Rocket Brands

Impact’s Hot Prospects are a preview of the industry’s rising stars.

(Photo by Davyd Kopych/iStock)

Each year, Market Watch sister publication Impact recognizes the fastest-growing smaller brands from around the drinks business with its “Hot Prospect” awards. This year, a total of 87 brands from the wine, spirits, and RTD cocktail categories met Impact Databank’s criteria to earn the honor. To qualify as a Hot Prospect, brands must have achieved at least 15% depletions growth for 2022, while also showing consistent growth in the two preceding years. For spirits, imported wines, and RTDs, brand volumes must be between 50,000 and 200,000 cases, while domestic wines are between 50,000 and 250,000 cases. 

As in years past, Tequilas and whiskies lead the way for spirits Hot Prospects, with agave spirits and whiskies making up just under two-thirds of this year’s 33 winners. Vodka, domestic and imported, made a strong showing with seven Hot Prospect winners. The gin, rum, and liqueur categories also appear on the list, with gin garnering three, rum two, and liqueurs one honoree, respectively. 

Following the spirits boom during the peak pandemic years, this year’s Hot Prospects list has contracted, down from 45 winners last year. While there are fewer booming young spirits brands this year, just over half of the Hot Prospects winners made the grade for the first time, showing that even as the spirits market normalizes after the pandemic, there’s still plenty of thirst for new and innovative releases. 

Amid Tequila’s overall dominance among the spirits Hot Prospects—once again the Mexican spirit is the largest individual category on the list by number of winners—the five largest Hot Prospects are a vodka, a rum, two Bourbon brands, and a Tennessee whiskey.

Truly vodka, the spirits offshoot of Boston Beer Co.’s hard seltzer brand, reached 180,000 cases in the U.S. following its March 2022 debut.
Truly vodka, the spirits offshoot of Boston Beer Co.’s hard seltzer brand, reached 180,000 cases in the U.S. following its March 2022 debut.

Truly On Top

At the top of the Hot Prospects list for 2022 is Truly vodka, the spirits offshoot of Boston Beer Co.’s hard seltzer. The Beam Suntory-produced vodka reached 180,000 cases in the U.S. following its March 2022 debut. The line comes in three flavors—Strawberry Lemonade, Pineapple Mango, and Wild Berry—all inspired by some of the most popular flavors of Truly hard seltzer. In addition to being the largest Hot Prospect for 2022, Truly vodka is one of only four brands to earn a Hot Prospect award in its first year on the market. The brand is part of Boston Beer’s continued push to diversify the Truly brand as its malt-based hard seltzers continue to face headwinds in an increasingly crowded category.

Behind Truly is Plantation rum, one of two rum brands to earn honors. The returning Hot Prospect winner grew by 15% last year, reaching 171,000 cases. The brand has been on an upward swing since 2019, when it was below 100,000 cases. Brand owner Maison Ferrand has worked to draw consumers into the brand (and category) through a series of limited releases like 2023’s Vintage Collection No. 2, a series of limited-edition rums from Panama, Jamaica, Fiji, Guyana, Barbados, and Venezuela.

After the opening one-two punch from Truly and Plantation, the rest of the top five Hot Prospects are all whiskies. In third is Constellation Brands’ High West. The Utah-based distiller and blender was up 16.4% last year to reach 170,000 cases. The brand has performed exceptionally well in the last three years, consistently growing by more than 10% each year to join the Hot Prospects list.

Following High West is Brown-Forman’s Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. The high-end whiskey—distinct from the wider (and much larger) Woodford Reserve portfolio—was up 32.9% last year to 140,000 cases. Since 2019, the release has doubled in size and is a key part of Brown-Forman’s overall premiumization strategy, with company president and CEO Lawson Whiting pointing to Woodford as a growth engine for the company so far this year. In addition, he said, “We were able to build on last year’s double-digit organic net sales growth by continuing the premiumization of our portfolio, investing boldly in our brands, building new strategic relationships, developing and supporting our talented people, and honoring our values.”

