Monday, January 10, 2022

Top 10 Best-Selling Distilled Spirits Brands in the United States, in 1971

But what were they drinking?
My fellow baby boomers will not appreciate being reminded that 1971 was half-a-century ago. Much has changed. We wore Nikes and polyester bell bottoms when we went skateboarding with Farah Fawcett, but what did we drink? The answer may surprise you. Here are the top 10 best-selling distilled spirits brands in the United States in 1971.

1.   Seagram’s 7 Crown (American blended whiskey)
2.   Seagram’s VO (Canadian blended whisky)
3.   Smirnoff (Vodka)
4.   Canadian Club (Canadian blended whisky)
5.   Bacardi (Rum)
6.   Gordon’s Gin (Gin)
7.   Jim Beam (Bourbon whiskey)
8.   Cutty Sark (Blended scotch whisky)
9.   Gilbey’s Gin (Gin)
10. (3-way tie) Dewar’s (Blended scotch whisky), Kessler (American blended whiskey), Calvert Extra (American blended whiskey)

Several things stand out. Seven out of twelve are blended whiskeys, three American, two Canadian, two Scottish. As for white goods, there is one vodka, one rum, and two gins. Jim Beam is the lone American straight whiskey. Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey? It was Nowheresville 50 years ago, way back at #36. 

Another chart in the same presentation told me that the all-whiskeys share of the U.S. distilled spirits market in 1961 was 73.1 percent. By 1972, whiskey's share had declined to 62.1 percent. The all-non-whiskeys share increased similarly, led by vodka. Whiskey's crash was just getting started. Whiskey's share would continue to contract for another 20 years.

Today, only Smirnoff, Bacardi, and Jim Beam remain big category leaders. Seagram's Seven is still the #1 American blended whiskey but that segment is a fraction of its former self and the Jos. A. Seagram Company no longer exists. 

In 1971, I lived in Ohio, where 3.2 percent beer was legal at 18. I couldn't legally buy spirits until September of 1972. It was mostly Seven & Sevens (Seagram's 7 and 7Up) for me then, though I soon switched to J&B and other blended scotch. Although my parents drank nothing but bourbon, I didn't start until I moved to Kentucky in 1978, where it is required by law.

Not really, but when I showed up in Kentucky drinking cheap scotch, my friends would say, "why are you drinking that cheap crap when bourbon is even cheaper and a lot better," and they were right! That's how it all began for me. Then I wrote a book and everybody started to drink bourbon again. The end.

Today, Tito's and Smirnoff top the leader board. Crown Royal (Canadian blended whisky) is third and the only blended whiskey of any kind in the top ten. Jim and Jack are both top ten but so is Fireball. Four of the top ten are vodkas. Two are rums. There is no gin or scotch anywhere in the top 20. 

Now we know how it all played out, but if you studied this list in 1971 you might, despite knowing how much whiskey had fallen since 1961, still think whiskey looked pretty strong. That's why trend-spotting only looks easy in retrospect. 

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