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Move Over, Beer: Spirits Are Now Alcohol’s Biggest U.S. Money Maker

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The American distilled spirits industry can count 13 as its lucky number. In its 13th year of straight growth, for the first time liquor has replaced beer as the nation’s most money-making alcoholic beverage category, according to The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

Sales for 2022 show spirits now claim a record-breaking 42.1% of revenue in the alcohol market, compared to beer’s shrinking 41.9% and wine’s stagnant 16%. Though organizations representing beer protest that numbers from more than half of the nation’s craft breweries and brewpubs haven’t been counted yet, three facts do remain:

Spirits have eaten away at beer’s share for the past two decades.

The youngest cohort of legal drinkers favors spirits far more than their elders.

The preference toward spending money on spirits has accelerated over the past five years and shows few signs of abating.

“There’s no ceiling in sight,” says DISCUS president and CEO Chris Swonger. “People are drinking better, not more, and we hope in due course there will be an opportunity to reach market share gains in volumes as well.”

Leaning Into Premiumization

The “better, not more” philosophy underpins much of this optimistic evaluation. Despite—and in some cases, because of—the pandemic, inflation and a possible impending recession, many Americans are still trading up to higher-priced products. These include most notably tequila, whiskey and ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails. This premiumization plays out most consequently in the spirits sector, with DISCUS reporting premium and super-premium spirits accounting for around two-thirds of category revenue last year.