The market for whiskey, particularly bourbon whiskey, used to be much simpler. Consumers in the U.S. only had access to a handful of major brands, such as Jim Beam or Evan Williams, and they tended to stick with their chosen brand.
But today, whiskey is undergoing something of a mini-revolution. Many have compared it to the explosion of craft beer offerings, and there are indeed many similarities. Smaller distilleries are introducing products with labels like "small batch" or "handcrafted," and they are capturing an increasingly large portion of the market. Only ten years ago, the American Craft Spirits Association estimated that there were roughly several dozen craft distilleries in the U.S. Today, the organization claims that there are closer to 800.
"Today, whiskey is undergoing something of a mini-revolution."
Of course, most of these operations are still struggling to find their footing in a highly competitive space. Speaking to Fortune, ACSA President Tom Mooney expanded on the growth trend affecting those nearly 800 craft distilleries.
"Of those 769 distilleries, I would venture that only 50 make any money," Mooney told Fortune. "The typical craft distillery today has revenues under $1 million."
Their desire for growth has led many distilleries to compete heavily for the business of younger drinkers in their 20s and 30s. This demographic has shown to be much more interested in whiskey than in clear spirits like vodka. But more importantly, they are looking for products that appear unique and authentic.
"I have 21-year-olds coming in who have never tasted whiskey before and they're curious about it," Andrew Aoun, beverage manager at Macallans Public House, told The Orange County Register. "They want to branch out."
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