Shining Stars

The Blue Chip list recognizes the beverage industry’s long-term success stories.

Each year, Market Watch sister publication Impact Newsletter honors the best-performing wine, spirits, and beer brands in the U.S. market over the past decade with its “Blue Chip Brands” honor roll. Amid fluctuating economic conditions, shifting consumer tastes, and unforeseen geopolitical challenges, these standout brands have done no less than set the pace in the drinks business over the long term. To meet Impact’s Blue Chip criteria, brands must show at least ten consecutive years of volume growth, or average annual compound growth of at least 0.5% from 2012 through 2022 with positive growth in at least eight of those ten years. In addition, the brands must have maintained gross margins of at least $25 million last year. 

Spirits: Whiskies, Tequilas Dominate 

The 35 Blue Chip spirits brands cover a wide range representing different categories, price tiers, origins, and styles. While the winners span from a bottled, premixed Margarita to top shelf Tequilas and super-premium whiskies, all share a decade (or more) of success, seeing consistent growth over the past ten years at volumes of half a million cases or more. In all, 2022’s Blue Chip spirits brands accounted for almost 93 million cases and averaged nearly 10% growth per year from 2012 to 2022. Overall, volumes for 2022’s Blue Chip spirits grew by 2.5 times, from a 2012 base of 36 million cases. 

As in years past, whiskies lead the way with 15 Blue Chip brands. American whiskies dominate, accounting for two-thirds of the Blue Chip whiskies. Canada notched three winning brands and Ireland and Scotland each earned one. Tequila was the second most prominent category with nine brands earning honors. While vodka may not have the most winning brands by number, the category does contain Tito’s, the largest of the Blue Chip spirits brands. Last year, the vodka was at 11.55 million cases, making it the second largest spirits brand in the U.S., behind only Spirit of Gallo’s High Noon Sun Sips. Over the last decade, Tito’s averaged nearly 30% growth per year and grew from under 1 million cases into an industry leading juggernaut. Tito’s singular approach—the brand still only offers a single release in a variety of bottle sizes—makes it a rarity within the category. Behind Tito’s is Spirit of Gallo’s New Amsterdam. At 5.3 million cases, the domestic vodka has nearly quintupled in size since 2012. The brand’s success comes from a variety of flavors, its significant partnership with the National Hockey League, and Pink Whitney, a lemonade-flavored vodka. The remaining two Blue Chip vodka brands hover around 2 million cases each. The larger brand, Sazerac’s Platinum 7X, averaged 11.2% growth each year from 2012 to 2022. Hot on its heels is Heaven Hill’s Deep Eddy at 1.95 million cases. Deep Eddy’s ascent has been rapid, with the brand’s average growth from 2012 to 2022 totaling over 40% each year. 

After Tito’s, the remaining four of the top five Blue Chip brands are all whiskies. At 7.2 million and 7.15 million cases each, respectively, Diageo’s Crown Royal and Sazerac’s Fireball are nearly neck and neck. Crown averaged 5.5% growth each year from 2012 to 2022 and Fireball averaged 24.3% over the same period. Though both are Canadian whiskies, the pair occupy very different market segments, with Fireball focusing on a single flavored release and Crown offering a wider portfolio. While Crown’s flavors—including Peach, Apple, and Vanilla—are quite popular, the brand also extends into the luxury market with age-stated whiskies and other high-end releases. 

Meanwhile, Proximo Spirits’ Pendleton has earned its first Blue Chip award. Last year the brand hit 500,000 cases while averaging nearly 12% growth each year for the preceding decade, landing it a spot on the list in its first year of eligibility. Just behind Fireball is Brown-Forman’s Jack Daniel’s, the largest domestic whiskey. At roughly 6.8 million cases in 2022, the brand has long been a steady grower. Since 2012, Jack has tacked on nearly 1.5 million cases and averaged 2.4% growth each year. While the bulk of Jack’s volume comes from its flagship Old No.7 Tennessee whiskey, Brown-Forman releases a steady stream of newcomers, whether flavors like Tennessee Apple, the brand’s Bonded whiskey series, or higher-end offerings like the age-stated 10-year-old. Woodford Reserve also made the grade after nearing 1.3 million cases, over a million more than it sold in 2012. 

