Distilled and Blended Liquors

SIC 2085

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing alcoholic liquors by distillation and in manufacturing cordials and alcoholic cocktails by blending, processing, or mixing liquors and other ingredients. Establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing industrial alcohol are classified in SIC 2869: Industrial Organic Chemicals, Not Elsewhere Classified, and those bottling purchased liquors are classified in SIC 5182: Wine and Distilled Alcoholic Beverages.

Industry Snapshot

According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the U.S. beverage alcohol industry contributed approximately $385 billion annually to the U.S. total economic activity in the late 2000s. About 30 percent came from distilled spirits. Adult beverages were driven by consumers' growing thirst for fruit-infused vodkas, rums, and other flavored alcoholic beverages. These flavored beverages, combined with mixability, were key factors in the spirit industry's growth.

Despite the recession of the late 2000s, the Beverage Information Group reported that sales of distilled spirits for home consumption rose for the twelfth year in a row in 2009, up 1.6 percent. American consumption of distilled spirits was approximately 188 million nine-liter cases, up from 175 million cases in 2006. Of the spirits consumed, about 40 percent were imported, continuing a trend begun in 2008 that showed domestic spirits holding a larger share of the market.

Organization and Structure

A few large companies that offer a variety of alcoholic beverages dominated the distilled spirits industry. Most started with a flagship brand, such as Jim Beam Bourbon, and diversified into a family of products that included whiskey and non-whiskey items, such as gin, vodka, rum, tequila, cordials, mixed cocktails, and even fruit juices and other nonalcoholic or low-alcohol beverages. Many, such as Seagram's, Diageo, and Allied Domecq, were subsidiaries of large multinational conglomerates with diverse portfolios.

This category includes only those companies that produce distilled spirits. All distillers have to sell their products through wholesalers and retailers in order to accommodate various federal, state, and local regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages. The Federal Alcohol Administration Act (FAA) was established at the end of the 13-year Prohibition Era in 1933. The FAA, which was enforced by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), qualified distillers, collected producer and wholesaler occupational taxes, and regulated trade practices, advertising, and labeling. Beyond the uniformity of the FAA, regulations vary greatly among the 50 states.

States can sell distilled spirits either with an "open," licensed method or in a controlled environment. Open states have licensed retailers and wholesalers that handle the distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia use the open method. The other 18 states operate under the control method, in which each state government buys and sells alcoholic beverages at the wholesale and retail levels.

In addition to federal regulations, some states have set up their own independent agencies that are responsible for the administration, licensing, and enforcement of state laws and the collection of state revenues. Some state legislatures have created their own Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) agencies with rule-making power, and 32 states allow their citizens to vote for or against the sale of liquor on a city or county-wide basis.

Background and Development

All forms of alcoholic beverages--beer, wine, and liquor--are based on fermentation, the natural process of decomposition of organic materials containing carbohydrates. Liquor production involves the extra step of distillation, which reduces the original water content and greatly increases the alcoholic strength. Whereas beer averages 2 to 8 percent alcohol content, and wine averages from 8 to 14 percent, distilled spirits range from 35 to 50 percent alcohol. Two types of raw materials are used to make a distilled spirit: sugar and carbohydrates. Sugary materials include grapes, sugarcane, agave, molasses, and sugar. Materials with high levels of carbohydrates are corn, rye, rice, barley, wheat, and potatoes.

Civilizations in almost every part of the world developed some type of alcoholic beverage. The Chinese distilled a beer from rice before 800 B.C. The Arabs developed a method used to produce a distilled beverage. A reference to distillation appears in the writings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, and the Romans produced distilled beverages, although no written references have been found prior to 100 A.D. Liquor production was reported in Britain before the Roman conquest. However, production of distilled spirits in Western Europe was limited until the eighth century, after contact with the Arabs.

