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Americans are buying more liquor while beer continues to lose ground

Rye whiskey
Rye is poured neat at a bar in Los Angeles.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

In a time of deep political divisions, this much appears unassailable: Americans are hitting the hard stuff with gusto these days, increasingly American whiskey but also — in the spirit of inclusiveness — cognac, tequila and vodka.

For the seventh straight year, the spirits industry swiped market share from beer last year, according to economic data released Tuesday by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Overall, spirits suppliers’ sales to wholesalers grew to $25.2 billion last year, up 4.5% from the year before, and sales volume increased about 2.4% to 220 million cases.

Based on revenue, spirits had 35.9% of the U.S. alcoholic-beverage market last year while beer had 47% and wine had 17.1%. In 2000, spirits had 28.7% of the market, beer had 55.5%, and wine had 15.7%. 

American whiskey, which includes bourbon, is still booming, with sales volume up 6.8% year-over-year to 21.8 million cases and sales to wholesalers up 7.7% to $3.1 billion. American whiskey sales have grown for more than 10 years.

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Beer still commanded about 47% of market share of the alcohol industry last year, in terms of supplier sales to wholesalers, but spirits, at about 36%, and wine, at about 17%, have steadily grown in recent years while beer has fizzled.

“The continued growth of the spirits sector clearly demonstrates that adult consumers’ taste for and interest in premium distilled spirits, across all categories, is trending upward,” Kraig Naasz, president and chief executive of the Distilled Spirits Council, said in the news release.

Other highlights from the 2016 data included:

• Vodka, which represents one-third of spirits sales volume, grew 2.4% to 69.8 million cases.

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• Tequila sales volume increased about 7% to almost 16 million cases.

• Cognac was up about 13% to about 5 million cases.

gtrotter@chicagotribune.com

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UPDATES:

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12:20 p.m.: This article was updated with market-share figures for spirits, beer and wine. 

This article was originally published at 11:30 a.m.


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