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Is Bourbon the New Vodka?

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Vodka is on a spirited trajectory, lifting the entire industry with compounded annual growth of more than 5% since 2005. It commands more than a third of the entire spirits market, outpacing whiskey in second place at 22%, and well ahead of third-place rum with a 13% share.

Yet if distiller Brown-Forman (NYSE: BF-B  ) is right, the so-called "browns" of the drink world are about to see a renaissance of their own. The maker of Jack Daniel's and Woodford Reserve says growth in the space ran about 7% last year and it anticipates seeing an 8% increase in 2013. 

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. Earlier this year rival Beam (UNKNOWN: BEAM.DL  ) created a stir when it announced its intention to water down its popular Maker's Mark brand in a bid to stretch supply to meet demand. While it may have been something of a marketing ploy -- it quickly backed down when a hubbub grew on its Facebook page and subsequently enjoyed a nice 44% spike in sales -- it did indicate there was growing interest in the category.

The market researchers at Technomic say there really could be a whiskey shortage. Despite having just a little more than 8% of the market, American whiskey is experiencing the same sort of growth rate as industry-leader vodka. Because of the aging process of whiskey -- it can take a decade or more to reach peak flavor -- any increase in demand could result in shortages, particular among smaller craft distillers.

Like the craft beer boom that Boston Beer's (NYSE: SAM  ) Samuel Adams spearheaded, we now see a rise in small distillers investing in the browns. And for them, the risk is much greater since it will be years before they know whether they have a good product or have simply wasted their efforts.

Where Diageo remains the largest producer in the vodka market, owning 25% of all production, Brown-Forman is a major whiskey distiller, with 60% of its portfolio in the North American market (though Diageo owns a number of well-known whiskey brands too, like Johnnie Walker).

The rise in demand for hard liquor is likely what's been cutting into beer sales, which earlier this year recorded their first increase since 2008. Boston Beer has even had to search out new categories like hard teas and ciders as its flagship Samuel Adams brand has flagged.

The fashion industry says green is the new black, and in distilling, it just may be that brown is the new clear.

Pull up a chair and pour a cold one
The Samuel Adams brand helped to redefine beer and kick off the craft beer revolution in the United States. Success breeds competition, though, and while just a few years ago Boston Beer had claim over most of the craft beer shelf, today the field is crowded. Can Boston Beer rise above the rest, or will it be squeezed between small local breweries on one side and global beer giants on the other? To help you decide, we've compiled a premium research report filled with everything you need to know about Boston Beer's risks and opportunities. Just click here now to find out whether Boston Beer is a buy today.

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  • Report this Comment On June 06, 2013, at 7:14 PM, TMFPennyWise wrote:

    I believe what you say. There is a closed down Beam distillery here in Cincinnati and there are rumors that it's going to reopen. I wonder...?

    We were down at the Woodford Reserve and the Heaven Hill distilleries in Ky. last weekend and everyone was talking about the shortages.

    Also went to a nice dinner in Louisville and had three flights of different bourbons (12) out of maybe 50 bourbons on the menu--it surprised us that there were so many different ones. Lots of potential competition. Some were good and some were not so good. Liked Elmer T. Lee the best but unfortunately I don't think it's part of Brown or Beam.

    Now I'm encouraged about my BEAM stock which has been kind of watered down lately.

    Cheers! Jay.

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