spice with vanilla taste profile”.

In addition, Jack Daniel’s boasts a Single Barrel range, where the whiskey in the bottle has come from one single barrel, rather than the more typical blend, giving each a totally individual profile. The Single Barrel whiskies are also bottled at a higher proof (45 per cent ABV), while the barrels are stored on the top floors of the barrel houses. Reeves says that, as a result, the Single Barrel whiskies “generally deliver far more robust and full-bodied aroma and taste, but also have their differences, which is part of the discovery of any single barrel offerings.”

Brown-Forman’s premium American whiskies are proving popular among Australian drinkers. Gentleman Jack saw growth of 17 per cent year on year, while another Brown-Forman premium American whiskey – Woodford Reserve – recorded 34 per cent growth. In order to fully realise this premium potential in-store, however, retailers need to provide a service that mirrors the premium contents of the bottle, whether through personnel or point of sale.

Reeves advises: “Staff training and education is certainly key. As consumers become more educated in the whiskey category, staff should be able to guide them towards brands and taste styles that may interest them.

“Equal to that, any education that can be provided at shelf level to the consumer is paramount: guided tasting notes/videos or even being able to provide samples before purchase can help and assist trial to purchase.

“One other main factor is simply shelf positioning and store layout, and crucial to that is presenting whiskey brands as families and indicating the trade up at shelf level. Also, any trial and encouragement that can be given to suitability with certain mixers can certainly encourage and tell the versatility of American whiskey in mixed drinks and cocktails.”

Brown-Forman itself has been focusing its efforts on furthering the growth of its premium American whiskey brands, with Reeves citing World Whisky Day as a particular opportunity.

“Activating and being present around key trading and gifting periods for whiskey giving is key for our brands,” he explains.

“World Whisky Day in particular presents a great opportunity for discovery in the whiskey category and is a great platform to highlight premium brands in-store as consumers are seeking them out. We will continue to drive education at shelf, in-store and through digital means around how to consume our whiskies as well, providing information around our key serves and what expressions from the Jack Daniel’s family pair well with certain mixers and flavours.”


*Source: IRI Au Weighted Liquor, MAT to February 2019

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.