Distilled spirits can be classified into two categories: brown goods and white goods. Brown goods include all whiskies, bourbons, and scotches. White goods include vodka, gin, rum, and tequila. Other major segments in the distilled spirits market are the cordial or liquor category and the assortment of ready-to-drink cocktails.

Whiskey is an all-encompassing term for any distilled liquor made from a fermented mash of grain. Although all whiskey is distilled in a similar manner, each can taste quite different. The four primary steps to make whiskey are mashing, fermenting, distilling, and aging. The grains of corn, barley, rye, or wheat are ground into a fine meal, mixed with water, and cooked until the starches have been converted into sugars. This process creates a "mash" that is mixed with yeast, converting the sugars into alcohol. The fermented mixture is then pumped into a still where steam condensation allows the alcohol to separate from the water and byproducts. Fresh from the still, the whiskey is colorless, harsh, and in need of aging. The aging process enhances the spirit and refines the whiskey, giving it an amber color.

Federal regulations specify that whiskey must be "produced at less than 190 proof and bottled at not less than 80 proof." American-distilled whiskeys include Tennessee, rye, and blended. Tennessee whiskey, such as Jack Daniel's and George Dickel, is a distinct product due to the filtering of the whiskey through charcoal prior to aging. Rye whiskey is made from at least 51 percent rye and distilled at no more than 160 proof. The whiskey then is stored at no more than 125 -proof in new oak barrels. Blended whiskey, such as Seagram's Seven Crown, comes from at least 20 percent straight whiskey mixed with other whiskey grain neutral spirits. Blended whiskey became popular during World War II when whiskey was in short supply and distillers stretched its availability by adding grain neutral spirits.

Scotland remains the international leader in high-quality whiskey making. Blessed with natural resources and the ideal climate for making whiskey, Scotland boasts a long and rich history of distillation and a devotion to creating distinctly individual malts. By law, all scotch whiskey must be aged at least three years, although few brands enter the United States without being aged at least four. Scotch can be bottled in the country of origin or it can be shipped in bulk to the United States for bottling, which can be more cost effective.

More than 95 percent of scotch consumed worldwide is blended whiskey. Blends are the result of mixing both single malts and grain whiskies and are created to "soften" the harsher characteristics of individual malt whiskies. Although they are still a small percentage of the overall scotch consumption in the United States, single-malt whiskies have been made by Scottish distillers for more than 500 years. Single malts, the original scotch whiskies, are derived from sprouted barley that has been dried in kilns fired by peat and coal, which imparts a distinctive smoky character to the spirit. Produced by more than 100 scotch distilleries, each single malt has a style and flavor all its own.

Canadian whiskey is a blend of mostly rye with corn, wheat, and barley malt. By Canadian law, no more than 9.09 percent of a Canadian label may include whiskey from other countries. It must be blended from cereal grains, and it has to age in wood at least three years. As a rule, Canadian whiskies are light-bodied and slightly pale, with a reputation for having a mellow quality.

Irish whiskey is made from a fermented mash of malted and unmalted barley, corn, rye, and lesser amounts of other cereal grains. Unlike the Scots, who dry malt over an open peat fire to give it a smoky flavor, the Irish dry malt in closed kilns. Irish whiskies are full-bodied and possess a smooth malt flavor. All Irish whiskies are triple-distilled in copper pot stills and are aged three to nine years in reused sherry, brandy, bourbon, or rum oak casks. Irish whiskey remains the smallest of all the distilled spirits categories in the United States, accounting for less than 1 percent of all distilled spirits consumption.

Part of the whiskey group, bourbon is a uniquely American product, as corn is its main raw material. The drink was created unintentionally in 1789 when a Bourbon County, Kentucky, farmer sealed his whiskey in a charred barrel. This aging process picked up the mellow smoky flavor of the wood, giving bourbon its distinctive taste. In 1964, the U.S. Congress officially named bourbon America's "Native Spirit" and has tightly regulated bourbon's production to ensure a consistent, quality product. Straight bourbon whiskey is required by law to contain at least 51 percent corn, to be distilled at no more than 160 proof, and to be aged a minimum of two years in new, charred oak containers. Jim Beam Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey continues to be the best-selling bourbon in the United States.

