Rye whiskey sales soar 900%

October 26, 2017
By Alana House

The world’s sudden thirst for rye whiskey is phenomenal and shows no sign of slowing.

US trade body the Distilled Spirits Council has revealed volumes have grown by 778% in the past decade.

Since 2009, rye whiskey volumes have jumped from 88,000 cases to nearly 775,00 in 2016. That’s a 900% revenue increase, up from just over $US15 million to nearly $US160 million.

The council is predicting double digit growth for rye whiskey in 2017, driven by Bulleit, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey and an explosion of craft distillers.

“American rye whiskey is retaking its rightful place among the world’s great distilled spirits, a place that was lost Prohibition,” said Distilled Spirits Council president and CEO Kraig R. Naasz.

Rye boom takes distillers by surprise

Last year, Jack Daniels master distiller Jeff Arnett confessed the rye whiskey boom had taken the company by surprise, with Brown-Forman scrambling to keep up with demand.

AAP reported that US whiskey sales rose 9% in the year to June 2016 to $US4.1 billion, ahead of the 6% growth for the total spirits market. Rye whiskey sales, however, grew a massive 33% during the period.

Given whiskey maturation can take four to seven years, Jeff Arnett admitted: “Years ago, we probably underestimated the market.” 

Jack Daniels isn’t the first distiller to be caught short, Wild Turkey famously ran out of supplies in 2013. 

“I have been working in this business for 60 years and if someone told me just five years ago rye whiskey was going to be one of the hottest categories in the spirits industry, I would have balked at the notion,” said Wild Turkey distiller Jimmy Russell during the crisis.

In the past decade, there has been a nearly 40% growth in sales of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey in the United States, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.

“The growth of rye whiskey has been phenomenal, given that as late as 2000, rye volumes were virtually nonexistent with only a handful of brands in the US market,” David Ozgo, chief economist at Discus, told Forbes. 

The boom is leading North American farmers to sow fields with the largest rye crop in years to satisfy demand. They planted 712,250 hectares for the 2016/17 season, the biggest area since 1989 and a 12-per cent year-over-year increase, according to US Department of Agriculture.

Rye crowned best in the world 

A rye whiskey took home top honours in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible two years running. 

The annual list by influential whisky writer Jim Murray is the world’s biggest-selling and most influential annual whisky guide. Industry renowned, the compact guide contains roughly 4500 detailed, professionally analysed and easy to understand tasting notes on the world’s leading and lesser-known whiskies. Each whisky is tasted by Murray himself and graded with an overall score out of 100. 

In 2015, Murray picked Crown Royal Northern Harvest Rye and workers at the distillery went on strike because the owners wanted to ramp up production. Last year he picked Booker’s Rye, which sold out, and effectively doubled the after-market value in a night.

This year E.H. Taylor Four Grain, made from corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley, took out the top honour. 

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