FILE - In this May 20, 2009 file photo, a glass of Jack Daniel's whiskey is examined after being taken from an aging barrel in one of the barrel houses at the distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. American distilleries large and small have watched warily as rhetoric about tariffs has ratcheted up. Export revenues for bourbon, Tennessee whiskey and rye whiskey products topped $1 billion in 2017, continuing a trend in recent years, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
JOHANNESBURG - Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation, goes an old adage which is proving true for many South African whiskey lovers as US whiskey imports to the country grew to over US$10m last year.

The imports surged by more than 17 percent in 2016, from US$8.9m to over US$10.5m in 2017.

Christine LoCascio, senior vice president for international issues and trade at the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, described the growth as in line with an upward trend on all American distilled spirits imported to South Africa over the past year.

The council, which represents US producers, marketers and exporters of distilled spirits, said US spirits sold around the world hit a new export record in 2017, as they surged 14.3 percent from 2016 to US$1.64 billion.

“Consumer tastes for premium American spirits and favorable exchange rates are supporting global sales, particularly as American whiskeys are driving the fast-growing cocktail market,” said LoCascio.

Signs are seen at entrance to Firestone & Robertson Whiskey Ranch in Forth Worth, Texas
“International adult consumers are exploring more expensive US spirits, driven by their fascination with American whiskey’s heritage and its versatility in cocktails.”

The top five markets for US spirits are the UK, Germany, Brazil, France and Spain. However, LoCascio said American whiskey exporters were showing new interest in South Africa as an export destination. 

“The key export growth drivers for US spirits are Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon, particularly in the Premium and Super Premium categories, while the more specialised American Rye Whiskey is also starting to show strong growth,” she said.

FNB senior agricultural economist Paul Makube said the fact that there was a surge in whiskey imports from the US meant there was “growing demand” and an opportunity to raise local production to increase market share.

A bottle of whiskey is photographed at Firestone & Robertson in Forth Worth, Texas


“(Whiskey) consumption is on the rise spurred by the expanded middle class,” said Makube, adding that increased incomes and upward mobility into the higher LSMs was driving the whiskey trend in the country.

“This is a niche market and unlikely to fade in the short to medium term as this segment of the market is relatively resilient despite the economic slowdown. Consumption will increase further as the economy recovers in the medium to longer term,” added Makube.

- BUSINESS REPORT