Vodka is the most popular liquor in the United States, accounting for more than one out of every five bottles of distilled spirits sold. According to U.S. federal regulations, vodka lacks aroma, taste, and color. It is distilled at a high proof, extracting all the congeners, or the natural compounds in the distillate that give the product its taste and aroma. Because vodka is highly neutral, it is possible to make it from a mash of the cheapest and most readily available raw ingredients. Although traditionally made from potatoes, vodka is now generally produced from cereal grains, including rye, wheat, and barley, but mostly corn.

Vodka originated in Russia during the fourteenth century and has remained commonplace in Russia, Poland, and the Baltic States. It became popular in the United States after World War II with the introduction of a drink called the Moscow Mule. In the land of its origin, vodka is usually consumed chilled, straight up in small glasses and accompanied by appetizers. In the United States, vodka is the base ingredient in a variety of popular cocktails.

Gin is the distilled product of juniper berries mixed with a clear grain-based spirit. First distilled by a seventeenth-century professor of medicine in Holland to produce an inexpensive medicine, gin quickly became a popular drink in Britain and later in the United States. Government regulations require that gin be bottled at 80 proof or higher, have a juniper berry flavor, and be made either by distillation or compounding. Compound gin, made by a less costly method, is the combination of neutral spirits with the oil and extracts of the botanicals.

Aging is not a factor with gin, although U.S. producers sometimes age their gins, imparting a pale, golden color. Instead, each gin achieves its distinct taste through the distiller's specific combination of gin botanicals, such as cassia, anise, coriander, angelica, and juniper. Gin is a flavored spirit. Without the flavoring, it would be vodka.

A favorite American spirit long before bourbon whiskey, rum is a sweet, distilled spirit made from sugar cane. Although debate continues as to where rum was first produced, by the late seventeenth century the liquor was being distilled in the American colonies using molasses from the West Indies. In fact, the first distillery in what is now called the United States was built on Staten Island and was already producing rum when the English seized the Dutch colony in 1664.

By federal law, rum must be distilled from the fermented juice of sugar cane, sugar cane syrup, sugar cane molasses, or other sugar cane byproducts at less than 190 proof. It can be made anywhere, although more than 80 percent of rum is produced in Puerto Rico. The two main types of rum are light-bodied rums, which have a dry, subtle flavor, and full-bodied rums, a more aromatic variety.

Made from the heart of the agave plant, Tequila is produced in its namesake town located in the central Mexican state of Jalisco. The core of the plant, which resembles a large pineapple, is harvested, cut into chunks, and baked in steam ovens. The juice is extracted by steaming and compressing the core. After fermenting for several days, the juice is distilled at a low proof. The tequila then is double distilled to a powerful 110 proof and reduced to 80 proof with water before bottling.

Although tequila can be bottled as a clear product, the gold and "anejo" products are aged in wood. Gold tequila is kept in large oak vats for about nine months to a year, acquiring its pale gold color. By law, tequila designated anejo must be aged in a wood container for at least one year, although most anejo products are aged for three to seven years.

The cordial or liqueur category is the largest and most diverse in terms of the number of brands, flavors, and alcohol content. It also is one of the largest in total case sales. Products in this category encompass all flavors and are used as after-dinner drinks, aperitifs, components of classic cocktails or popular shooters, or flavorful enhancements to foods.

Originating in Europe, cordials and liqueurs are alcoholic beverages that are prepared by mixing or compounding various spirits with flavorings. The cordial category includes schnapps, liqueurs, cremes, and brandies. Cordials must contain at least 2.5 percent sugar by weight, although most are considerably higher in their sugar content and may contain up to 35 percent of a sweetening agent.

