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National Restaurant Association - Join the American whiskey revolution

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Join the American whiskey revolution

Donna Hood Crecca is a Senior Director at Technomic, Inc. and offers suggestions of how to benefit from American whiskey’s popularity.



According to Technomic, American whiskey is one of the most vibrant spirits categories right now. Straight American whiskey grew 5.2% in volume and 6.7% in dollars sales nationwide in 2012. Preliminary analysis shows straight American whiskeys such as bourbon and rye increased 3.3% in volume in restaurants and bars last year, with the higher-end bottlings among the fastest-growing segments. Diverse, mixable, accessibly priced and approachable, American whiskey appeals to a broad range of today’s consumers. Restaurant operators are in a prime position to not only benefit from its popularity, but also create distinct opportunities to differentiate your  venue and your beverage program by engaging bartenders, servers and guests with  our native spirit.

Here’s how:

  • Explore American whiskey and tap into the trends that fit with your restaurant. Several styles are emerging within American whiskey that may further define your concept or allow you to provide something unique and relevant on your drink menu. Among the emerging styles are single-barrel, small-batch, double-barrel, wood-finished, extended age and limited-edition whiskeys. Look also at rye and corn whiskeys; these segments are small, but growing quickly. Your distributor may be able to assist with category education programs to familiarize you and your staff with the different styles and expressions; gaining this knowledge will help you determine which fit best with your goals.
  • Select brands strategically. With more than 400 microdistilleries in the U.S. today, there’s likely a distillery in your vicinity. If local products are important to your patrons, consider featuring whiskeys from local distilleries. At the same time, don’t discount the major labels, which have strong brand recognition and also may provide you promotional support. In addition, the major brands also each offer various expressions such as single-barrels and ryes within their portfolios. That brand recognition can help your bartenders and patrons become more comfortable exploring these new aspects of the category.
  • Think about classic and contemporary whiskey cocktails. Manhattans, Old Fashioneds and Sours remain popular today, thanks to the cocktail renaissance. Menuing such classics, along with descriptors of their colorful origins and flavorful ingredients, will ramp up patron interest and help create a unique experience for the guest. At the same time, the diversity within American whiskey lends the spirit to new takes on these classics as well as development of all-new drinks. The flavors of whiskey work well with honey, lemon, cherry, vanilla and also spicy components, providing ample inspiration.
  • Call out whiskey on drink menus. The incidence of bourbon on chain restaurant spirits menus increased 6% and grew 10% on drink menus between 2010 and 2012; rye’s presence increased 22% on spirits menus and 13% on drink menus, according to Technomic’s Menu Monitor. The trend points to whiskey’s versatility. Don’t assume your guest will only drink whiskey with cola; encourage them to try the spirit in both classic and contemporary cocktails and as a sipping spirit by giving it visibility on both your drink menu and spirits list.
  • Market whiskey to younger consumers. Millennial consumers (age 21-34) are calling for Bourbon, rye and other straight American whiskeys more frequently than older generations. Two-fifths (44%) of Millennials drink American whiskey cocktails and one-third (34%) drink the spirit straight or on the rocks once a month or more in restaurants and bars, as compared with 33% and 34% of total consumers surveyed.

Technomic provides clients with the facts, insights and consulting support they need to enhance their business strategies, decisions and results. Its services include numerous publications and digital products, as well as proprietary studies and ongoing research on all aspects of the foodservice industry. Technomic’s Trends in Adult Beverage (TAB) database tracks more than 3,000 adult beverage brands and its BarTAB report analyzes the adult beverage trends in restaurants, bars and other licensed establishments.

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