What’ll you have?”

It’s a common question with many possible answers. But, what are people ordering at the bar? It’s been one year since we published our 2016 report of the top-ordered beer and spirit brands in the U.S. What’s changed since then?

In this post, we investigate which beer and liquor brands were most popular in the U.S. in 2017, and how those trends shifted from the previous year.

The following report aggregates alcoholic beverage orders and invoice data from U.S. BevSpot users from all twelve months of 2017. These users represent bars and restaurants numbering in the high triple-digits, located in 46 states plus the District of Columbia. All figures represent percentages of orders in dollar terms.

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Beverage Categories

In 2017, beer and spirits represented the majority of beverages sold in bars and restaurants using BevSpot. To understand the changes over time, we’re shining a spotlight on these two categories in particular.

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Beer

You may have heard that Budweiser is no longer one of the top three beer brands sold in the U.S. The “King of Beers” is slipping at bars and restaurants as well. 2017’s leading brand, Bud Light, had almost four times the orders of its sister brand in 2017.

Craft Beer

Craft brands represent a growing portion of the U.S. beer market, but the segment is cluttered and localized. For example, Boston’s largest local craft brewer, Harpoon, is the only craft brewery on our list. This is partly due to its wide availability among local BevSpot bars. Its national market share is only a fraction of mass market brands’.

For craft brewers to grow beyond their saturated home bases, they need massive marketing budgets and supply chain networks. Large beer conglomerates have plenty of both, which is why many craft brewers are yielding to acquisition. Lagunitas’ acquisition by Heineken was a major example of this from 2017.

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Changes in Beer Brand Preferences

It’s hard to tell if the changes in beer preferences are due to BevSpot’s changing geographic mix or industry changes. Miller and Michelob are disproportionately popular in the Midwest and South, two regions where we also grew in 2017.

That said, order share for number-two Miller increased notably over last year, while Budweiser and Bud Light stayed relatively stagnant.

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Spirits

While Vodka is historically the top-selling spirit in the U.S. when measured by cases sold, whiskey is the top ordered spirit for the second year in a row.

Vodka vs. Whiskey

There are two explanations for this. Vodka’s share of spirit orders dropped by almost a percentage point over the last year. This implies that people are more likely to order whiskey at a bar and purchase vodka to drink at home.

If that’s the case, someone ordering whiskey at a bar is probably ordering a more expensive, premium brand. The higher price point weighs whiskey higher than vodka when measuring by dollars sold.


Changes in Spirit Preferences

We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed whiskey’s boom (Quartz was on the case in 2014) in bars and restaurants.

But a more interesting story in our spirit data is the growth of tequila and mezcal among U.S. bars and restaurants. The segment had 3.5x whiskey’s growth in spirit order share in 2017.

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Whiskey

Whiskey and its variations is one of the most diverse spirit types. There’s a lot more room for smaller brands to find their niche among giants like Jameson and Jack Daniel’s. Since each whiskey type attracts different sections of the market, individual brands can succeed without cannibalizing each others’ customers.

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Changes in Whiskey Preferences

We were surprised to see Bulleit, the third most-popular whiskey brand among BevSpot bars, drop two percentage points over the last year. Even well-known brands have to battle to differentiate themselves, especially for consumers that aren’t first adopters.

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Vodka

Absolut and Smirnoff are considered dominant in the vodka industry, but Tito’s orders at bars and restaurants have skyrocketed in recent years. That trend continued in 2017.

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Changes in Vodka Preferences

Among BevSpot bars, orders of Tito’s increased by almost 5% over last year, at the expense of premium brands Ketel One, Grey Goose, and Stoli.

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Tequila & Mezcal

No surprise, Patron and Don Julio are the two leading tequila and mezcal brands among BevSpot bars. But, as we’ve pointed out before, much of Patron’s and Don Julio’s orders come from bars that don’t specialize in the tequila product category. That implies that bars specializing in tequila and mezcal-focused cocktail programs are driving the growth of smaller brands.

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Changes in Tequila & Mezcal Preferences

The tequila and mezcal category was filled with volatility in 2017. Nine brands saw their order share shift by more than a percentage point in 2017. Orders of Espolon, Casamigos, and Olmeca Altos increased, while orders of Patron and Don Julio, among others, declined.

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Rum

Once again, Captain Morgan and Bacardi lead the rum market with solid double-digit order shares. This gives them a significant lead on the third most-ordered rum brand, Malibu.


Changes in Rum Preferences

Many rum brands lost at least a percentage point of order share in 2017. In the same period, Bacardi increased its share of rum orders by almost 2.5%.

This doesn’t mean that recent buzz about a coming craft rum boom is wrong. 17 rum brands had at least 1% of rum orders on BevSpot in 2017. This is similar to whiskey, which had 19 brands. Vodka, a less differentiated segment, only had 11. There are many “long-tail” brands that could benefit from a shift in consumer preferences.

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Gin

Gin is a relatively concentrated market. The top four brands represent about 60% of gin orders in BevSpot bars. The fifth-ranked gin brand on BevSpot, Ford’s, represents just over 3% of orders.

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Changes in Gin Preferences

The order share of the top four brands also shifted at least a percentage point over the last year. We’re not surprised, given that the top four essentially own the market. Competition is fierce.

Conclusion

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