Cordials are produced by one of three methods: percolation, maceration, or distillation. The percolation process starts with pouring the spirits in the bottom of a large tank with a basket-like container filled with fruit and spices near the top. The sprits then are "percolated" up through the basket, extracting the flavors of the fruit. With maceration, the fruit and other ingredients are mixed with the spirit and allowed to steep until all the flavors have been extracted. In the distillation process, all the ingredients are placed in the still with grain neutral spirits and gently heated.

Industry Regulations.
After a peak consumption year in 1981, the industry saw consumption decrease slowly nearly every year. Seagram Americas became the first spirits marketer to break the 48-year-old voluntary ban on television advertising in June 1996 with its ad for Crown Royal Canadian whiskey on KRIS-TV in Corpus Christi, Texas. Major TV networks, however, refused to take liquor ads, and cable and local stations were left as the only outlet for spirits advertising.

The issue of liquor advertising opened a floodgate of controversy, including admonishments from President Clinton, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, and Reed Hundt, chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. All of these parties said the ban should remain to protect children. George Hacker, of the advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the repeal of the broadcast ad ban "marks the beginning of an open liquor-marketing season on America's children and teens."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began a formal inquiry into the placement and content of Seagram's ads, while the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) followed with its own investigation. Congress took up this issue with the Senate Commerce Committee telecommunications subcommittee hearings in March 1997. In September 1999, the FTC released its report on industry efforts to avoid promoting alcohol to underage consumers. The report, "Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry," recommended that industry improve enforcement of its "Code of Good Practice" by adopting a third-party review of compliance and reducing underage exposure to alcohol ads by changing the current placement standards. The report recommended that all industry members adopt and build upon the industry's current best practices and go beyond the minimum code requirements. The report also urged companies to give special attention to restricting access to web sites that advertise alcohol. It noted that some companies had already made an attempt to address concerns by discontinuing the use of content that would appeal to underage users.

Other legislative action of the late 1990s included the BAC Amendment. Approved by the Senate in 1998 by a wide margin, the amendment, which set a 0.08 blood-alcohol content level, brought a lobbying blitz from the liquor industry. By the late 2000s, all 50 states had BAC laws.

The passage of the so-called 21st Amendment Enforcement Act restricting the sale of alcohol over the Internet was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in August 1999. The legislation originated with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), which had concerns about the lack of safeguards in place to protect minors from such sales. The legislation was welcomed by anti-alcohol crusaders and by wine wholesalers, who considered themselves vulnerable to online vintners. Those opposing the legislation included the wine industry and e-commerce advocates, who believed the restrictions posed a threat to a free Internet marketplace.

The legislation provided state attorneys general in 20 states the power to seek a federal injunction against any company that might be in violation of state alcohol laws. In the other 30 states, direct shipments were illegal, and in Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Tennessee, direct shipments were a felony. Because most states require alcoholic beverages to be sold only through a state-licensed wholesaler, under the Enforcement Act, states can prosecute out-of-state companies if they make shipments violating the state's law. However, a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling mandated that states that allowed direct shipments in-state also must allow them from out-of-state companies. In 2010, a proposed bill (HR-5034) that would reassert state control of alcohol marketing was threatening to overturn that decision. If passed, states could enact shipping laws that favored in-state over out-of-state liquor producers. Industry participants, including distilled spirits distributors, strongly opposed the legislation.

Other changes in the industry occurred when it was announced in 2003 that, after lobbying efforts by several alcohol industry associations, revenue and regulatory control issues relating to alcoholic drinks would be removed from the control of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). Provisions of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 moved revenue and regulatory issues related to distilled spirits, wine, and beer to the newly created Tax and Trade Bureau in the Treasury Department. Criminal activity related to the alcohol industry remained under the ATF and became part of the Justice Department.

In the 2000s, alcohol was one of the most heavily taxed consumer products in the United States; more than half the money consumers spent on a bottle of distilled spirits went for taxes. Federal, state, and local governments received more than $7.5 billion per year in tax revenue from the distilled spirits industry and $18 billion from the entire alcoholic beverage industry. According to DISCUS, the federal beverage alcohol tax structure was particularly biased against distilled spirits.

