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Beam reveals American whiskey trends

Beam Suntory’s Greg Hughes has highlighted “innovation, renovation and premiumisation” as key trends for American whiskey in the year ahead, and the opportunity for the category to expand globally.

Beam Suntory
Beam Suntory has seen strong demand for its flavoured Jim Beam Bourbons

Speaking to The Spirits Business last month, Greg Hughes, North America president for Beam Suntory, said: “These trends are what have brought new consumers to the category and importantly, kept them interested.”

American whiskey consumers are also looking for experiences beyond the liquid, Hughes noted.

“This trend is a huge opportunity as we focus our innovation efforts on creating American whiskey options with broad appeal and continue to level-up the consumer experience with our brands,” he said.

“Consumers today demand great flavours, unique experiences, a rich back story and a reason to believe in all of that. These expectations go hand in hand with higher-end options and in-person experiences, such as what you can explore at a distillery.”

Hughes, who will step into the role of chief growth and brands officer for Beam Suntory in the new year, also noted that limited releases “continue to be highly sought-after products from consumers”.

Hughes cited “strong demand”  in 2022 for its American whiskeys Basil Hayden’s, Knob Creek and Maker’s Mark.

Bourbon brands Maker’s Mark and Basil Hayden grew by ‘strong’ double digits during the first half of 2022.

He added: “We’ve also seen strong demand for Jim Beam flavours as consumers explore new ways to enjoy their Bourbon.”

‘More approachable than Scotch’

The versatility of Bourbon and its sweeter taste profile is driving the sector’s growth, Hughes said, with it being “more approachable than Scotch when consumed neat” and “more mixable”.

Hughes also highlighted the opportunity for the category to grow its volumes in its home market of the US.

“The category has been growing for a number of years but even with that growth, volumes in the US are still a fraction of their historical peak in the 1970s,” he explained. “Given the scale of the US market, this represents a sizeable opportunity for American whiskey.”

He also cited the opportunity to grow the category globally. “We’ve made Japan the world’s fastest-growing market for Jim Beam, and we’re successfully adapting Bourbon to the Highball drinking-style to address consumer demand for refreshment, pairing with food, and occasions traditionally associated with beer,” he said.

The legalisation of direct-to-consumer shipping of spirits in the States would also “present opportunities” for Beam’s portfolio, Hughes said.

He highlighted two of the company’s direct-to-consumer programmes: The Whisky Drop by Maker’s Mark and Barreled & Boxed by James B Beam Distilling Co.

The company also introduced new packaging for Basil Hayden’s to “better reflects its premium nature”, Hughes said, and several new expressions including Basil Hayden Toast and Subtle Smoke.

Beam Suntory will continue to focus its innovations on premium whiskey and introducing new premium expressions, Hughes said.

Most of the company’s innovation efforts will take place at the Fred B Noe Distillery, which opened in September 2021.

The site was part of Beam Suntory’s US$60 million investment to bring back the James B Beam Distilling Co in Clermont, Kentucky, in the US.

“In 2022, we launched Hardin’s Creek – a new, limited, annual series of two to four releases per year. In the next two years we will further expand the portfolio with a pipeline of even more unique innovations and brand platforms,” he added.

“We will continue to push the American whiskey category forward as it develops, using unique distillation and ageing techniques, mash bills, styles, finishes, and other levers. There is plenty more to come in this category, and we’re excited to lead the way in developing it.”

In September, Jim Beam owner Beam Suntory revealed plans for a US$400m distillery expansion in Kentucky.

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