While Woodford is Brown-Forman’s larger Hot Prospect winner, the company’s Jack Daniel’s Bonded series also earned the award. In its debut year, the series reached 52,000 cases while also winning Market Watch sister publication Whisky Advocate’s Whisky of the Year last year for its Bonded Tennessee Whiskey.

The final of the five largest Hot Prospects, Uncle Nearest, is also one of the strongest overall performers of the whole crop. Last year, the whiskeys from Nearest Green Distillery grew by 48.5% to reach 140,000 cases. Since 2019, the brand has added 110,000 cases with depletions accelerating each year. The brand isn’t resting on its laurels either, recently kicking off a new TV ad campaign, “My Sugar Baby.” The promotion comes amidst a busy year for Uncle Nearest, following the May announcement of a substantial expansion to its Shelbyville, Tennessee distillery and tourism center. 

Proximo’s Maestro Dobel, the largest Tequila brand on the Hot Prospects list, was up 26.3% in 2022 to hit 135,000 cases.
Proximo’s Maestro Dobel, the largest Tequila brand on the Hot Prospects list, was up 26.3% in 2022 to hit 135,000 cases.

Mexico’s Reign

Tequila is still king among this year’s Hot Prospects winners. Tequila notched eight brands on its own and, including mezcal and considering the wider world of agave spirits, the combined total comes to ten, matching that of whiskies of all sorts. This marks a step forward for Tequila and agave spirits; in years past total whiskies typically outpaced agave spirits to make up the largest group on the Hot Prospects list. 

The largest Tequila, Proximo’s Maestro Dobel, was up 26.3% in 2022 to reach 135,000 cases. This year, Proximo has increased its focus on the high-end Cristalino-focused brand, forging a partnership with the U.S. Open tennis championship, and building on a partnership that kicked off in 2021 between Dobel and the PGA Tour. Beyond Maestro Dobel, Proximo owns a second Hot Prospect winning Tequila brand, Gran Coramino. Created by Proximo with comedian and actor Kevin Hart, Gran Coramino jumped to 51,000 cases in its first year on the market, earning its first Hot Prospect win. According to Cuervo CEO Juan Domingo Beckmann, the brand exceeded expectations in its first year on the market. “We knew we would beat estimates across the top five states with the usual strong affinity for Tequila, but I’ve been surprised at the extraordinary consumer pull across the entire country,” he says. “We’ll continue to drive distribution, awareness, and trial as our No. 1 priority.” 

Just behind Maestro Dobel are two Tequilas receiving their first Hot Prospects awards. The larger of the two, Diageo’s 21 Seeds, grew to 124,000 cases on a 38.5% jump. The flavored Tequila brand was acquired by the spirits giant in March 2022 and has seen considerable growth for its three flavors—Valencia Orange, Grapefruit Hibiscus, and Cucumber Jalapeño—since the acquisition. Hot on 21 Seeds’ heels is DeLeón at 120,000 cases. Last year was a banner year for the brand, which grew 72%, showing an impressive acceleration. However, the future is uncertain for the brand, as this year has seen an acrimonious split between its partners Sean “Diddy” Combs and Diageo. 

Another rising star in the celebrity spirits world, 818 Tequila reached 102,000 cases in its second year on the market. The brand, from model and reality TV star Kendall Jenner, has benefited from her celebrity as well as a strong buy-in from Southern Glazer’s, the brand’s national distributor. The brand offers the traditional Tequila lineup of Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo, as well as entering the luxury market in late 2022 with Eight Reserve by 818. According to Larry Goodrich, the Southern Glazer’s veteran who now serves as CEO of 818, the brand is quickly gaining prominence, thanks in large to Jenner’s global profile and audience. “I have launched many new brands over the 46 years I worked in the wholesale tier,” he says, “and I have never seen so much brand awareness in such a short amount of time.” 

