Our Top Spirits Stories of 2022

From complications of agave spirits’ massive growth to the evolving category of ready-to-drink cocktails, these are the spirits stories that resonated most this past year

Photo credit: SevenFifty Daily Staff.
Photo credit: SevenFifty Daily Staff.

A look at the spirits stories that were read widely among drinks professionals last year also serves as an indication of the categories that were top of mind in 2022. Reports on tequila’s traditional producers and the risks of taking mezcal mainstream intrigued readers as agave spirits continued to grow in consumer demand, and insights from climate-friendly distilleries demonstrated how sustainable spirits have gained prominence. But it was our piece tracking the evolution of the blockbuster ready-to-drink cocktails category that was our most-read spirits piece this year.

5. Climate-Friendly Spirits Production Is Possible. These Distilleries Are Demonstrating How

The spirits industry has long struggled to lower its carbon footprint—but that’s changing as producers adopt new approaches to curb emissions

Sugarcane Cutting at Novo Fogo.
Harvesting sugarcane with machetes at Novo Fogo in southern Brazil. Photo by Vicki Loo.

The spirits industry struggles with its significant carbon footprint. A 2012 study by the Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable (BIER), a sustainability coalition of big beverage companies, showed that a 750-milliliter bottle of column-still liquor was responsible for six pounds of greenhouse gases. From sourcing to packaging disposal, pot-still spirits were even dirtier, at 6.5 pounds. That’s equal to charging a cell phone 359 times. With every bottle, we’re pouring carbon into the atmosphere.

Spirits producers, however, are waking up. Adjusted for six percent industry-wide growth, BIER found a 17-percent decrease in emissions across nearly 2,000 facilities that reported data between 2015 and 2020. As BIER literature makes clear, that’s good for the planet and for business. According to their numerous climate change risk briefs, the effects of climate change can cause supply chain and operational interruptions and lead to increased insurance, repair, and mitigation costs.

Climate action is also good for sales. The newest drinking public—millennials and Gen Z—rate climate change and the environment as their top concern, and these consumers are three times as likely as their parents’ generation to drop a brand that doesn’t share their values. Given these factors, some producers are examining every aspect of their business to see where they can cut carbon emissions. [Read more]

4. Amidst Mainstream Growth, Some Tequila Producers Are Sticking to Their Roots

While tequila seems to be dominated by big brands and celebrity ventures, some traditionalists are returning to their roots to reinvent the category

Agave field
Agave fields. Photo by Cristina Rodriguez.

Tequila was the first agave spirit to really meet international success. But the tequila industry has also been a virtual catalog of the issues that emerge from a fast-growing industry that quickly outstrips its roots. Whereas tequila’s identity was once based on sipping a glass neat, ever since the margarita became the most popular cocktail on the planet the nature of that spirit has changed, becoming more industrialized to meet demand. 

While celebrity brands are getting all the press and massive conglomerates continue to fill that insatiable demand for more tequila, a stalwart group of traditionalists—many of them families with a long history in the business—are reinventing tequila by going back to its roots. The real question is whether they can survive—and potentially thrive—amidst a sea of commodified agave spirits. [Read more]

3. At Restaurants and Bars, Vodka Sales Are Spiking—But Why?

On-premise operators are seeing increased buzz for all things vodka, from premium calls to nostalgic recreations of classic cocktails

Absolut Elyx
Photo courtesy of Absolut Elyx.

There’s a change happening in the world of vodka. It may be subtle, and long in the coming, but it’s gaining momentum nonetheless. It’s a change in perception most of all. The types of consumers who previously wouldn’t consider ordering a vodka cocktail are now doing so in droves, specifically naming the top-shelf brand they prefer, and the bartenders who came up in an industry which labeled vodka the black sheep of the backbar are now innovating in the category with nostalgic recreations flooding the pages of the consumer press.    

“We have seen considerable growth in sales in on-premise establishments recently,” says Estelle Horysa-Hubert, Absolut Elyx’s brand manager. “Our sales are surpassing pre-pandemic levels.” [Read more]

2. Overcoming the Risks of Mezcal’s Huge Growth

For an artisanal product like mezcal, keeping up with explosive growth is extremely difficult. In the face of surging demand, mezcal producers take stock of the challenges—and opportunities—that lie ahead

Del Maguey agave piñas
Agave piñas at Del Maguey. Photo courtesy of Del Maguey.

If it seems like mezcal is everywhere these days, it’s because it is. The spirit has gone from niche to impact player in the span of a decade, and the numbers back that up. IWSR Drinks Market Analysis reports that mezcal sales by volume in the U.S. increased 24.8 percent in 2019 and 14.5 percent in 2020, and it forecasts a 10.5 percent compound annual growth rate between 2021 and 2025.

All of this growth isn’t mere happenstance; within the past five years, every major spirits industry player has waded into mezcal’s smoky waters. However, there’s a major factor to consider when looking at all of these investments: From how long agave takes to reach maturity in the fields, to the way it’s traditionally harvested and distilled in small batches reflecting micro-terroirs and the particular quirks of one family’s methods or another village’s equipment, the production of mezcal is intrinsically different from other categories. 

The way the industry’s top producers are laying the foundation for sustainable growth today—or not—will go a long way towards determining the fate of the product and its producers, along with the relative quality and authenticity of what consumers are purchasing in the next decade and beyond. [Read more]

1. Inside the Evolution of Ready-to-Drink Cocktails

Five years after ready-to-drink cocktails began making headlines, premium, spirits-based RTDs show no signs of slowing growth. Here’s what you should know about the category today

From left to right: Malibu’s canned cocktails (photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard), Fisher’s Island Lemonade (photo by Maaike Bernstrom), and Faux Pas canned cocktails (photo courtesy of Faux Pas).
From left to right: Malibu’s canned cocktails (photo courtesy of Pernod Ricard), Fisher’s Island Lemonade (photo by Maaike Bernstrom), and Faux Pas canned cocktails (photo courtesy of Faux Pas).

Ready-to-drink (RTD) cocktails have become one of the beverage industry’s biggest success stories in recent years. A foundation for growth was laid pre-pandemic as mainstream players, craft brands, and even bartenders created premium RTD cocktails and put them in single-serve cans, and the category started to take off by 2017 thanks to a combination of convenience, higher quality, and wider flavor variety. Then, the pandemic pressure cooker catapulted the segment into overdrive.

According to Mintel data, total volume sales of spirits-based RTD cocktails increased 226 percent from 2016 to 2021, making the category one of the fastest-growing segments across beverage alcohol. In 2021, nearly 50 percent of adults over 22 years old reported drinking RTD cocktails, up from 40 percent in 2018. 

Now, with consumers out from under lockdowns and restricted gatherings, the immediate need for attributes like portability and bar-level cocktail quality at home has diminished—yet consumers aren’t abandoning their ready-to-drink darlings. Rather, even more new releases are hitting the market, capitalizing on wellness, packaging, and flavor trends. Consumers seem to have an endless appetite for RTD cocktail innovations—and it’s likely to propel the category for years to come. [Read more]


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