Wednesday, July 8, 2015

No Scotch Allowed

'The Spirits Business' published an odd and oddly interesting list earlier this week. They call it 'Top 10 Best Selling World Whisky Brands,' but a clearer title would be 'Top 10 Best Selling Whisky Brands that Aren't Scotch.'

As it happens, the list consists of whiskeys from the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Japan. The United States leads the medal count with four. Canada has three, Japan has two, Ireland has one. Three of the four Americans are straight whiskey. Everything else on the list is a blend. Beam Suntory has three of its brands included, Diageo has two. No other company has more than one.

That's one of the ways this list is strangely skewed. Put scotches back in and Diageo would win by a mile. Take them out and Beam Suntory's US/Asia axis beats Diageo's US/Europe orientation, a sign of things to come perhaps.

The list is based on 2014 sales volume. It ranges from just under two million cases to almost twelve million, an extraordinarily wide range. That's because Jack Daniel's so dominates a list configured in this way, at 11.7 million 2014 cases, compared to 7.4 million for number two Jim Beam. Take Daniel's out of the mix and the volumes are much more tightly bunched.

Here's the list:
  1. Jack Daniel's 
  2. Jim Beam 
  3. Crown Royal 
  4. Jameson 
  5. Suntory Kakubin 
  6. Seagrams Seven 
  7. Black Nikka 
  8. Black Velvet 
  9. Canadian Club  
  10. Evan Williams 
When the list is simply 'Top 10 Best-Selling Whiskey Brands,' Scottish blends dominate, rounded out by the top three or four names from this list. Since this is worldwide sales, it's interesting to see where the different brands slot in. Probably no market except the whole world reflects this arrangement, since Japanese whiskeys are still almost unknown in North America and Europe but huge, of course, at home. Similarly, Canadian whiskey is huge in the U.S. and Canada, invisible everywhere else.

The point of the list? Hard to tell, except that there are certainly many in the international drinks community who are prepared to imagine a world without scotch.


Gary A. Turner said...

I'm really confused - how does making it "worldwide" eliminate Scotch? Very misleading headline to their article - the text explains they are "looking at the North American, Canadian, Japanese and Irish sectors". Not sure if there are Australian, Indian, or other whiskies that would break this list even if considered (so to your point - the only slight is really to Scotch).

If this rag wanted to maintain some integrity, they should publish this as "Top 10 Best-Selling Non-Scotch Whisky Brands". I'm sure folks are curious what those are (I was), but positioning it as "World Whisky" is very misleading.

Crown Point Marc said...

Maybe when you vote no for independence, you lose a lot of respect globally.
Crown Pt. Marc

zeke said...


Since Evan Williams is new to the list, what brand did it bump?

John Martinko said...

Odd. I just dug out my last copy of the 2014 Millionaire's Club and I'd never really noticed that it was skewed in the opposite direction. There are no American whiskeys at all in it's top-30 whiskeys sub-list. There doesn't seem to be any reason for it in the text. There is a separate North American listing that shows them and they're in the full, all-spirits list.

Granted, only JD, JB and Seagram's would have cracked this top 30, but still, an odd omission.

They *do* list Scotch, but as a separate category in their "Brand Champions" index. A separate one for Indian whiskey as well. And it's rationale for picking Jack Daniel's as it's yearly champion over the Indian whiskeys is a bit... thin.

Aside from ego-stroking, how do brands actually benefit from rankings on this list? WHy would anyone care to skew it?

Chuck Cowdery said...

These questions need to be directed to The Spirits Business. I don't know the answers.

Anonymous said...

It's also apparent from this list that 'best selling' has nothing to do with 'best'.

Erik Fish said...

Without wanting to step on anyone's toes, I think the key here is not to overthink this. SB is a trade publication mainly for bartenders, not the public, and most of its intended readers are unlikely to get worked up about "skewed lists" or "credibility" or "who benefits?". Given that Scotch is still the big dog in the whisky world, and SB does have its individual list for that, it actually makes sense to separate out the other players and compare their respective positions. They just titled it a bit unfortunately.

Chuck Cowdery said...

It's also 'best selling' by units sold, not revenue, which favors moderately-priced products.

Bartenders care about credibility. Everyone does. There's no point reading something that's not credible.

Erik Fish said...

"Bartenders care about credibility. Everyone does. There's no point reading something that's not credible."

Well, yes, but that's besides the point.

Unless I misunderstood your column, you didn't take issue with SB's numbers, but only with the awkward selectivity of their listing criteria. My point was simply that SB's intended audience can safely be assumed to be educated enough to understand the limitations of the list, and that attempts by some previous commenters to dramatize this into some significant "credibility" issue are probably overblown.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Then I misunderstood your previous comment, and we're basically in agreement. SB does a lot of lists, some of which seem awkwardly positioned but are nevertheless useful.

kallaskander said...

Hi there,

the headline is double strange if it is about world whiskies - except Scotch. In a feature about "Top 10 best-selling Indian whisky brands" they claim

"For the second year in a row the most popular Indian whisky brand on this list smashed Diageo’s Johnnie Walker out of the park, and scored another home run as the world’s best-selling whisky across all sub-categories."

But as India is not a part of this world ....

"For a brand selling more than 20 million cases annually to deliver double-digit growth is meritorious in itself, but to achieve that consistently three years in a row is astounding. So it’s no surprise that Officer’s Choice bumped Smirnoff Vodka off the top of the biggest-selling spirits chart this year."

So even the best selling spirit of them all was omitted.


Chuck Cowdery said...

India is part of the world. The problem is, most of its 'whiskeys' aren't whiskey, they are flavored cane spirits. India does make and consume 'real' whiskey, but it's not clear what those numbers are.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why you guys are having issues with this. if you read the actual articles that lead to this, they had the list of scotch, the list of indian whisky, the list of liqueurs, the list of Brandies. etc. since there are not many irish whiskeys that matter, size wise, or Canadians, etc, they all got tossed into a category, of World Whiskies, cause "Other" is no way to sell hooch.