The remaining Tequila Hot Prospects are all first time winners and all are under 100,000 cases. The largest is Beam Suntory’s Tres Generaciones at 91,000 cases. Last year, the Tequila grew nearly 25%, securing its place among Impact’s Hot Prospects. At 71,000 cases is Brown-Forman’s Herradura Ultra. The high-end Cristalino release has catapulted forward since 2019 when it was at 13,000 cases. Rounding out the Tequila Hot Prospects is Tanteo, recently acquired by Ole Smoky. Last year, Tanteo reached 54,000 cases on 42.4% growth. Ole Smoky says the acquisition is part of its plan to “diversify its portfolio across other high-growth spirits categories.” 

While Tequila is the predominant agave spirit on this year’s list, mezcal also scored two awards with Ilegal mezcal’s namesake brand and CNI Brands’ Banhez. Ilegal neared 100,000 cases last year, growing by 84.6%, continuing its rapid rise, with the brand nearly doubling year-over-year since 2019. Banhez reached 64,000 cases on 15.7% growth. Both brands are returning Hot Prospects. 

Just outside of the top five largest Hot Prospects is Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams 1783. The sixth-largest brand on the list is also the last whiskey above 100,000 cases to make the grade. The premium offshoot to Heaven Hill’s affordably priced giant reached 139,000 cases last year, up 16.8%. In addition to scoring a Hot Prospect win with 1783, Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse rye earned its first nod on 25.8% growth to reach 78,000 cases last year. 

Luxco’s Yellowstone follows Evan Williams, with the brand hitting 85,000 cases on 83.4% growth. The first-time winner has been ascendant since 2019, when the brand was at only 8,000 cases. Since 2019, Yellowstone has doubled or nearly doubled in size each year. 

A thousand cases behind Yellowstone is Campari America’s Russell’s Reserve. The 84,000-case brand’s growth has been steady, with the high-end whiskey posting a 15.5% bump last year to keep it among the Hot Prospects winners. The brand is a key part of Campari America’s premiumization strategy, with company CEO Melanie Batchelor saying, “Russell’s Reserve is another gem in our portfolio, which has been growing very nicely.” 

Wrapping up the Hot Prospect winning whiskies is Ole Smoky’s Moonshine Cherries. The unique offering grew 26.6% last year to reach 60,000 cases, winning its first Hot Prospect award, as well as being the only winner that’s both edible and drinkable. 

While whiskey and Tequila remain among the trendiest spirits categories in the U.S., vodka is still the largest category and, for 2022, seven up-and-coming vodka brands earned Hot Prospect awards. Behind this year’s leader, Truly, is Sazerac’s Wheatley at 125,000 cases, a far cry from the 25,000 cases it depleted in 2020, its first year on the market. Last year, the brand grew by 19%. 

Wheatley is followed by 21st Century Spirits’ Blue Ice at 106,000 cases, up 15.2%, and the only imported vodka among this year’s winners, Cîroc Passion. The release reached 97,000 cases in its debut year. As with DeLeón Tequila, Cîroc’s future has been complicated by the split of former partners Combs and Diageo. The final three vodka brands to win a Hot Prospect award are Tahoe Spirits’ Tahoe Blue at 66,000 cases, Idaho Mercantile Distillers’ 44 North at 52,000, and Latitude Beverage’s Buddy’s at 50,000. 

The final spirits Hot Prospect winners for 2022 come from the rum, gin, and liqueurs categories. The largest, Zamora’s Licor 43, was at 112,000 cases, nearly doubling in size since 2019. Behind Licor 43 is the largest gin Hot Prospect, Milestone Brands’ Empress 1908. The Canadian gin grew to 92,000 cases last year following its acquisition by Milestone. Rémy Cointreau’s Botanist gin, a returning Hot Prospect, reached 79,000 cases on 24.6% growth for 2022. The final Hot Prospect gin, another returning favorite, is Beam Suntory’s Roku. Last year, the Japanese gin was up 19% to 60,000 cases. The final Hot Prospect, and second rum to earn the award this year, is Bacardi Tropical, a flavored offshoot of its namesake brand. In its second year on the market, the rum reached 52,000 cases, expanding 20.1% over its debut year. 

