In 2015, Anchor Distilling Co.’s Nikka Japanese whisky brand grew by 110 percent to around 20,000 cases in the United States, according to president Dennis Carr. The company is projecting approximately 50-percent growth for Nikka in 2016, fueled by a rise in the overall popularity of Japanese whisky. “The excitement around the quality and uniqueness of the flavor profile is reaching a wider audience,” Carr says. The 45-percent abv Coffey Grain ($69.99 a 750-ml. bottle) leads the portfolio, followed by the 43-percent abv Taketsuru Pure Malt ($69.99). Age-statement expressions, such as the Taketsuru 17-year-old ($149.99) and 21-year-old ($179.99), do well, but are highly allocated.
Cocktails have been key to Nikka’s success. “Japanese whisky hasn’t been constrained by the idea of being consumed only neat or on the rocks,” Carr says. “Mixologists are getting more creative with it.” About half the brand’s accounts are in the on-premise, and Anchor focuses most of its marketing on bartenders. “We’ve spent a lot of time working with bartenders around the country and with key whisky shops that emphasize education,” Carr says. Anchor loosely promotes the Coffey Grain expression for use in Manhattans and the new Coffey Malt ($74.99), which launches this month, for Old Fashioneds. “It’s ultimately down to the creativity of bartenders,” Carr says. He expects that the new Coffey Malt—which is made in an Aeneas Coffey still from a 100-percent malt base—will excel in the on-premise and eventually approach the volumes of the Coffey Grain.