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The top 10 best-selling world whisky brands

With the Irish whiskey wave well under way and no signs of stopping the Bourbon boom, SB presents the world’s best-selling American, Canadian, Irish and Japanese whisk(e)y brands.

SB presents the world’s best-selling American, Canadian, Irish and Japanese whisk(e)y brands

Most of the 10 largest world whisk(e)y brands grew volume sales in 2016, though some experienced much greater gains than others.

American producers almost universally enjoyed growth last year, and whiskey from the Emerald Isle captivated taste buds the world over – set to increase as the 32 new and proposed distilleries in the pipeline make their stake in the category. Canadian distillers, meanwhile, experienced more mixed fortunes.

Following our recently published Brand Champions 2017 – our pick of those brands selling more than one million cases annually that are performing exceptionally within their category – we run through the world’s best-selling the world’s best-selling American, Canadian, Japanese and Irish whisk(e)y brands on the market today.

Click through the following pages to discover the top 10 best-selling world whisky brands, listed in order of their nine-litre case sales.

10. Maker’s Mark

2016: 1.74m
2015: 1.62m
% change: 7.59%
Place last year: –

Beam Suntory-owned Bourbon brand Maker’s Mark added 120,000 cases to its volume sales last year, claiming 10th place on the best-selling leaderboard for the first time ever. Way back in 2015, the producer added a third still to its distillery in Loretto, Kentucky, as part of its US$67 million expansion in response to the skyrocketing demand for Bourbon. With additional stocks quietly maturing, we expect the brand to climb the leaderboard in the years to come.

9. Seagram’s 7 Crown

2016: 1.90m
2015: 2.00m
% change: -5.00%
Place last year: 9

Owned by Diageo, Seagram’s 7 Crown was the only million case-selling American whisky to post a decline in 2016, losing 100,000 nine-litre cases in volume. The once-lucritive brand sold 32m cases in 1970, but suffered in the eighties and nineties, and has more or less continued on a downward trajectory since. Diageo would need to take some serious action to turn Seagram’s fortunes around. Could a sale be on the cards?

8. Black Velvet

2016: 1.97m
2015: 2.02m
% change: -2.48%
Place last year: 8

Owned by US drinks group Constellation Brands, Canadian whisky Black Velvet once again dipped below the 2m cases marker in 2016 – however the decline was small enough that the brand was able to retain its number eight position in the best-selling leaderboard. Constellation had a busy year in 2016, acquiring a minority stake in organic spirits producer Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, assuming complete ownership of Utah-based High West Distillery, and acquiring a minority stake in Kentucky’s Bardstown Bourbon Company – perhaps this year will see the group focus across its now-bountiful whisky portfolio.

7. Evan Williams

2016: 2.29m
2015: 2.14m
% change: 7.00%
Place last year: 7

Owned by Heaven Hill, Evan Williams Bourbon once again posted impressive growth in 2016. The brand, one of the few labels in the world whisky sector to witness uninterrupted growth for five years and shows no sign of slowing. Last year Heaven Hill Brands confirmed a US$15.5 million expansion at Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, with the addition of a new beer well, three new fermenters and a new still. Armed with enough supply to meet demand, the brand’s upward trajectory is set to continue. 

6. Black Nikka

2016: 2.70m
2015: 2.40m
% change: 12.50%
Place last year: 6

Asahi Breweries-owned Black Nikki built upon its impressive 20% volume growth in 2015, adding a further 300,000 cases last year. The brand’s achievements are indicative of the continued success of the broader Japanese whisky category despite supply restrictions – the firm discontinued a number of its aged products in 2015, including Black Nikka 8 Years Old – caused by colossal international demand.

5. Suntory Kakubin

2016: 3.29m
2015: 3.62m
% change: -9.12%
Place last year: 2

A shocking performance from Suntory Spirit’s Kakubin, which saw its first decline for five years, caused by an “uncertain” economic environment due to adverse currency impact. The near-double-digit decline is of particular surprise considering the brand was not just the fastest-growing brand across the Japanese, Irish, Canadian and American whis(e)y category in 2015 – it was the fastest growing brand out of all the world’s million case-selling spirits. Looking forward to fiscal 2017, the company said it would  “leverage strong routes to market” with plans to enhance Kakubin marketing activity in Japan.

4. Jameson

2016: 6.24m
2015: 5.34m
% change: 16.85%
Place last year: 5

Irish food board Bord Bia said Irish whiskey is “the fastest growing spirit in the world”, with exports growing 300% over the last decade – and at the forefront of the movement is market leader Jameson, which added a whopping 900,000 cases to its volume sales in 2016. Jameson has enjoyed a “continued very strong performance” driven by its success in the US market, where it is now the largest brand in Pernod’s portfolio – representing more than a quarter of total sales, and recently re-opened the doors to its Dublin-based visitor centre, now called Jameson Distillery Bow Street, following an €11 million investment.

3. Crown Royal

2016: 6.80m
2015: 6.20m
% change: 9.68%
Place last year: 4

Diageo-owned Canadian whisky Crown Royal enjoyed another sterling year in 2016, adding an impressive 600,000 cases – no doubt thanks to the ongoing growth seen by Crown Royal Regal Apple, said to be the “biggest driver” of increased shipments to the US in Diageo’s Q3 2014/15 fiscal period. However, despite its success – and the addition of Crown Royal Vanilla in September 2016 – CEO Ivan Menezes has made it clear that the Canadian whisky brand’s growth will not be based on a “proliferation” of flavours. 

2. Jim Beam

2016: 8.03m
2015: 7.35m
% change: 9.18%
Place last year: 3

The world’s second largest American whiskey brand Jim Beam bounced back from a marginal decline seen in 2015 to post 9.18% volume growth, filling its 14 millionth barrel since the end of Prohibition as demand “continues to soar”. The brand has no doubt benefited from the roll-out of its first ever global packaging redesign as well of the launch of three brand extensions in its key market of Japan. More recently, Jim Beam unveiled a limited edition expression promoted by actress Mila Kunis, to mark its first season as sponsor of Chicago Cubs, and partnered with the Australian Football League, supported by a AU$7 million marketing campaign.

1. Jack Daniel’s

2016: 12.49m
2015: 12.21m
% change: 2.26%
Place last year: 1

It’s of no surprise that Jack Daniel’s held on to the top spot as the world’s best-selling world whisky brand, reporting a 2.26% sales growth in 2016 to 12.49m cases. Consider that these figures don’t include Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey, which saw an even greater percentage jump of 4.07% to 1.51m cases, and it’s clear the brand  The Brown-Forman-owned whisky producer lined up a series of events and activities to celebrate its 150th anniversary, including a renovation of its Lynchburg distillery and the release of special bottlings – including a Motörhead edition and a Frank Sinatra edition. Activities included the launch of a cruise-aged cocktail, whiskey-infused coffee, a VR distillery tour, and the creation of a branded vintage motorbike to name but a few.

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