E. & J. Gallo’s canned wine brand Bev nearly tripled its volume to 110,000 cases in 2022.
E. & J. Gallo’s canned wine brand Bev nearly tripled its volume to 110,000 cases in 2022.

Domestic Wine: Newcomers Abound

Rising fortunes represent the theme of the Hot Prospects domestic wine list, with 16 new arrivals and 11 departures (including one that graduated to Hot Brands status) making for a total of 28 awardees this year. Only three states are represented—along with California’s perpetual dominance, two labels from Washington State qualified along with one from Oregon. The brands qualifying as Hot Prospects have only accelerated in recent years, advancing all together from 1.2 million cases in 2019 to 3.4 million last year as growth rates averaged 47% in 2022. 

The top domestic Hot Prospect was newcomer La Terre, produced by E. & J. Gallo Winery. The California brand accelerated last year as its growth rate registered 17.5% to bring it to 235,000 cases. The brand has been something of a steady climber, building on an established base of 170,000 cases in 2019. A value brand, the La Terre portfolio includes Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, White Zinfandel, and Merlot, among other options, generally priced under $10 a 750-ml. La Terre was one of the 30 brands Gallo acquired from Constellation in an $810 billion deal closed in early 2021. 

Gallo fielded the most Hot Prospects with six overall. Two of its other honorees came from that same Constellation deal: Cribari and Franciscan. Cribari was another new addition to the list, improving its fortunes by 18% and reaching 200,000 cases in 2022. Franciscan, meanwhile, is a 50-year-old winery founded in 1972 by Napa Valley winemakers Justin Meyers and Raymond Duncan. The estate produces two white labels and two reds and was influential in establishing the “Meritage” designation for Bordeaux-style wines made outside the region. Franciscan saw volumes jump by 30,000 cases, or 19%, to 185,000 cases last year. 

Also in the Gallo stable is No.-3 Hot Prospect, Proverb. The Modesto, California-based brand’s portfolio includes Rosé, Merlot, and Pinot Noir, among others. The label has grown consistently and took off last year, rising 23.5% to 210,000 cases. Gallo’s portfolio includes Barefoot Bright & Breezy as well, a spinoff of Barefoot Wine that capitalizes on the low-abv trend at 6% abv and 70 calories a glass. Available in Rosé, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay options, it rocketed to 105,000 cases in its second year on the market, up from a minimal base in 2021. 

A very recent addition to Gallo’s portfolio, Bev, also made the list. Gallo acquired Bev in June of this year, two years after it obtained exclusive U.S. distribution rights to the brand. It’s a line of premium canned wines and spritzers. Founded by Alix Peabody in Venice, California, Bev is said to be the first TTB-approved “zero sugar” canned wine on the market. The Bev wines have three carbs, 100 calories per serving, 11.9% abv, and are all gluten free. The Bev portfolio includes offerings like Rosé, Blanc, Gris, Noir, Glitz, Glam, Glow, Pride, and the newly released Brite, all from California.

Gallo CMO Stephanie Gallo says, “As an industry, we are adapting and evolving to remain relevant to the next generation of alcohol beverage consumers. I see the Bev portfolio as a welcome addition to Gallo’s product family that will allow us to continue to offer our consumers beverage options to celebrate any occasion.”

Delicato Family Wines has found success with Three Finger Jack, another returning California label that grew 18.8% last year to reach 95,000 cases. “It’s accelerating right now and is an amazing brand. It’s priced at such a point where you can really put high quality wine in it and you can barrel it and do all the right things,” says Delicato president and CEO Chris Indelicato.

Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ Liquid Light label returned to the Hot Prospects list with 37.8% growth to 71,000 cases in 2022.
Ste. Michelle Wine Estates’ Liquid Light label returned to the Hot Prospects list with 37.8% growth to 71,000 cases in 2022.

Beyond California

From outside California, Washington’s Ste. Michelle Wine Estates saw its Liquid Light label return to the list. The brand is part of the growing trend toward low-calorie options, with a 5-ounce glass of its Washington Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé each containing 95 calories. It’s part of Ste. Michelle’s Elicit Wine Project innovation and incubation program. Last year it grew to 71,000 cases on 38% growth. 

“Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is thrilled with the success of our disruptor brand, Liquid Light,” the brand’s senior marketing manager Kelly Farley says. “We are proud of how the brand has quickly resonated with consumers and are eager to see its continued growth and success in the future. We continue to closely follow market trends and have started to expand the variety options to include a Rosé, which launched in 2022, and a Chardonnay in 2023, with even more to come next year and beyond. Our talented viticulture and winemaking teams work together to harvest the grapes early, resulting in a light and refreshing wine with a naturally lower sugar content. The winemaking procedures do not involve extra processing or additives, leaving consumers with a complex and tasty option they have come to expect from their favorite wine.” 

Also from Washington is Browne Family Vineyards, from Precept Wines. Named for the family of founder Andrew Browne, the wines come from the Browne Estate Vineyard in the Spring Valley District of Walla Walla and throughout the Columbia Valley AVA. The label has a strong presence across Washington with tasting rooms in Walla Walla, Seattle’s Pioneer Square, Tacoma, and Bellevue. Browne Family accelerated last year, rising 32.5% as it reached 105,000 cases. Also from outside California was Oregon label Portlandia, produced by Wine Hooligans. It reached 52,000 cases on 30.6% growth. 

Elsewhere in California, Constellation Brands’ Unshackled, a spinoff of The Prisoner, continued to excel. From four varietals a year ago (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc), the Unshackled line has continued to expand. It was up 25.6% last year to 175,000 cases. Jackson Family Wines’ Carmel Road decelerated somewhat, but still grew 17% to climb to 86,000 cases. 

Sunny With a Chance of Flowers, from Scheid Vineyards, gained 60.7% to hit 92,000 cases in its third year. “Sunny With a Chance of Flowers has been in the market less than three years, and in that time we’ve seen significant growth of the better-for-you category and tremendous success for Sunny,” says Heidi Scheid, executive vice president of Scheid Family Wines. “It has really tapped into today’s consumer who is interested in moderation and a healthy lifestyle but doesn’t want to give up everything. Sunny is a way for them to have their cake and eat it too. Sunny being zero sugar is the No.-1 attribute we hear about. We just launched our Sunny with a Chance of Flowers Bubbly Rosé, which is available at Kroger nationwide. We’ll be launching Sunny Pinot Grigio nationally in Q1 2024.” 

The Wine Group scored several nods with four Hot Prospects in its stable. Its top performer was Winemakers Selection at No. 2 overall. It reached 214,000 cases in its third year on the market. Returning to the list, Tribute had another stellar year, gaining 24% to reach 124,000 cases. Silver Gate, also returning, had a great showing, more than doubling its 2021 volume to reach 139,000 cases. Redwood Highway appeared for the first time, gaining 56% to reach 55,000 cases in its second year of availability. 

Foley Family Wines had three Hot Prospects, two new and one returning. Banshee is back on the list after maintaining strong gains to rise 32% to 115,000 cases. New to the list were Rickshaw, up 30% to 73,000 cases, and Silverado, up 34% to 52,000 cases. “Silverado is an iconic Napa Valley brand that consumers have trusted for more than four decades with a reputation for excellence,” Foley Family CMO Jason Daniel says. “The majority of the portfolio is single vineyard wines, including Cabernet from the renowned Silverado Vineyard in the Stags Leap District situated below the famed Napa Valley winery. Banshee has a youthful, modern, and fun personality that is backed by top scoring, elegant, cool climate wines at approachable price points. The 2022 Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc recently received 90 points from Market Watch sister publication Wine Spectator. Rickshaw, which is posting rapid growth, is made from 100% California certified sustainably grown estate fruit. Rickshaw produces everyday wines of casual sophistication that welcomes young LDAs into premium wines made with integrity and purpose.” 

