Bourbon could be “bigger than scotch”

26 October, 2015

Bourbon is the fastest growing, most under-developed whisky category and could outgrow Scotch, according to Sazerac Company.

Speaking to Drinks International at Sazerac’s Buffalo Trace Distillery, Lexington, Kentucky, European sales manager, James Cowan said: “Bourbon has the opportunity to be bigger than Scotch – that’s our CEO Mark Brown’s vision. And why not? Look at the price and quality.”

Global bourbon sales are currently around a quarter of that of scotch, according to data provider Euromonitor International, but growing in double digits. 

Cowan revealed that supply is still not meeting demand, particularly for the group’s higher-end whiskeys, but said that markets outside of the US have been made a priority. “We sell out in the US but Europe is a priority so we have enough to go round,” he said.

The UK and Germany are “big markets” for the group’s whiskey expansion, but Cowan said “we are still building the [Buffalo Trace] brand outside of America”.

Buffalo Trace bourbon only launched in 1999 when Sazerac took over what became the Buffalo Trace Distillery so is a long way behind established global players from the American whiskey category, Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s.

In 2013, the group launched allocations of Eagle Rare, George T Stagg, Sazerac Rye, Thomas H Handy and William Larue Weller to Europe and this year released a wheat whisky from its other distillery, Barton 1792. 

Currently sales are restricted by the bottle size requirements in Europe but Sazerac is looking to bring more of its brands under the regulations.

Cowan said: “What you can sell is restricted by the fact you need 70cl bottles in Europe. We only have that for selected brands. As we progress to become a global company that will change. Our business in Europe is still in the early days. We need scale to do it.”

The BRIC nations are also of interest to the group as it looks to exploit the emerging global interest in bourbon but with a tautness between supply and demand, Sazerac will look to build slowly. “If China gets hold of it we won’t have enough,” said Cowan.

Sazerac is cautious of over production. Beau Beckman, barrel select manager, told DI: “Over production in bourbon is the one thing you don’t want to do because you are taxed every year [on the whisky stored].”

Cowan added: “We are producing more - we have 335,000 barrels at Buffalo Trace Distillery - but who knows, people could get sick of bourbon then you would have a big problem on your hands. There’s no sign of that happening [at the moment]." 

Though Sazerac has had great success with its spiced Canadian whiskey, the 4.2m 9-litre case Fireball, there are no plans to advance sales and stretch stocks by introducing flavoured variants of its established bourbon brands. “We won’t be producing an apple [flavoured] Buffalo Trace," said Cowan. 

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