What makes a top ten whiskey or bourbon? Is it sales? Is it awards? Is it influencers talking about it? To see us out of 2023 and into 2024, we have collated a selection of articles to answer that question. These are taken from online magazines and sites dedicated to spirits, including whiskies.
When looking for a “top ten” whiskey, remember the following: some are based on one person’s opinion; some are based on a group of people; some may be awarded; some are "influenced," and of course, we have sales. You may be surprised when we look at the world's most consumed whiskies. Whiskey is consumed globally, and different countries drink whiskey in different ways, so while you may think a particular brand is not so special, 20 million people somewhere else love to mix it into a highball and sip on it by a pool all day. The drams in this category are considered easy-drinking blended whiskies or bourbons.
When looking through all these articles, it may be worth noting the whiskies or distillery that comes up regularly. If several industry-related sites and people mention it, it may be good enough for a place in your top ten.
So, we looked at the Brand Champions 2023 report from The Spirits Business. This report looks at all spirits and their performance over the previous year. This year, they have noted that the Korean soju brand Jinro is their supreme brand champion winner. Korean culture is massive worldwide, from K-Pop to Squid Game; the ripple effect will include food and drink. So, it’s unsurprising that a non-whiskey spirit is doing so well.
But back to whiskey. In the world whiskey category under US whiskies, the report shows Jim Beam as the highest-selling whiskey; next is Jack Daniels, with Woodford Reserve at number 9 (there isn’t a ten). However, the best performing for growth is Woodford Reserve, with an increase of 33.3% in sales in 2021 - 2022. While the US is its biggest market, the UK buys the most internationally. Big companies like Beam Suntory and Brown Forman own these brands. You will find them easily in supermarkets and are easy to find in most bars. But are they the best? Having a large company behind a brand means easier access to customers on a larger scale. Small independent distilleries need help getting into large-scale sale opportunities, and really, would they want to?
Looking at the top 150 spirits brands overall positions, you will find that the first entry for whiskey as a category is McDowells Whiskey, a brand from India. American whiskey comes in at position 14 (Jim Beam) and 15 (Jack Daniels).
Link to the full Brand Champions report here:
Next up, we look at an online lifestyle magazine article. In July 2023, Zach Johnston released an article in UPROXX with his top 50 American whiskies. It includes bourbons, ryes, and single malts. It also contains a great range of whiskies from style to price. Now, Michters appears four times on this list, including placement 50 and number 1. Bardstown and Barrell Dovetail make a few appearances between them as well. These are smaller brands than those noted in the sales-based report, and the notes are from someone trying them and telling you what they think.
Link to article here:
Sticking with UPROXX here, we also meet Nate Gana. We have included Nate as he is more likely to be recognized as a social media influencer and an IWSC judge, so he covers a few points in this blog. Nate notes his top 8 whiskies in this article. Admittedly, not all American drams, but those that are are different from Zach's. Our point? Well, whiskey is subjective, and two articles from the same site can have different opinions.
Next up, we will pick an Awards based ‘opinion.’ We have chosen the IWSC (International Wine and Spirits Competition) for this. Highly recognized across the spirits industry and attracting judges from across the globe, this would be quite a safe bet for assessing a whiskey. In fact, the US category is becoming so popular that in 2024, a global whiskey-judging event will be taking place in Kentucky. Looking through the results for 2023, you will again see names like Bardstown, but Michters is missing. This does not mean they did not make the grade; they just didn’t enter the competition.
The link to the site can be found here:
We know we haven’t given you a top ten American whiskies, which may seem like a bit of a cop-out, but all these top tens represent an opinion from a small group of people. Some awards are paid entry; the sales spread depends on the size of a company or how a particular country or culture likes to take a dram.
The best whiskey is sometimes the one you have in your glass right now. It's the one you turn to at the end of a long day. It could be the one that holds a special memory for you. It could be the one from a barrel you own.
If that last option appeals to you, contact our team, who will be delighted to help you on the first step of this journey.
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