The top sellers in the measured channels in the early 2000s were Smirnoff's vodka ($138 million), Bacardi's rum ($135.8 million, with a 44.6 percent share of the rum market), and Jose Cuervo tequila ($83.3 million). Vodka continued to surpass all other types of distilled spirits, gaining 9.3 percent in sales to reach $619.5 million in 2001. In the past, vodka was popular because American consumers wanted lighter, less flavorful beverages, but as classic cocktails were revived in the 1990s, many were resurrected with a vodka base. Moreover, premium vodkas such as Ketel One, Absolut, and Skyy were growing in popularity, as well as infused vodkas such as Absolut Citron, Absolut Kurrant, Finlandia Cranberry, Finlandia Pineapple, and Tanqueray Sterling Citrus. North American whiskey ranked second in sales at nearly $542 million, up 3.9 percent. Tequila also reported an increase in sales, up 7.8 percent to $166 million, making it one of the fastest-growing categories.

One of the major trends driving the growth of the traditionally restrained spirits market was spirit-branded products, especially vodka and tequila. Dubbed malternatives, this new sector grew an impressive 25 percent in the United States in 2001. Globally, ready-to-drinks grew an average of 33 percent from 2000 to 2003. Vodka-infused drinks led the category with 24 percent of the market, followed by tequila-infused drinks with 5 percent. Smirnoff had great success with its popular Smirnoff Ice, introduced in 1999, which alone accounted for annual sales of $900 million worldwide and an estimated 11 percent of maker Diageo's operating profit in 2002. The May 2002 launch of Captain Morgan Gold, however, proved much less successful and was withdrawn within a year. Other ready-to-drinks included Stolichnaya Citrona, Sauza Diablo, SKYY Blue, and Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola. High-end spirits, especially imports, were the other important trend begun in the 1990s and continued into the 2000s. Imported spirits made up 36 percent of total consumption in 1994 and rose to 38 percent in 2002.

According to DISCUS, distilled spirits garnered 32.8 percent of the market share for supplier gross revenues of adult beverages in 2006, chipping away at the market share of beer for the fifth consecutive year. Beer still held a majority of the market at 50.7 percent, while wine held steady at just less than 17 percent. These figures remained stable throughout the late 2000s.

Current Conditions

According to DISCUS, whiskey (including blended, bourbon and Tennessee, Canadian, scotch-blended, scotch-single malt, and Irish) generated the largest value of sales of distilled liquor in the United States in 2009, accounting for $5.3 billion. Vodka generated $4.6 billion in sales; cordials, $2.3 billion; rum, $2.2 billion; tequila, $1.6 billion; and brandy and cognac, $1.5 billion. Gin and cocktails brought up the rear, with $903 million and $341 million in sales, respectively. The category experiencing the most growth that year was Irish whiskey, for which sales increased 12.3 percent. Almost all high-end premium and super premium brands experienced negative growth, most likely as an effect of the downturn in the economy, whereas the sale of most value and premium brands either increased or fell only slightly.

Although the distilled and blended liquors industry felt the effects of the economic recession of the late 2000s, there were some bright spots. For example, more widespread Sunday sales and product tasting boosted the sales of distilled spirits throughout the 2000s. From 2002 to 2009, 14 states joined the list of those allowing Sunday retail sales of alcohol, bringing the total to 36. By 2009, all but seven states allowed taste tests, as with more widespread and generally accepted wine tastings, either on or off distillery premises. A DISCUS representative was quoted as saying in Beverage World, "It's important from the standpoint that if you're looking to buy a $60 bottle of scotch, you might want to taste it before you're going to buy it."

