Friday, June 4, 2010

The Rye Revival Is a Mirage.

Every publication this side of "Highlights for Children" has done a story about the rye whiskey revival. I've written a couple of them myself.

But for all the buzz, sales of straight rye whiskey are still tiny. At best they have grown a little, but from a very small base.

Last December in The Bourbon Country Reader, I wrote that I've talked to the distilleries and if they were making rye three days a year, it is now four, but that's all the more it has grown after several years of good press.

Now I've gotten some sales numbers. The person who gave them to me explained that the numbers for Heaven Hill's and Sazerac's products are low because they don't report their sales figures. As private companeis, they don't have to. What numbers we have for them come from what they sell to control states, which is reported by the states.

Still, this will give you some idea. It represents a running year, so May 2009 through April 2010 in this case.

Jim Beam Rye is far and away the leader at 42,365 cases. To give you a frame of reference, the big bourbon and Tennessee whiskey brands -- Jim, Jack and Evan -- each sell millions of cases a year. Wild Turkey 101 and Maker's Mark are each a bit shy of breaking the million-case threshold. A brand like Knob Creek or Woodford Reserve will sell more than 100,000 cases a year.

So if the number one rye is 42,365 cases, that means it's a very small category.

Second after Jim Beam Rye is Old Overholt Rye, which Beam makes. It clocks in at 18,804 cases. Third is Beam's Ri 1, at 3,746 cases. The three Beam ryes are 87 percent of the category (as reported).

Next, astonishingly, is Templeton Rye at 3,351 cases, followed by Wild Turkey Rye at 2,750 cases. Sazerac Rye ("Baby Saz") is next at 1,158 cases, Rittenhouse BIB and 86 have reported just 254 and 183 cases respectively.

Why gather these numbers if we know they're not accurate? We know some (Beam's) are accurate. We know the others aren't high, we know they''re low, we just don't know how low.

Even though they don't report, if Heaven Hill's or Sazerac's ryes were outselling Beam's, they'd figure out a way to get that information out there. Heaven Hill, for example, provides enough information about the sales of Evan Williams black label to support their claim that it ranks third after Jack and Jim.

That Templeton Rye, sold in two states, is outselling Wild Turkey Rye, which is sold in 50, is fascinating too. High West sold over 1,000 cases, most of it Rendezvous Rye. Russell's Reserve Rye sold 787 cases.

So I guess this is another "curb your enthusiasm" post. The rye-ality is that the rye revival is a mirage.


Jason said...

You can't ignore those facts. Whew. Great insight Chuck. Thanks.

sam k said...

Interesting report. Yes, the numbers ARE small, but nearly ever article I've read on the subject has had the "small slice" caveat as part of their disclaimer.

Now, are you sure those numbers, Heaven Hill excluded, are accurate? I'd like to see them corroborated by another source. I, like yourself, would be astounded if Templeton was actually ahead of Wild Turkey.

I'd also like to see these numbers compared to what the category was a year or two ago for a better perspective. No doubt the category is growing, but at what rate?

Thanks for the perspective, nonetheless.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Complete and accurate sales figures are notoriously hard to get in any industry because companies want to know their competition's numbers but hide their own. These came my way so I decided to share them, despite their limitations.

Anonymous said...

Whistle Pig is another great New Rye on the market...I will not dispute your facts. They are interesting.... There are a bunch of small back bourbons on the market. In my opinion Jim Beam Rye is the best House type Rye on the market. Templeton is a joke compared to the complexity of Whistle Pig.. Any deversication in the Liquor Business will be slow, and difficult.. Once people experience a Taste for the higher end Rye's. Jim Beam's sales will increase dramatically. That market has yet to see its Hay Day....

Anonymous said...

Rye numbers look small because rye whiskey has come back from near oblivion. The category has been growing in leaps and bounds for several years straight, and 2011 saw a more than 50% increase for rye taken as a whole. Jim Beam, who Cowdery relies so heavily on here, saw its rye sales go up by 64% that year. And that was on top of 2010's growth.

Do the math and you see Old Overholt/Jim Beam Rye are now shipping on about the same level as Knob Creek and Woodford Reserve.

When pundits get it wrong most of the time, they ought to be ignored....

Chuck Cowdery said...

A lot has changed in the 28 months since this post was written, and rye sales have continued to grow, but rye is still a drop in bourbon's bucket.