Elsewhere, Pessimist from Daou Vineyards gained 20% to reach 66,000 cases and Clay Shannon, from Shannon Ridge, nearly tripled to 54,000 cases. Decoy Limited, part of The Duckhorn Portfolio, climbed 30% to 123,000 cases. 

Treasury Wine Estates Americas fielded three California brands as well. The first is 19 Crimes Snoop Cali Gold, part of the Snoop Dogg-repped spinoff line of Australian import 19 Crimes. It follows Snoop Cali Red and Snoop Cali Rosé and reached 65,000 cases on launch, speaking to the strength and name recognition of the partnership. Even more successful was 19 Crimes Martha Chardonnay, as the ongoing friendship and business partnership between Snoop and Martha Stewart brought her into the 19 Crimes fold. It climbed to 187,000 cases in its second year from a marginal base. Treasury Americas also found success with St. Hubert’s The Stag, which has steadily risen to 84,000 cases on 32% growth last year. 

Additionally, Folio’s Oberon Cabernet Sauvignon rose to 131,000 cases on 20% growth and Purple Wine + Spirits’ Raeburn rose to 208,000 cases on 15% growth. 

Kim Crawford Illuminate, the largest imported wine Hot Prospect, advanced 66.5% to 168,000 cases in 2022.
Kim Crawford Illuminate, the largest imported wine Hot Prospect, advanced 66.5% to 168,000 cases in 2022.

Imported Wine: Italy, NZ Lead Winners

A dozen up-and-coming brands from the imported wine category earned Hot Prospect honors this year, including seven new entrants to the ranks. Italy, the largest imported wine category in the market, and New Zealand, ranked third, both fielded four brands among the award winners. 

Three of the four Italian Hot Prospects are handled by Florida-based Ethica Wines. Ethica’s La Gioiosa Prosecco grew from 10,000 cases in the U.S. in 2019 to more than 80,000 last year. Villa Sparina and Cafaggio also earned honors for the company, with the former known for its Gavi di Gavi DOCG and the latter emphasizing its Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG. 

The other Hot Prospect wine from Italy is The Wine Group’s Cupcake Signature Sweets. The lineup made its debut mid-last year and jumped out to 70,000 cases. Cupcake Signature Sweets are made from grapes sourced from Italy’s Piedmont region and are all at 5.5% abv. The four lightly sparkling offerings include Sweet Red, Watermelon, Peach, and Berry. 

Another European import on the list is Hampton Water, the French rosé brand founded by Jesse Bongiovi and his father, Jon Bon Jovi, and made in partnership with Gérard Bertrand. This spring, Hampton Water named Michael Misiorski as CEO, a veteran of Sagamore Spirit, Edrington, Stoli Group USA, Bacardi, and Absolut. “France is the benchmark for rosé,” Bertrand says. “We have the expertise, we have the sourcing, we have the quality, and we have the knowledge. People who want to follow, they will sell a little bit, like you can see with some California rosé, some Spanish rosé as well. But at the end, to compete with us, you need to develop the terroir effect, which takes time because you need the old vines, and also to develop consistency. That is why we have a real advantage.” 