Another change in the industry occurred on the media front. DISCUS reported that television's share of the revenue dollars spent on advertising distilled spirits grew from 1 percent in 2000 to 25 percent in 2008. Most of this advertising occurred on cable TV and other pay channels, as liquor producers generally followed a voluntary ban of distilled spirits advertising on broadcast TV. However, in February 2009, Absolut Vodka ran an ad on CBS during the annual airing of the Grammy Awards. By 2010, ads for spirits could be seen on CBS, NBC, and FOX affiliated stations as well as all cable networks. The use of such ads on network TV continued to be a matter of great debate.

Industry Leaders

Diageo North America Inc., based in Norwalk, Connecticut, generated about 40 percent of the revenues of its parent company, Diageo Plc of London, the world's leading and most profitable wine and spirits company. Diageo was the result of a merger between Grand Metropolitan and Guinness in 1997. The creation of Diageo was a strategic breakthrough in the spirits industry, bringing together leading brands in most spirit categories and access to customers in more than 200 countries. Diageo North America produced several of the world's top spirit brands, including Baileys Irish Cream liqueur, Crown Royal Canadian whiskey, Johnnie Walker Scotch whiskey, Jose Cuervo tequila, Captain Morgan rum, and Smirnoff vodka. The company had 2009 revenues of almost $6.4 billion with 8,040 employees.

Pernod Ricard USA in Purchase, New York, was a subsidiary of Paris-based Pernod Ricard SA. Pernod Ricard is the maker of Jameson Irish whiskey, Beefeater and Seagram's gins, Malibu rum, and Chivas Regal Scotch whiskey, among other popular brands. In 2008, the company acquired Sweden's V&S Group, thus adding Absolut vodka to its lineup. Pernod Ricard SA had sales of $10.1 billion in 2009.

Bacardi USA is located in Coral Gables, Florida, and a subsidiary of Bermuda-based Bacardi Limited, which had 2009 sales of $5.3 billion and is one of the world's leading spirits producers. Bacardi produces the world's best-selling rum brand. Other brands include Dewar's Blended Scotch whiskey, Bombay gin, Cazdores Blue Agave tequila, and Grey Goose vodka.

Kentucky-based Brown-Forman Corporation was created in 1870 when George C. Brown and John Forman opened their distillery in Louisville to produce Old Forester bourbon. In 1902, Forman sold his interest in the company to the Brown family, which has remained in control of the business ever since. Well-known brands included Jack Daniel's, Canadian Mist, Southern Comfort, and Finlandia. The company registered sales of $2.5 billion in 2009.

Beam Global Spirits & Wine Company is a subsidiary of Fortune Brands Inc. and the world's leading producer of bourbon, with its namesake Jim Beam. The company also is the number-one producer of cordials through its DeKuyper label. The company started in 1795 when Jacob Beam, a Kentucky farmer, developed his recipe for Kentucky bourbon whiskey. His son, David, joined the business, and with the assistance of new roads the distillery business grew as distribution broadened into the surrounding counties. In the following years, the distillery was moved twice, first to take advantage of an abundance of spring water and again to be closer to the railroad lines. In 2010, the company announced plans to expand its distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, to double its size and capacity. As a company, Beam Global Spirits grew considerably when it purchased several brands from former-rival Allied Domecq in 2005. The firm had 2009 revenues of almost $2.5 billion.

America and the World

Distilled spirit exporters in the United States benefited from lower tariffs and reduced nontariff barriers in the 2000s, with exports reaching $1 billion in 2009. Canada was the number-one market for U.S. spirits exports in 2009, accounting for $143.3 million, followed by the United Kingdom ($124.8 million), Australia ($87.0 million), Germany ($82.9 million), and France ($73.7 million). Japan, which was the number-one exporter of U.S. spirits in 2000, had dropped to sixth place by 2009. Imports also increased substantially in the 2000s, from approximately $2 billion in 1998 to over $4 billion in 2005. Other figures from DISCUS showed that value of imports of distilled spirits increased 8.9 percent and volume increased 5.6 percent in December 2009 as compared to the same time period the previous year.

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