2020 brought monumental shifts for beverage alcohol as a whole, but how did the year’s events affect specific beverage categories, subcategories, and brands? Interesting trends emerged within each of the wine, beer, and spirits categories, some — like the rise of tequila and canned cocktails — directly resulting from the pandemic, and others — like increased demand for New England/Hazy IPAs and sparkling wine — emerging on their own.

Dive into Drizly’s 2020 sales data to explore the transformational year’s top trends in the beer, wine, and spirits categories and discover insights into what to expect as 2021 unfolds.

Top Beer Trends

Hard Seltzer Domination and Diversification

Hard seltzer accounted for 21 percent of Drizly’s beer sales share in 2020, maintaining its position as the platform’s best-selling beer subcategory. In the summer months, hard seltzer accounted for as much as 25 percent of all beer sales. According to the 2020 BevAlc Insights Retail Report, 64 percent of retailers plan to reserve even more shelf space for hard seltzer this year. 

While White Claw and Truly maintained their dominance as the category’s No. 1 and No. 2 brands, 2020 was the year of hard seltzer diversification as new products entered the market. Popular beer brands such as Bud Light and Corona launched hard seltzer SKUs, and craft offerings gained ground. 

Hard Seltzer Alternatives on the Rise

2020 was also the year that the success of hard seltzer translated to success of easy-drinking, low-ABV hard seltzer alternatives. “Hard alternatives such as hard kombucha and hard iced tea were among the fastest-growing categories on Drizly,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights, pointing out that the hard kombucha category saw a 2,122 percent sales gain over the previous year. “We expect the trend to persist through 2021 as product innovation continues.”

Headway for Local Brands 

Although widely distributed brands such as Bud Light, Corona, and Coors continued to dominate sales at the national level in 2020, local brands often surpassed big players at the market level. With local bars and taprooms hit hard by the pandemic, consumers used their beer choices to support local businesses.

For example, in Boston, local brands Night Shift, Lord Hobo and Samuel Adams joined Bud Light and Corona in the market’s top five beer brands on Drizly in 2020. Likewise, in New Orleans, hometown favorites Urban South Brewery, Abita, and Gnarly Barley sit alongside Miller Brewing Co. and Michelob in the market’s top five beer brands. 

A Surge for New England/Hazy IPAs 

Within the thriving IPA category, New England/Hazy IPA saw the most significant growth in 2020, spurred by local craft breweries; the subcategory’s sales increased 652 percent year-over-year. White IPA and Imperial/Double IPA were also among the fastest-growing IPA subcategories.

Top Wine Trends

Sparkling Wine Comeback 

During the initial days of the pandemic, the share of sparkling wine/Champagne within the wine category dropped to new lows: just 13 percent of wine share in March 2020 and 14.3 percent of wine share in April 2020. Many wondered if restrictions around gatherings and celebrations, combined with economic anxiety, would put a damper on sparkling wine sales throughout the pandemic.

However, in the months to follow, the Champagne and sparkling wine subcategory gained share, finishing the year at 17.6 percent of wine sales — up slightly compared to 2019. Champagne garnered the largest share of sales for the subcategory in 2020 at nearly 48 percent, followed by Prosecco at just under 29 percent. Sparkling red wine saw impressive growth from a small base, with sales increasing 611 percent over the previous year.

Orange Wine Exploration

Though orange wine has been an insider favorite for the past decade or so, 2020 was the year that consumers across the U.S. jumped on the orange wine train. Sales of orange wine grew 2,583 percent year-over-year in 2020, becoming Drizly’s fastest-growing wine subcategory.

“The high growth rate of these niche wine subcategories suggests that there are subsets of consumers looking for something new in the category,” says Paquette. “Retailers can attract new customers and differentiate themselves from their competition by adding unique products in these categories to their online inventory.”

Longing for Italian Reds

As American consumers remained unable to travel internationally in 2020, many reached for Italian offerings in the red wine category. Red Italian grape varieties rose from 5 percent share of red wine sales in 2019 to 5.6 percent of hare in 2020, and Drizly’s top-selling Italian red wine varieties were Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, Barbera, and Corvina. 

Lambrusco wines also gained in popularity, with sales increasing 620 percent year-over-year in 2020. Though classic Lambruscos like Riunite and Lini 910 topped the list of best-selling Lambrusco SKUs, more recent favorites like Scarpetta Frico Lambrusco (which is packaged in a can) were among the five best-selling Lambrusco SKUs on Drizly as well.

Alternative Formats on the Rise

Wines in alternative packaging — that is, beyond 750-milliliter bottles — gained share on Drizly in 2020, with formats such as three-liter bag-in-box and cans gaining popularity. Among the most popular alternative format brands were Bota Box, Black Box, House Wine, Underwood, and BABE. Paquette predicts “the move toward alt-packaging will continue in 2021, as consumer perceptions shift and product innovation continues.”

Top Spirits Trends

Tequila Explosion

One of the biggest winners of 2020 was tequila, which experienced soaring growth as consumers brought cocktail culture home. According to Nielsen off-premise sales data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2020, dollar sales for tequila grew 54 percent year-over-year. Tequila share grew 22 percent on Drizly in 2020, and the spirit now accounts for 15 percent of all liquor sales. 

Two tequilas also ranked among Drizly’s top 10 liquor SKUs in 2020: Casamigos Blanco (ranked No. 3) and Espolòn Tequila Blanco (No. 7). Reposado was Drizly’s fastest-growing tequila subcategory in 2020, holding 21.6 percent of tequila share last year.

Even More Growth for Bourbon 

Bourbon has become an increasingly important spirit over the past decade and is now a staple in most American consumer households, but 2020 resulted in even further growth for the subcategory. Bourbon was Drizly’s top-selling whiskey subcategory in 2020, holding 44 percent of whiskey share compared to 42 percent of share in 2019. Not only is the bourbon boom expected to continue into 2021, but there’s no end in sight for this leading spirit.

Canned Cocktails on Fire

Fueled by new products and the popularity of single-serve offerings, sales for the ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktail subcategory surged 1,483 percent in 2020. According to Nielsen off-premise sales data for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 26, 2020, dollar sales for prepared cocktails grew nearly 80 percent year-over-year.

“Product innovation played a key role, with new brands like High Noon and On the Rocks rising in popularity,” says Paquette, noting that other top-selling single-serve RTD brands were Ranch Rider, Fisher’s Island, and Cutwater Spirits. The pandemic also played a role in fueling growth, especially in the summer months when consumers headed outdoors to socialize. 

Increased Share for Liqueurs

As on-premise establishments shuttered, consumers looked to recreate their favorite restaurant and bar cocktails at home. This at-home cocktail craze translated to serious growth for liqueurs, cordials, and schnapps in 2020. Throughout the year, the category accounted for 6.7 percent of liquor sales share on Drizly — up nearly two percentage points from 2019 — and they peaked in May at 8.2 percent of share. According to Paquette, “we anticipate that many consumers who learned to make their favorite cocktails at home in 2020 will continue to do so in 2021, even as restaurants and bars reopen.”  

Spirits Premiumization 

Though 2020’s trading-up trend occurred across beer, wine and spirits, it was most pronounced in the liquor category. As categories like bourbon and tequila gained popularity, premium-priced products also gained share. 

Paquette attributes the trend to customers’ desire to create the special feeling of a high-end bar or restaurant experience at home during shutdowns, and predicts that for consumers not impacted by pandemic job losses, the practice will continue in 2021. However, the economy will undoubtedly impact purchasing habits this year as well. “Value brands will also play a role as consumers shift their buying habits in order to adapt,” she adds.