Jim Beam is the first of four whiskey brands from Beam Suntory to earn an award. Last year, Jim Beam cracked 6 million cases. Over the preceding decade the brand rose from 3.5 million cases, averaging 5.6% growth each year. Beam’s more upscale cousin Maker’s Mark neared 2.4 million cases and doubled in size over 2012. Beam’s final two Blue Chip whiskies—Knob Creek and Basil Hayden—reached 539,000 cases and 530,000 cases respectively. Heaven Hill’s lone Blue Chip whiskey for 2022 is Evan Williams. The venerable and affordably priced brand more than doubled in size between 2012 and 2022, approaching 3.5 million cases and averaging nearly 8% growth each year. Diageo’s Bulleit once again earned the award, reaching roughly 1.7 million cases last year and averaging 18.4% growth annually from 2012 to 2022. Similarly positioned is Campari America’s Wild Turkey. The brand sits just behind Bulleit at nearly 1.4 million cases, averaging 5.3% growth per year. The final Blue Chip American whiskey is Ole Smoky’s namesake brand from Tennessee. The moonshine-focused distillery averaged an impressive 30% growth per year from 2012 to 2022, finally reaching 1.2 million cases last year, far above its 2012 base of 90,000 cases. Rounding out the Blue Chip whiskies are an Irish juggernaut from Pernod Ricard and a rising blended Scotch from Diageo. Pernod’s Jameson reached 4.2 million cases last year, rising from 1.6 million in 2012. Diageo’s Buchanan’s, meanwhile, reached 655,000 cases in 2022, averaging 8.5% growth each year for the prior decade.

Tequilas are well-represented as well. Jose Cuervo is the only agave spirit to surpass 5 million cases in the U.S. In addition to the core Jose Cuervo, the brand’s pre-mixed Margaritas also earned a Blue Chip nod. (Also from the RTD segment, Southern Champion’s Buzzballz earned honors.) Patrón, though still far away from dethroning Cuervo, is the second largest Blue Chip Tequila at just under 3 million cases. Two other Blue Chip Tequilas were above 2 million cases: Diageo’s Don Julio and Proximo’s 1800. The luxury-priced Diageo brand was just under 2.1 million cases in 2022, while 1800 reached just over 2 million cases, rising from a 2012 base of 925,000. Beam Suntory’s Hornitos and Campari America’s Espolòn are also both Blue Chip winning Tequilas above 1 million cases. The remaining Blue Chip Tequila brands are under 1 million cases, starting with Brown-Forman’s El Jimador at 921,000. Growing at an average rate of 11.3% each year for the last decade, the brand is certain to cross the million-case threshold if trends continue. Bacardi’s Cazadores and William Grant and Sons’ Milagro round out the winning Tequilas. The Bacardi brand hit 759,000 cases with an AACGR of 11.6% and the William Grant brand reached 605,000. 

The remaining 2022 Blue Chip spirits winners come from a grab bag of categories, with Cognac leading the way with three winners. Category giant Hennessy is in the top ten Blue Chip brands by volume, at 3.7 million cases last year. Behind Hennessy is Bacardi’s D’Ussé, one the great success stories of the last decade. In 2012, the brand sold 3,000 cases, and by 2022 it reached 709,000 cases. The final Blue Chip Cognac is Beam Suntory’s Courvoisier, earning its first Blue Chip win with an average of 4.2% growth from 2012 to 2022. Two liqueurs also earned Blue Chip honors with Spirit of Gallo’s RumChata reaching 645,000 cases, averaging 7.5% growth each year, and Campari America’s Grand Marnier at 624,000 cases, averaging 2.6% annual growth. Finally, Pernod Ricard’s Malibu is the only rum brand to earn a Blue Chip award for 2022, and at nearly 2.8 million cases is a major player in the category. Gin’s lone representative, William Grant and Sons’ Hendrick’s, reached 587,000 cases, averaging 12.9% growth each year from 2012 to 2022. 

