Liquor Sales Hit Record Highs in 2018, But Exports Suffered Thanks to Tariffs

February 12, 2019, 8:30 PM UTC

The Distilled Spirits Council reported its ninth straight year of record spirits sales and volumes on Tuesday. Supplier sales were up over 5.1 percent, rising $1.3 billion to a total of $27.5 billion, while volumes rose 2.2 percent to 231 million cases, up 5.0 million cases from the prior year.

Liquor sales also gained market share in 2018 over beer and wine. Sales rose 7/10ths of a point, to 37.4% of the total alcoholic beverage market.

Key category drivers of sales growth included American Whiskey, up 6.6 percent or $224 million to $3.6 billion; Tequila, up 10.2 percent or $279 million to $3.0 billion; Cognac, up 14.2 percent or $250 million to $1.8 billion; and Irish Whiskey, up 12.0 percent or $108 million to $1.0 billion. Single Malt Scotch, super premium Gin, and super premium Rum also saw an increase.

“These robust results show adult consumers are continuing to favor spirits over beer and wine, particularly among millennials,” said Distilled Spirits Council President and CEO Chris Swonger. “The spirits sector is benefiting from millennials who demand diverse and authentic experiences, and desire innovative and higher-end products.”

It’s not all good news. The Council says that its data has shown that retaliatory tariffs have started to make an impact on U.S. whiskey exports, particularly exports to the EU.

American whiskey exports to the EU for the first half of the year were growing at a brisk 33 percent but took a sharp downturn following the imposition of tariffs this past summer, declining 8.7 percent compared to the same period in 2017 (July-Nov.).

“We strongly encourage the Administration and our trading partners in the EU, Canada, and Mexico to quickly resolve these harmful tariffs that are undercutting economic growth in this sector and adversely affecting American workers,” says Swonger.

Overall, during the first six months of 2018, exports of American whiskey were growing at 28%, following the imposition of tariffs those exports dropped 8.2%, compared to the same time period last year.

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