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Masterclass highlights American whiskey potential

Bartenders and distributors flocked to the American Whiskey Masterclass in April, proving there is vast demand and momentum for the category to succeed overseas.

American whiskey masterclass
The masterclass explored Tennessee whiskey, Bourbon, rye whiskey, and American single malts

Peppery spice, sweet caramel, nuttiness and biscuity cereal notes – the American whiskey category offers it all. An abundance of innovation and creativity has resulted in a keen appetite from consumers – and demand is soaring.

Just take a look at the 50% oversubscription to the American Whiskey Masterclass hosted by the Distilled Spirits Council of the US (DISCUS) as part of the association’s Cheers! Spirits from the USA campaign. The demand from bartenders and distributors wanting to attend speaks volumes about the category.

“American whiskey is seeing extraordinary growth in the UK,” noted Kristiane Sherry, freelance drinks writer, educator and consultant, who led the masterclass at The Lost & Found Club in Leeds, UK, where 30 bartenders and distributors gathered for the afternoon.

“For me, that’s a mix of the ending of tariffs, a general pandemic rebound, and increased consumer‐facing information and education. It’s an incredibly exciting time for products and drinkers. Following a phase of looking for all things familiar, consumers once more seem to be embracing the new – and that’s certainly the case among whiskey and whiskey lovers.”

American whiskey’s sales trajectory is further evidence of this growth. US spirits exports have nearly quadrupled over the last two decades, from US$551 million in 2002 to US$2.1 billion in 2022, DISCUS data shows. Last year, 42 states in the US exported American distilled spirits overseas.

Consumer demand for American whiskey around the world has been growing. The category was responsible for 62% of total spirits exports last year, equal to US$1.3bn.

The top export market was the Netherlands (US$151m), followed by Australia (US$117m), the UK (US$112m), Germany (US$104m) and Japan (US$102m). The EU is by far the category’s biggest export region, which imported US$566m worth of American whiskey last year.

After the Australia, UK and Japan regions, whose export figures are listed above, Canada was the next most lucrative market, snapping up US$80m worth of American whiskey in 2022.

“There is so much momentum in American whiskey right now,” Sherry added. “Part of this is the development of ‘craft’ distilling beyond a novelty. Producers, who a handful of years ago were starting out, finding their feet, getting to grips with the spirit and their own character, have come into their own. The quality is there. Plus, the excitement around the advent of the American single malt category is driving something of a halo effect around the more established styles, which is only a good thing.”

The American Whiskey Masterclass explored four key subcategories: Tennessee whiskey, Bourbon, rye whiskey, and American single malts. Two products from each were tasted, while Sherry delved into production methods, flavour profiles, and allowed attendees to share their own perceptions of the different styles and brands.

whiskey masterclass
Who nose?: taking in the aromas

Neat tasting

Starting with Bourbon, the neat‐tasting portion of the masterclass explored two products: Wild Turkey 101 and Angel’s Envy Bourbon. In the Tennessee whiskey contingent, the group sampled Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey and Uncle Nearest 1884.

The American rye whiskey bottlings included Sagamore Signature Rye Whiskey and Few Rye Whiskey, before ending with two American single malts: Westland American Oak and Westward Single Malt Whiskey.

It was interesting to see that was there was no single, standout favourite among the group; lively discussions showed great enthusiasm for the various styles – proving the category can cater for broad taste preferences.

This was enhanced further as the group moved to the cocktail‐making portion of the masterclass, led by Kiely. The room was divided into groups, and tasked with using the four American whiskey styles to make a classic Boulevardier cocktail.

The aim was to showcase how each whiskey subcategory could put its own stamp on the same classic cocktail – and it also generated further creativity from the group, particularly from the bartenders . Many were keen to return to their stations and whip up another batch of Boulevardiers with a twist to bring out more of the unique flavours found in the whiskeys.

“American whiskey clearly offers a wealth of flavour opportunities for bartenders and consumers,” Sherry noted. “What’s interesting is that the category has never suffered from a ‘you can’t mix this’ stereotype, unlike Scotch and some other whisky‐producing regions. It’s already widely embraced as a cocktail ingredient.

“The step now is to drive up education levels so more people understand why a cocktail with rye will be fundamentally different to the same recipe made with Bourbon. There’s so much flavour – it just needs to be more widely understood.”

There is huge potential for American whiskey to expand overseas – and many brands looking for the perfect distributors and importers to make that possible. By connecting with consumers through tutored tastings, carefully curated marketing activations, and, ultimately, high‐quality liquid, the future of American whiskey looks bright.

As Sherry encouraged: “People are out there and are ready to listen and learn – so get out there.”

What’s next?

TT Liquor in Shoreditch, London, will host an exclusive two‐week, House of US Spirits pop‐up in July, with events on 4 and 5 July. DISCUS will host several activations, including tastings, brand activations, mixology masterclasses, consumer events and more.

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