What you need to know

The dark spirits market was a thriving segment of the total alcohol market until the pandemic wiped away a significant portion of on-premise revenues. While some consumers are treating themselves to new spirits, many more are purchasing spirit brands they know and trust, making it difficult for newer and smaller brands to acquire new customers. Innovation remains crucial despite consumers’ propensity for sticking with the familiar. Brands have the opportunity to create products that appeal to the new consumer drinking behaviors established during the pandemic.

Key issues covered in this Report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on consumer behavior and the dark spirit market

  • Changes in consumer spending habits due to the recession

  • Strategies for appealing to nondark spirit drinkers

  • Opportunities in spirit product development


This Report covers the US dark spirits market. Dollar sales data in this Report includes all distilled spirits segments (ie dark and white), while volume sales data solely covers dark spirits. The dark spirits volume sales data includes the following:

  • Whiskey, which includes the following subsegments: American Kentucky bourbon, American Tennessee whiskey, other American whiskeys (straight, blended, malt, nonmalt), American rye whiskey, scotch whisky, Irish whiskey, Canadian whisky, white whiskey/moonshine, flavored whiskey

  • Brandy and cognac, as well as Armagnac

Dark rum is included as a dark spirit in the consumer survey but the market size for rum is included in the White Spirits – US, December 2020 Report.

This Report primarily focuses on the at-home consumption of dark spirits though the Market Size and Forecast includes sales of dark spirits on- and off-premise. While this Report touches on some on-premise alcohol trends, for an in-depth analysis of alcohol on-premise please see Foodservice Alcohol Trends – US, October 2020.

Spirit-based RTD cocktails are discussed within the Report but are excluded from market size and not analyzed in depth. For more information on RTD cocktails please see RTD Alcoholic Beverages – US, December 2020.

This Report excludes the following categories, which are covered in Mintel’s White Spirits – US, December 2020 Report:

  • Vodka

  • Tequila

  • Gin

  • Rum (dark rum is included in the dark spirits consumer survey, but total rum volume sales are included in the White Spirits Report)

COVID-19: market context

The first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the US in January 2020. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global health pandemic; on March 13, President Trump declared a national emergency in the US.

Across the US, state-level stay-at-home orders rolled out throughout the months of March and April, remaining in place through May and in some cases June. During this time, referred to as lockdown, nonessential businesses and school districts across the nation closed or shifted to remote operations.

During reemergence, all 50 states have relaxed stay-at-home orders and allowed businesses to operate with varying levels of social distancing measures in place. This included reintroducing dine-in service both indoors and outdoors at limited capacity in most states. The continued spread of COVID-19 infections has driven some states to slow down or reverse course on reopening plans, such as major urban markets resuspending or delaying indoor dining service. Mintel anticipates the US will remain in a state of flux through 2021, until a vaccine is available.

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