Organic wine brand Avaline, which was founded by actress Cameron Diaz and entrepreneur Katherine Power, includes offerings from Spain and France. It has a portfolio of six wines, including red and white blends and a Sauvignon Blanc, among others. Avaline grew 46% to 80,000 cases in the U.S. last year, according to Impact Databank, and has quadrupled in size over the past two years. The brand recently launched in over 500 Whole Foods Markets nationwide. The distribution expansion is beginning with the brand’s rosé, with Avaline’s sparkling and white wines coming to Whole Foods in select regions in the coming months. According to the company, Avaline is now available in more than 10,000 stores across the U.S., a 45% jump over Q3 last year, with the brand also expanding distribution in Kroger, Target, and Total Wine & More this year. 

Connecticut-based importer Evaton, owned by Portugal’s Sogrape, is also represented. Evaton’s Silk & Spice brand has doubled to 85,000 cases since 2019. Early this year, Silk & Spice introduced three new wines: White Blend, a mix of Bical, Arinto, and Alvarinho; Silk Route, made of Tinta Roriz, Baga, and Merlot and billed as the smoothest red blend in the portfolio; and Spice Road, described as the boldest of the new offerings and composed of Alicante Bouschet, Syrah, and Touriga Nacional.

New Zealand counts four winners among the Hot Prospects this year. Kim Crawford Illuminate is the largest imported wine honoree at 168,000 cases. The low-calorie extension helped drive the Kim Crawford brand to 1.83 million cases overall last year, representing U.S. retail value of more than $375 million. Similarly, Matua Lighter from Treasury Wine Estates is also leveraging the trend toward lower-calorie wines. Overall, the Matua brand jumped 9% to 830,000 cases in the U.S. in 2022, as consumers continue to gravitate to kiwi wines.

Wairau River, imported by Terlato Wines, is likewise riding the New Zealand wave. “At Wairau they can produce over 600,000 cases all from their own vineyards,” says Terlato Wines CEO Bill Terlato. “So we definitely have the ability to continue to grow that, where other people (in the category) could be constrained. In the best areas of New Zealand, like Marlborough, it’s very hard to get new vineyard land now. The brands that are there, they’ll consolidate a position. But I don’t think you’re going to see the ability for tremendous growth going forward unless people go to areas outside of the best appellations.”

Giesen 0% represents the small but rising non-alcoholic wine category. It’s part of a larger Giesen portfolio that numbered 155,000 cases in the U.S. last year. Giesen importer Pacific Highway recently agreed to be acquired by Opici Wines & Spirits for an undisclosed sum, creating a new million-case import company. “This acquisition is a unique strategic opportunity to add a complementary portfolio and drive growth for our national business,” Don Opici, CEO, announced in an internal company memo. 

Domaine Bousquet, from Origins Organic Imports, is the only South American wine on the list, topping 140,000 cases. Last year the Argentinian brand expanded Ameri, its flagship single vineyard offering, with a new Malbec that joined Bousquet’s Ameri Red Blend. The grapes for both the Malbec and the red blend are grown in the company’s vineyard in the Uco Valley’s Alto Gualtallery zone, roughly 4,000 feet above sea level, and age in French oak for one year.

The largest RTD Hot Prospect is Diageo’s Loyal 9, which quintupled its volume to 220,000 cases in 2022.
The largest RTD Hot Prospect is Diageo’s Loyal 9, which quintupled its volume to 220,000 cases in 2022.

RTDs: Rising Category’s New Stars

Amid a proliferation of brands in the fast-rising spirits-based RTD category, 14 labels achieved Hot Prospect status for 2022. While competition for shelf space and consumer attention continues to ramp up, these 14 brands have clearly gained traction and a sizeable consumer following.

The largest of the RTD Hot Prospects is Diageo’s Loyal 9, which the drinks giant acquired from Rhode Island-based Sons of Liberty Spirits for an undisclosed sum in 2021. The brand’s recent “Less Less. More More.” campaign encourages young adult consumers to enjoy summer Fridays under the code name “Jury Duty.” Loyal 9’s portfolio includes Lemonade, Mixed Berry Lemonade, Lemonade + Iced Tea, and Watermelon Lemonade flavors distributed in 4-packs of 12-ounce cans with an abv of 9%. Most recently, it added a Margarita that rolled out this summer in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. 

