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Blanton\'s Won the Whiskey Wars

Scotch might be getting the high prices, but one Blanton’s is making people pony up real money.

If it’s dreams you want, look to Scotch, but if you’re looking for something to spend your money on, it’s Bourbon every time – and one Bourbon in particular.

While various high-end single malts are commanding prices normally associated with real estate, when it comes to actually getting people to open their wallets and buy, the name Blanton’s is the magic word.

As we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, we’ve been looking into our database to see how things have changed since 2010, and one of the winning categories has been spirits, and whisk(e)y in particular. And within that sector of the spirits market, life is changing for the two main styles.

It used to be that you might offer guests Scotch rather than Bourbon, especially if you were trying to impress them, but that’s not entirely true anymore. Looking back over the past 10 years, it’s clear that Bourbon has enjoyed a spectacular resurgence in popularity, if not necessarily in price. People are drinking more Bourbon and drinking better Bourbon; entry-level brands aren’t really cutting it anymore.

That’s not to say that the big brands are in decline – they’re not. The two top-selling American whiskey brands are still Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, but interest in niche Bourbon – the kind of thing that costs a little extra, but none of your friends have heard of it – has been a big growth area on Wine-Searcher in the last 10 years. These days, if it doesn’t have the name Van Winkle on the label, it had better have an initial in it: WL Weller, George T Stagg, EH Taylor…

We’ll be looking at changes in search numbers and average prices for spirits soon, but first I wanted to take a look at the pointy end of Wine-Searcher, which is where people click through from the results page to one of our merchant pages and go into “buy now” mode.

This click-through signals the clear intention to buy and is possibly the most vital piece of information we record. Sure, the general search information is important and the price and offer numbers, but when it comes down to commercial brass tacks, it’s the click-through that counts.

So, while Scotch might dominate the price and search data, there is only one winner when it comes to click-throughs and that is Blanton’s Original Single Barrel Straight Bourbon. It’s so far out in front of the chasing pack that it has almost four times as many click-throughs as its nearest rival, which is, incidentally, another Bourbon. The top five click-through spirits across the past decade are Blanton’s, WL Weller 12 Year Old, Yamazaki 12 from Japan, George T Stagg Bourbon and the Macallan 18-year-old single malt.

Blanton’s success has really been achieved in the latter half of the decade. It barely registered until 2014, when it achieved a critical mass of awards, gold medals and enthusiastic reviews. Since December of that year, it has consistently grown month by month, with peaks coming at the end of the year as holiday buying swings into gear.

And the other interesting thing to note is that the success of Blanton’s is almost entirely homegrown. Looking at where the searches are coming from, it’s clear that the vast majority of searches – and click-throughs – are from the US. In fact, Blanton’s barely features in Europe, and has a negligible presence in India, where virtually all searches are for whisk(e)y. Despite that, Blanton’s is the most searched-for Bourbon on our database, overall,

The appeal of Blanton’s lies in its quality – it has won multiple awards at the International Wine and Spirits Competition, the San Francisco spirits competition and other global awards – allied to its general availability and its relatively cheap price. Its current global average price of $84 only started to balloon at the start of last year; in December 2017 the average ex-tax price was $58, although you can still pick it up for as little as $55 if you look hard enough.

It’s such a simple formula for success that you’d be forgiven for wondering why more producers don’t try to emulate it.