The Top 10 Importers of Bourbon Whiskey Around The World
By Richard Thomas
The most important difference between America and the other traditional whiskey-making nations—Canada, Japan, Ireland and Scotland—is that America has a huge domestic market for its whiskeys. Indeed, the American market for whiskey is so deep that it can both consume several times more of its own whiskeys than the rest of the world put together, and at the same time be the largest importer of whiskies from the other four member nations of whiskey’s Big Five.
Yet this does not mean exports are not an important facet of the bourbon trade. Bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey exports topped $1 billion in 2015, and that for the fourth consecutive year. Those figures translate to bourbon making up some 2/3s of the total value of all U.S. spirits exports.
Knowing that exports are an important and growing part of the Bourbon Boom raises the question of just who is buying all that whiskey, almost all of it made in Kentucky and Tennessee. Here are the ten countries with the biggest thirst for bourbon: *
The United Kingdom ($113.8 million)
American whiskeys have been making serious inroads into the home market of Scotch whisky. Although whether Jack Daniel’s became the UK’s top whiskey brand in 2015 is an arguable point, anyone acquainted with whiskey circles in the UK recognize that bourbon is gaining fast in popularity. Outside of the U.S., this is the country with more bars, restaurants and shops specializing in American whiskeys than any other.
Japan ($72.7 million)
The Japanese have long been an important export market for bourbon. I first became aware of this as a teenager, when the push Maker’s Mark was making in Japan was big local news in My Old Kentucky Home, concurrent with the opening of the Toyota factory in Georgetown. This was the place where Four Roses continued to be good during its dark age, and a number of export-to-Japan-only bourbons have been made over the years, most of them now ardently desired collectors items.
Australia ($70.4 million)
An odd thing about Australia as a bourbon export market is that most American whiskeys there wouldn’t qualify as such back at home. Brands like Maker’s Mark and Jim Beam are cut to slightly below 80 proof for the Australians, the legal minimum in the United States.
Spain ($68.2 million)
If you have ever experienced a Spanish summer without constant air conditioning, then you realize how much a bourbon on the rocks makes perfect sense there. I doubt anyone would blink an eye at Jimmy Russell’s habit of putting his bottle in the freezer! Four Roses has an especially visible presence in Spain.
France ($52 million)
France loves whisk(e)y. Most of that is Scotch whisky, and bourbon imports are less than a tenth of what the French drink in single malts and blends.
Germany ($50.8 million)
Spain and France are also key Scotch whisky importers, fourth and second in the world respectively. It follows that Germany, the fifth-ranked Scotch whisky consumer, would also be a big consumer of American whiskey. Germany and Spain have the closest ratio of Scotch-to-bourbon imports among Top Ten European whisk(e)y importers, with bourbon consumption by value being roughly a quarter of Scotch consumption.
Canada ($34.2 million)
Canada and the U.S. are each others’ top trading partners. ‘Nuff said.
Latvia ($30.9 million)
The genuine shocker in this top ten list is how Latvia, a small country with a population of only 1.9 million, almost eclipses Canada in raw bourbon consumption.
Netherlands ($21.6 million)
Singapore ($15.9 million)
Singapore is a small, wealthy city state with a thirst for whiskey. As with the Western European countries listed above, much of that thirst is focused on Scotch, but some goes to bourbon.
Figures provided by DISCUS