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Rye whiskey skyrockets in US market

Rye whiskey, bourbon’s spicy cousin, is making a roaring comeback according to new supplier data from the Distilled Spirits Council. 

Since 2009, Rye whiskey volumes have grown 536% from 88,000 9-litre cases to over a half million cases (561,000) in 2014. In value terms, that translates into a 609% jump from slightly over US$15m in supplier revenues in 2009 to over US$106m in 2014.  This represents approximately US$300m in retail sales according to David Ozgo, Distilled Spirits Council chief economist.

“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,” says Ozgo. “By 2014, there were over 100 brands, and the sheer numbers tell the story. While it still represents a small share of the overall American whiskey category, its growth is skyrocketing.”

Ozgo attributed Rye’s revival to the following factors:

  • Growing interest in American whiskeys in general from 2009 to 2014. Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey volumes grew 28.5% and revenues rose 46.7%, reflecting consumers’ taste for more premium quality.
  • Americans are embracing the heritage of spirits products, and rye whiskey has a long heritage in the US.  Rye whiskey was the original grain of the East Coast, and George Washington had the largest Rye whiskey distillery in early America on his Mount Vernon, Virginia estate.  The historic distillery has been reconstructed and was opened to the public in 2007.
  • The revival of cocktails and cocktail culture; in particular classic cocktails which, pre-Prohibition, were often rye-based. 

Famed Washington, DC bar owner Derek Brown, who is also chief spirits advisor for the National Archives Foundation, says: “Bartenders have embraced rye whiskey not just for its history in classic cocktails such as the Manhattan and Old Fashioned but also because it adds spice and backbone to new recipes as well.”

10 August 2015 - Felicity Murray The Drinks Report, editor