Whiskey and the Divided States of America
Do you live in a Bourbon state or a Scotch state?
The US isn’t just divided along political lines – there is a definite split between malt and Bourbon drinkers.
By Don Kavanagh
Politics and whiskey rarely mix well, but there is a new schism emerging in the United States dividing people into two distinct classes of state – and it’s all down to whiskey.
If the separation of the country along state lines sounds unthinkable, think of it in terms of blue states and red states. We’re all familiar with those – the liberal, predominantly metropolitan, Democrat states that lie mainly along the coasts, and the almost solid block of red, more-conservative, mostly Republican-voting states that make up the interior.
Well, there’s another map that could almost be overlaid on that political one, and this time the dividing points are not immigration, health care, inequality and rights issues, but whiskey. When it comes to searching for their spirit of choice on Wine-Searcher, some states are Bourbon, others want Scotch.
A breakdown of spirit searches in the US reveals a lot, as does analysis of what’s actually on offer across the country. We looked at almost 10 million searches made in 2019 and broke down the queries by state. We also looked at which spirits were being offered for sale by merchants in each state and found some surprising anomalies.
Before we get to the nitty-gritty, we should talk about searches, offers, and even what constitutes Scotch. In this instance “searches” are self-explanatory; they are inquiries made via Wine-Searcher by users in the US, who are looking for spirits. “Offers” represent individual products for sale in the thousands of retailers we list. And it’s important to clarify what we mean by “Scotch”. For this story, we have separated out blended and malt whiskeys and used the searches for single malts to represent Scotch.
We’ve done that for a good reason: people don’t tend to search as much for blends on Wine-Searcher. They tend to use us for products that might be hard to find, so they don’t often type in, say, Famous Grouse or Teacher’s into our search bar anything like as often as they do for Macallan 72 Year Old or Karuizawa.
Overall, across the US, combined blend and malt searches outstrip Bourbon searches, but it’s also worth noting that those two categories include whiskeys from countries other than Scotland, so we’ve arbitrarily decided to simply take “malt” as representing “Scotch”.
So, let’s get back to the map. Overall in the US, Bourbon tops the search figures with 21.8 percent of all spirit searches, followed by malt, with 17.7 percent. The next three spirits are blended whiskey, brandy and rum; the gin craze that has been engulfing Europe for the past three or four years doesn’t seem to have gained much traction in the US – gin searches account for just 1.8 percent of searches.
Those figures would suggest that Bourbon is an easy winner, but breaking it down on a state-by-state basis shows that while Bourbon holds a unique place in the affections of Wine-Searcher users, the blue states tend to be more malt-oriented. Malts come out on top in California, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, and DC, all “blue states”; elsewhere it’s a sea of “red”. And no, the results don’t correlate exactly, but it does sound eerily familiar, doesn’t it?
Some states are, of course, a little more patriotic than others, but when it comes to whiskey one state in particular stands out like a beacon – Kentucky. Now that might seem blindingly obvious, but the home of Bourbon is seriously into its own product; 63.7 percent of all spirit searches are for Bourbon, almost five times as many as malt and blended searches combined.
Ohio was the next best for Bourbon, racking up 46.9 percent of searches there, and Tennessee is up there, too, on 46.7 percent of searches North Carolina saw that figure hit 39 percent. Missouri and Colorado also had Bourbon searches in the high 30s.
There isn’t a state that we measure that didn’t have either Bourbon or Scotch as its most-searched spirit, but there are plenty of states where the retail trade seems to have other ideas. In Texas, Tequila is the top spirit on offer from retailers, making up 12 percent of all offers. In Florida, rum comes out on top.
Possibly the oddest situation pertains in New Jersey, where the top 10 spirit categories are, in order: malt, Bourbon, blended whiskey, brandy, rum, vodka, rye, Tequila, gin and fruit liqueurs. Yet the second most-offered category is flavored vodka. Interestingly, flavored vodka also comes in at #2 in Georgia’s list of spirit offers, despite being the 12th most searched-for category of spirit there.
All that would suggest one thing – people use Wine-Searcher for specific products and for specific purposes other than general, day-to-day drinking. What is on the shelves of the local liquor store is not necessarily what our millions of searchers are looking for.
Hannibal Lecter was wrong. In the Silence of the Lambs, fiction’s most famous cannibal psychiatrist told Clarice Starling that we covet what we see everyday. He was wrong; it would appear that the things we really covet are the very things we can’t see everyday.