The World’s Most Wanted Bourbons


Bourbon bucked the trend last year and found itself more popular than ever.

Bourbon searches are on fire, even after a big year in 2020.

© Woodford
| Bourbon searches are on fire, even after a big year in 2020.

With the booming interest in spirits over the past couple of years, it’s not surprising that some of the heat is now leaving the sector – except when it comes to Bourbon.

Spirits generally had been on a roll for the past five years, with more products attracting more interest across our search database, but the standout sub-category was whiskey, which had doubled down on its market dominance. And within whiskey, the surprise star has been Bourbon.

Let’s take a closer look at the past few years. Back in 2017, total spirit searches for the year stood at 16 million, less than half the number made in 2021. The total number of searches rose steadily until 2020, when it skyrocketed, as lockdowns became a way of life and consumers switched to online retail. There has been a slight correction in 2021, with total spirit searches dropping by almost 11 percent.

For whiskey generally, the story is slightly different. In 2017, whiskey accounted for 58 percent of all spirit searches, a figure that has again seen steady growth until, in 2020, it made up 70 percent of all spirit searches. Last year, that figure fell to 67 percent of all spirit searches.

So the wider picture has been predictable: healthy year-on-year growth until the pandemic hits, then a sudden spike in searches, followed by a return to previous levels of interest. But Bourbon has seen a different trajectory.

In 2017, Bourbon accounted for 15 percent of all spirit searches. By the following year, the number of Bourbon searches had risen by 25 percent, but its share of total spirit searches had dropped to 14 percent. A 40 percent rise in searches in 2019 saw it maintain its 14 percent share of total spirit searches, while a 38 percent jump in 2020 saw its market share surge to 16 percent.

Searches fell away for 2021, in line with spirits generally, but by a smaller margin. Despite a 7 percent drop in searches, Bourbon’s share of total spirit searches actually rose to 17 percent. So, while other spirits are struggling to maintain previous levels of interest, Bourbon is actually growing.

That’s to be expected, too. In the past 20 years, Bourbon has managed to not just carve itself a niche in the affections of whiskey lovers, but to widen and deepen that niche and then fill it up with even more Bourbon. We had offers for more different Bourbons than ever in 2021, so there’s no sign of a waning in interest yet.

The big question is which Bourbons are doing the heavy lifting? Is it the big-name brands? The niche labels? The expensive and hard-to-find bottlings? Well, let’s take a look.

The World’s Most Wanted Bourbons on Wine-Searcher:

One thing’s for sure, looking at that list: if anyone knows what the people want, it’s the good folks at Buffalo Trace Distillery, who had a hand in all but one of the top 10 (Four Roses being the only one not made there).

Otherwise, it’s a fairly predictable list. It differs from last year’s in that the Van Winkle whiskeys nudge out a couple of EH Taylors and the Eagle Rare 17 Year Old, but it’s a familiar line-up to anyone who has been keeping up with this series over the past five or six years.

What has changed is that the big names – the whiskeys listed above, in essence – are actually seeing their global search rankings slipping backward, year by year. In fact, only two have really gone forward over the past five years, the Pappy 23 Year Old and the Four Roses. Even the mighty Blanton’s, while still easily the most popular Bourbon on our database, has slipped a little, sitting at 17th place in our overall search rankings, down 11 places from its peak in December 2019.

In fact, while Bourbon was surging up our search rankings in 2019, culminating in around 20 of our most searched-for products originating from Kentucky, there are only two Bourbons in our top 100 currently. This is partly because, with a wider field of niche whiskeys to choose from, it’s getting tougher to dominate the sector.

Search results for 2021 might be seen as a pause for breath after the hectic pace of the previous year, so it will be interesting to see how things pan out over the next 12 months. Whatever happens, you’d be a fool to bet against Bourbon.

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