The Rising Tide of US Cocktail Culture

Tequila, premiumization, and the rise of wine-based cocktails


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As glasses clink and shakers rattle behind bars across the United States, the cocktail scene is fizzing with energy, innovation, and, most importantly, growing sales. The latest data from CGA by NIQ has stirred up some fascinating insights into the cocktail market as of the last quarter of 2023, confirming that Americans' love for meticulously mixed drinks is not just enduring but flourishing.

Let's pour over some of these effervescent findings that are shaking up the beverage industry.

The end of 2023 saw cocktail sales in the US on-trade (venues where drinks are sold to be consumed on the premises) not just stirring but positively shaken, with a 5% increase in the value of cocktail sales year-on-year. The volume tells a similar story, with an average jump to 1,192 cocktails sold per venue, marking a 6% rise. This spirited growth showcases a robust appetite for cocktails that extends beyond the casual drinker to encompass a wider segment of the American palate.

In a revelation that surprises no one but delights many, Nevada, the glitzy home of Las Vegas, has outdone itself and the national average by a long shot. The state, synonymous with luxury, indulgence, and, of course, casinos, sold more than twice the number of cocktails compared to the US average. This statistic not only underscores Nevada's unrivaled entertainment value but also its significant contribution to the cocktail industry's vibrancy.

Nationally, the average price of a cocktail has stirred up to $13, marking a dollar increase from the previous year. Leading the pack in price is the exotic Mai Tai, a tiki bar favorite known for its potent mix of rum, lime, and a touch of tropical sweetness. This price hike reflects not just inflation but an increasing consumer willingness to invest in quality and experience over mere alcohol content.

Dominating the cocktail choice among Americans is the timeless Margarita, accounting for more than a fifth of total cocktail sales. This citrusy concoction of tequila, lime, and triple sec continues to win hearts with its balance of sweet, sour, and salty. Following closely are the Martini and Moscow Mule, proving that classic cocktails still hold sway over the nation's taste buds.

Tequila's star is on the rise, with the agave-based spirit now making up 34.1% of cocktail base sales by value, a notable 1.8% increase from the previous year. This spike reflects a broader trend toward premiumization and a growing appreciation for tequila's versatility and depth. Meanwhile, vodka sees a slight decline, and intriguingly, wine-based cocktails have surged past rum-based ones, capturing a 6.8% share.

Matthew Crompton, CGA by NIQ's regional director for North America, offers an optimistic outlook, noting, "After an excellent final quarter of last year, the cocktail category is well placed for more good growth throughout 2024." His comment highlights not just the enduring appeal of staples like the Margarita but also the dynamic, ever-evolving nature of consumer preferences in the cocktail market.

In essence, the US cocktail scene is buzzing more vibrantly than ever, with each shake, stir, and pour heralding not just a drink but an experience. Whether it's the allure of a high-priced Mai Tai, the classic charm of a Margarita, or the intriguing rise of wine-based concoctions, the American cocktail story is one of innovation, resilience, and, most of all, a collective toast to good times.

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