With staples like Scotch and Irish whiskey alongside booming and trending styles like bourbon and Japanese whisky, the whiskey subcategory dominates liquor sales. It’s the best-selling subcategory on Drizly, ahead of red wine, white wine, and vodka, and it is even more dominant in southern markets like Texas and Tennessee.

But in recent years, there have been shifts among subcategories within whiskey as consumers diversify and premiumize their selections. Despite competition from other spirits categories, whiskey is poised to remain strong.

A Booming Category

Whiskey has boomed over the past five years, holding steady at 15 percent share of total sales on Drizly since 2017. This has continued even throughout the pandemic; according to the IWSR, which points to vodka as the largest spirits category in total U.S. sales, the volume of whiskey sold in the U.S. grew 4.9 percent in 2020. 

However, within the liquor category specifically, whiskey’s share has been on a slight decline. In 2021 to date, whiskey holds 35 percent of liquor share, compared to 36 percent and 37 percent during the same time periods in 2020 and 2019, respectively. 

“This shift is a result of the rise of other liquor subcategories over the past two years, specifically tequila, which continues to compete more and more closely with whiskey as diversification and premiumization occur,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights.

Within the whiskey category, bourbon holds the most share in 2021 to date at 37 percent, followed by Scotch (22 percent), Irish whiskey (nine percent), American whiskey (nine percent), and rye (six percent). However, this is a three percentage point decline for bourbon, which held 40 percent of share during the same time period in 2020. 

“This potentially marks a sign that the bourbon craze has hit its peak and that consumers are seeking new and different whiskey categories,” says Paquette. At the same time, Scotch, Japanese whisky, and single malt whiskeys are slightly gaining share year-over-year.

Which Whiskeys Are Selling?

Within Drizly’s top 10 whiskey brands, there has been movement from 2020. Jameson has moved into the No. 1 position and Jack Daniel’s has moved into the No. 2 spot over Bulleit, which was the top-selling whiskey in 2020. The Macallan has also risen two positions to No. 7; it held the No. 9 spot last year.

Drizly’s Top-Selling Whiskey Brands, 2021 to Date

  1. Jameson
  2. Jack Daniel’s
  3. Bulleit
  4. Johnnie Walker
  5. Maker’s Mark
  6. Crown Royal
  7. The Macallan
  8. Woodford Reserve
  9. Jim Beam
  10. Fireball

Packaging preferences have also experienced shifts over 2020. In 2021 to date, 750-milliliter bottles have gained share, now holding 71 percent share, while one-liter and 1.75-liter bottles have decreased in share.

Whiskey Price Shifts

Though it isn’t as new or dynamic as tequila, whiskey is continuing to experience the effects of premiumization as consumers explore and trade up within the category. In 2021, the $80 to $90, $90 to $100, and $100+ price ranges for whiskey on Drizly have all gained share over 2020, with the $100+ price point specifically gaining four percentage points in share. The $30 to $40 price point holds the largest share (19 percent) though it has dropped two percentage points over 2020.

Whiskey Remains Strong

As we move into the holiday season, whiskey sales are likely to spike as premium Scotch, bourbon, and Japanese whiskey bottles become popular gift items. But whiskey is likely to remain strong into the coming years as well. 

According to the IWSR, growth of the whiskey category is outpacing vodka growth, and total whiskey volumes are expected to be larger than vodka by 2022.