Fall will look different in 2021 than it did in 2020, but Q4 won’t necessarily be a return to 2019 patterns for consumers. Pandemic-related restrictions could mean pivots are once again necessary due to rising concerns about the Delta variant as temperatures drop and people spend more time indoors. Overall, it’s important for retailers and brands to be nimble.

While the rise of seasonal categories like whiskey, sparkling wine, and red wines are to be expected, there may also be a growing interest in cold-weather-appropriate styles of ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. 

“If pandemic restrictions are put back into place this fall, particularly if it impacts on-premise bar and restaurant sales, we may see an uptick in some of the trends we saw during the lockdown,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. “For example, at-home cocktail making could lead to share gains in liqueurs and mixers.”

Economic factors like rising inflation may also impact consumer spending, but Drizly hasn’t seen significant signs of this yet. The average unit price of beer has remained flat while liquor is down two percent compared to the same time in 2020, and wine’s average unit price has grown 12.5 percent year-over-year. 

From seasonal favorites to trending styles, these are the categories that retailers should focus on this fall, according to Drizly data.

Whiskey—Especially Single Malts—Will See Gains

The share of liquor compared to wine and beer sales has already shown an increase this year (44 percent of overall sales, up from 40 percent at this time in 2020). That’s predicted to continue.

“With liquor share already up year-over-year in 2021 to date on top of the typical seasonal gains that the category has seen in years prior,” says Paquette, “we expect liquor to gain share in the fall months.”

In 2020, the share of whiskey in the liquor category rose two percentage points from summer to fall. Whiskey is at the same level, 36 percent of liquor sales, as it was in 2020, and it’s expected to experience a similar increase. Bourbon was the most popular whiskey subcategory in fall 2020 at 39 percent of share, followed by Scotch whisky (21 percent), American whiskey (9 percent), and Irish whiskey (9 percent). 

Single malts are the category to take special note of, as it’s the fastest-growing whiskey subcategory on Drizly year-over-year, and it’s expected to increase once again this fall.

“Premiumization will be a key driver of single-malt gains this fall,” says Paquette. “The single-malt average unit price in 2021 to date is nearly three times the average whiskey unit price, and is the highest-priced whiskey subcategory on Drizly. Year-over-year, single malt average price per unit has grown 15 percent, suggesting consumers are trading up and seeking more premium products in this whiskey subcategory.”

Single malts from Lagavulin (in particular the 16-Year and 8-Year), The Macallan (Double Cask 15-Year and 18-Year, as well as No. 6), Talisker (10-Year), and Oban (18-Year and Little Bay Small Cask) are among the best-selling single malts on Drizly. 

An American single malt also makes the list: Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey. There’s a growing number of regional producers across the U.S. that are making American single malts that retailers can capitalize on. “However, supply chain will continue to be a factor in this category as shortages have the potential to impact distribution,” Paquette says.

Japanese whiskey, bourbon, and cognac are also expected to see gains in the coming months, and the latter is among the fastest-growing liquor categories year-over-year. 

RTD Cocktails Transition to Fall

Ready-to-drink cocktails have been one of the hottest categories in 2021 thus far. In the fall, flavor innovation that focuses on seasonal tastes, as well as a shift to liquor bases like whiskey, may keep RTDs relevant in the transition from the hot summer to cooler months. 

“Innovation in the ready-to-drink category has skyrocketed over the past year, with the number of catalog items on Drizly growing 60 percent in 2021 to date compared to the same time period in 2020,” Paquette says.

The RTD cocktails from brands like Cutwater, Onda, Kahlua, Crafthouse, and Volley have all proven popular, as they are among the fastest-growing ready-to-drink brands in 2021 to date. New fall flavor releases could help keep the category on the rise despite an expected seasonal decrease.

“If RTDs continue to mirror the rise in hard seltzer category in 2019 (which is likely given the blur/similarities across the categories), ready-to-drink may potentially see a slight drop in share from summer to fall due to seasonality,” Paquette says. “However, it will continue to grow year over year as the category establishes itself as a year-round staple.“

Consumers Look to Premium Wine Options

Liquor took the No. 1 spot from wine as the top-selling category on Drizly in 2020, and that’s continued through 2021. The type of wine consumers are buying, however, has shifted more premium with the average unit price up 12 percent year-over-year. The data shows a decrease in the share of wines under $20, while those in the $20 to $100 price range have all gained share of sales.

Wines priced between $50 and $60 rose from 3.2 percent share of wine sales at this time in 2020 to 5.3 percent share in 2021. A similar jump was seen for wines that cost $100 or more: 1.8 percent share in 2020 versus 3.9 percent share in 2021.

Champagne and sparkling wine has been the key driver of this trend in 2021, with the average unit price increasing by 29 percent year-over-year,” Paquette says. “After sparkling, red wine has seen the second-highest gains in average unit price, growing by 11 percent year-over-year.”

In the case of red wine, the category is expected to see a seasonal bump as consumers transition from summer whites to more full-bodied options. In 2020, red wine’s share in the wine category went from 35 percent to 42 percent from summer to fall. Cabernet Sauvignon was the top-selling variety of red wine in 2020 with 51 percent share of sales, followed by Pinot Noir (28 percent), Malbec (7 percent), and Merlot (4 percent). Petit Verdot, Amarone della Valpolicella, and Brunello di Montalcino are among the fastest-growing red wine varietals to date in 2021.

Beer Share Will Drop, While Hard Cider and Hard Kombucha Grow

“Last year, we saw beer share drop from the summer to fall months — partially impacted by the seasonality of hard seltzer and light lager, the top beer subcategories on Drizly,” Paquette says. “This year, we expect to see the same as overall beer share will likely drop slightly in the fall months compared to summer.” 

Hard kombucha commands less than one percent share of the beer category, but it’s among the fastest-growing categories and is expected to see seasonal gains. It could be boosted by the fact that consumers rated health factors as the number one influence on alcohol purchasing decisions in Drizly’s 2021 Consumer Report after typical factors like price and availability. A few brands dominate hard kombucha sales on Drizly, including JuneShine, Boochcraft, and Flying Embers.

Hard cider is another seasonal fall favorite in the beer category. From summer to fall of 2020, cider’s share of the beer category grew from 4.3 percent to 5.2 percent. The top-selling ciders have remained relatively stable year-over-year, led by Angry Orchard, Downeast Cider, Austin Eastciders, Wolffer Estate, and Citizen Cider.

Outside of these two categories, retailers may see an increase in seasonal fall beer styles as well, particularly in IPAs and heavier beers.