Diageo’s Tanqueray RTDs likewise earned honors, after growing 20% last year, as did Cîroc RTDs, one of the brands embroiled in a dispute between Diageo and former partner Sean Combs. Combs alleged in a recent lawsuit that Diageo exclusively marketed Cîroc vodka and DeLeón Tequila to black and “urban” consumers at the expense of the wider spirits market. Diageo responded that those claims are baseless and requested that the New York State court either compel Combs to submit to binding arbitration or dismiss the complaint in its entirety, with prejudice. Meanwhile, Cîroc RTDs reached 90,000 cases in their debut last year. 

Pernod Ricard placed Jameson RTDs on the Hot Prospects list, as they jumped out to 176,000 cases in the U.S. “Our research has shown that 72% of U.S. buyers of Jameson Ginger and Lime are new to the Jameson family,” says Simon Fay, business acceleration director at Irish Distillers. 

Constellation Brands has two labels among the award winners: Svedka RTDs and Fresca Mixed. Svedka’s RTD offshoot continues to climb, up 20% to 134,000 cases in 2022. Fresca Mixed is a collaboration with Coca-Cola, and has seen Constellation capitalize on the exposure offered by the Fresca brand’s fast growth in the soft drink segment, and its tie-in to the beverage alcohol business through its frequent use as a cocktail mixer.

Philadelphia-based Stateside vodka also has two brands on the list, including Surfside Iced Tea & Vodka and Stateside Vodka Soda, both of which reached 185,000 cases last year. Founded by brothers Bryan and Matt Quigley, Stateside has quickly gained steam, especially in its home market, but also up and down the Eastern Seaboard, with its products distributed throughout the mid-Atlantic as well as Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida, and Georgia. 

Another regional label making waves is 44 North from Idaho Mercantile Distillers. The brand most recently debuted two new expressions: Mountain Berry Punch and Alpine Mist. Both vodka cocktails are at 12% abv and are packaged in 1.75-liter bottles, joining the brand’s The Original Huckleberry Lemonade—which launched in 2021—throughout the West and select markets nationally.

Also from the vodka-based segment come Deep Eddy RTDs, part of the Heaven Hill range. This spring the brand added Vodka + Tea Hard Seltzers in a variety of flavors including Lemon Tea, Sweet Tea, and Peach Tea. Each can of Deep Eddy Vodka + Tea Hard Seltzer is 180 calories, gluten free, and has 4.5% abv. They join the original Deep Eddy Vodka + Sodas in the lineup.

In the Tequila-based category, Proximo Spirits is present with 1800 Ultimate Strawberry, which topped 100,000 cases last year. Another Tequila competitor is Casa Azul, launched by beverage entrepreneur Lance Collins—creator of Fuze, Core Hydration, and Bodyarmor—in August 2022 with its original line of Tequila sodas. The brand also entered the straight Tequila market this March. Casa Azul counts numerous celebrity investors among its ranks, including golfers Michelle Wie West and Brooks Koepka, football player Travis Kelce, and actress Eiza González.

Originally known for mixers, Zing Zang has successfully branched out into spirits-based RTDs, with a range that includes Bloody Mary, Blazing Bloody Mary, Margarita, Mango Margarita, and Bourbon Whiskey Sour. The company recently expanded its partnership with Southern Glazer’s, building on the companies’ previous alignment, which was focused on the central and western U.S. While SGWS is covering most of the country, Johnson Brothers also picked up Zing Zang in Minnesota, Virginia, and North and South Dakota. 

Biggies Buzzballz also made the grade after surpassing 100,000 cases. Biggies stablemates Buzzballz Chillers and Buzzballz Cocktails earned Impact “Hot Brand” awards earlier this year, and it will be no surprise if the Biggies lineup follows in their footsteps.