Whiskey has long been an important spirits category on Drizly, and as a whole, it comprised the largest share of spirits sales on the platform in 2020. This already substantial category is poised for even more growth in 2021 as distillers innovate, releasing new styles and brands for consumers to explore. 

To help retailers stock the whiskey SKUs consumers want most, we analyzed the best-selling whiskey products on Drizly in 2020 and compared the data to the previous year. The top 20 line-up points to product diversification, premiumization, wider reach among consumers, and a penchant for gifting. As you consider inventory decisions in the months ahead, let this deep-dive into the top whiskey SKUs be your guide.

Drizly’s 20 Top-Selling Whiskeys, 2020

  1. Bulleit Bourbon 
  2. Jameson Irish Whiskey 
  3. Maker’s Mark Bourbon Whisky
  4. Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey
  5. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 
  6. Johnnie Walker Black Label Blended Scotch Whisky 
  7. Jim Beam Bourbon Whiskey
  8. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky 
  9. Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 
  10. Bulleit Rye
  11. Crown Royal Fine Deluxe Blended Canadian Whisky
  12. Buffalo Trace Bourbon 
  13. Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky 
  14. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky
  15. The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old
  16. Evan Williams Bourbon 
  17. Knob Creek Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  18. Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
  19. Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey 
  20. The Glenlivet 12-Year 

Four Key Takeaways

1. Bourbon Is Still King

Bourbon retained its stronghold on the whiskey category in 2020, gaining two percentage points in share year-over-year to be the best-selling whiskey subcategory. At 44 percent, it holds double the share of Scotch, the second best-selling whiskey subcategory.

Bulleit Bourbon also continued its reign as the top-selling whiskey — and the second best-selling spirit overall, behind Tito’s Vodka — in 2020. In fact, bourbon held three of the top five whiskey SKUs last year: Maker’s Mark shifted from the No. 4 spot in 2019 to No. 3 in 2020, and Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey gained three spots to enter the top five for the first time.

This continued growth is fueled by major diversification within the category. “Innovation within the bourbon category is at an all-time high, which is necessary in today’s highly competitive market as producers look to differentiate their products’ attributes,” says Adam Rogers, the North American research director for the IWSR. The number of entrants to the bourbon category in the U.S. outpaces those within other whiskey subcategories, he adds — an increase of 17 percent year-to-date through November 2020.

2. Whiskey Innovation Is Drawing in New Consumers

Over the last few years, the entire whiskey category has become much more nuanced as distillers experiment and innovate with different processes, aging techniques, and flavor profiles. Combined with an increased interest in at-home cocktail-making during the pandemic, this has resulted in whiskey successfully grabbing the attention of new consumers. 

The proof is in the growth. A 2020 report from Nielsen stated that a 26.2 percent increase in year-over-year off-premise spirits sales for the week ending August 22 was boosted by whiskey, which accounted for 33 percent of total spirits growth dollars.

Whiskey is also gaining popularity across a more geographically diverse array of markets. While southern cities like Dallas, Houston, and Nashville over-indexed on whiskey sales in 2020, as the South traditionally has. However, Drizly’s fastest-growing markets for whiskey sales span across the country including Atlanta G.A, Albany, N.Y., Omaha, N.E., and Monterey, C.A. 

This could partially be because whiskey is now being made by distilleries all over the U.S. “Whiskey production is no longer dedicated to the traditional markets of Kentucky and Tennessee,” explains Rogers. “This is directly related to the rise of independent distillers across the nation who produce high-quality whiskey in their home state. Considering that the states containing the most independent distillers are California, New York, Washington, Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania, it was only a matter of time until their inventory was aged long enough to bring to market quality whiskey products that have captured whiskey aficionados’ attention.”

Retailers should be on the hunt for exciting new whiskey styles and brands — especially those from local distilleries — that they can introduce to consumers.

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Whiskey Subcategories, 2020

  1. Tennessee Whiskey
  2. Blended Whiskey
  3. White Whiskey / Moonshine
  4. Rye Whiskey
  5. Flavored Whiskey

Drizly’s Fastest-Growing Whiskey Brands, 2020

  1. Calumet Farm 
  2. Shenk’s Homestead 
  3. Hatozaki 
  4. Harwood 
  5. PB&W 

3. Consumers Are Spending More on Whiskey

Drizly data indicates that consumers are trading up on whiskey; in 2020, SKUs in the $40 to $50 price range saw share gains of 3.63 percentage points, while SKUs in the $50 to $60 price range gained 1.5 percentage points in share.

“Overall in 2020, we saw a trend towards premiumization, particularly in the liquor and whiskey categories,” says Paquette. “As a result of the pandemic, many consumers turned to treating themselves at home through trading up in their beverage alcohol purchases.”

Bourbon and Scotch have been whiskey’s biggest drivers of premiumization, so retailers should focus on stocking premium-priced SKUs in those categories in particular. Rogers listed Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, Woodford Reserve, and Buffalo Trace as the top premium whiskeys from a case volume perspective nationwide. He also pointed to popular super-premium brands 1792 Bourbon, Uncle Nearest, Heaven’s Door, Rabbit Hole and Bib & Tucker.

4. Whiskey Is a Go-To Gift

Whiskey has proved to be a popular way to connect with loved ones, especially during the pandemic. In December 2020, whiskey was the top-gifted subcategory on Drizly, accounting for 31 percent of all gift orders. 

“Customers turned to online ordering to send gifts to friends, family, and colleagues from afar,” says Paquette. “The premiumization trend therefore persisted, as gift orders typically have a higher average unit price than standard orders.”

Heading into Valentine’s Day, retailers should expect whiskey to be a top category for gifts once again. “We expect gifting to continue to be a popular use case of Drizly in the new year as customer awareness has grown for the offering amidst the pandemic,” says Paquette. “Both upcoming holidays like Valentine’s Day, as well as everyday milestones like birthdays and anniversaries, are opportunities for retailers to grow sales from new customers looking to send gifts to loved ones across the country.”

Drizly’s Most-Gifted Whiskey SKUs, Dec. 2020

  1. Johnnie Walker Blue Label Blended Scotch Whisky 
  2. Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky 
  3. The Macallan Double Cask 12 Years Old 
  4. Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey 
  5. Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  6. Angel’s Envy Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
  7. Oban 14 Year Single Malt 
  8. Bulleit Bourbon 
  9. Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon
  10. Lagavulin 16 Year

2020 data clearly indicates that whiskey’s popularity isn’t slowing down anytime soon. Retailers should expect whiskey to continue to be a major spirits sales driver in 2021 as the category expands, diversifies, and attracts new buyers.