Wine: 24 Brands Earn Honors

There are 24 Blue Chip wine brands this year, five of which are new. They represent a strong mix of origins including California, France, and Italy, among others, speaking to the robust variety the segment offers. The Blue Chip brands have only accelerated in recent years, collectively quadrupling in size from a total volume of 12.5 million cases in 2012 to 50.3 million cases last year. The top Blue Chip wine was stalwart Bota Box, produced by Delicato Family Wines. The brand, which depleted 10.5 million cases last year, has averaged annual compound growth of 16.6% over the last decade. It has been boosted by various innovations over the past few years including the better-for-you Bota Breeze and wine-based cocktail Bota’Rita. Delicato also made the list with the Diamond Collection from Francis Ford Coppola Winery. The Diamond Collection’s wines surpassed 1 million cases last year, and Delicato announced this summer that it would back the brand with its first national advertising push. “Coppola Diamond Collection is our No.-1 priority among our glass brands and is a brand that we view as having a lot of latent equity,” says Delicato’s executive vice president of marketing Jon Guggino. 

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits was honored for Josh Cellars, which has made one of the most dramatic climbs over the past decade. From a base of 130,000 cases in 2012, the California label depleted 5.5 million cases last year, having achieved an average annual compound growth rate of 45%. The brand continues to expand with new offerings, like the variant Hearth Cabernet Sauvignon, which launched in April with a higher abv than the standard version. 

Constellation had several brands make the list, including Kim Crawford, which reached 1.8 million cases last year. Just behind is Meiomi, also at 1.8 million cases. The two wines have received significant marketing support, with each backed by media spends of approximately $16 million. Meiomi is the largest-volume brand in the U.S. priced at above $15 a bottle. Also from Constellation is Ruffino Prosecco, which is new to the list. An Italian import, it depleted just over half a million cases last year. Stella Rosa, from Riboli Family, repeated as a Blue Chip brand. The low-abv Italian label was just shy of 4 million cases last year, backed by an advertising outlay of $6 million. Stella Rosa most recently has introduced a range of sweet and spicy wines including Lime & Chili and Mango & Chili. 

Jackson Family Wines’ La Crema, among the largest super-premium wine brands in the U.S., has roughly doubled its volume since 2012 and reached 1.6 million cases last year. And J. Lohr Vineyards’ eponymous Estates line also continues to draw on a deep well of loyal drinkers at 1.5 million cases. La Crema and J. Lohr rank second and third after Meiomi among California’s $15-plus wine brands in the U.S. E. & J. Gallo is honored with three Blue Chips. The first is newcomer Black Box, which averaged 12% compound growth over the past decade. Gallo rolled out six new Black Box options last year, including offerings under the “Taste-Forward” range and a lower-calorie “Brilliant Collection.” Also for Gallo, Italian sparkler La Marca broke 3 million cases last year and New Zealand label Whitehaven was a newcomer at 737,000 cases. Fellow Kiwi label Oyster Bay also made the list, depleting 1.2 million cases. 

Elsewhere, Moët Hennessy’s California sparkling label Chandon reached 537,000 cases. Moët Hennessy’s two other Blue Chips are Champagne leader Veuve Clicquot and French rosé Chateau d’Esclans, which were at 663,000 cases and 650,000 cases, respectively. Chateau d’Esclans’ lineup ranges from The Beach by Whispering Angel up through prestige level Garrus. “We are starting to see a stronger movement toward our Rock Angel cuvée, due to consumers’ acceptance of rosé as a more ‘serious and legitimate’ wine offering,” says Paul Chevalier, vice president of Château d’Esclans at Moët Hennessy USA. 

The Duckhorn Portfolio’s California flagship Decoy by Duckhorn reached 1.4 million cases last year. Duckhorn’s CEO, Alex Ryan, recently announced his retirement from the company, with former Diageo North America president Deirdre Mahlan replacing him on an interim basis. Sonoma-Cutrer, recently acquired by Duckhorn from Brown-Forman, is another above-premium powerhouse at 543,000 cases. 

Two Italian labels among the winners are Roscato and Mionetto. Roscato, imported by Palm Bay, had volume of just over 1 million cases last year, up from 150,000 in 2012. Mionetto Prosecco introduced a packaging refresh earlier this year, and also expanded its event series Il Passaporto to additional markets. 

Two eponymous brands on the list are Gérard Bertrand and Daou. The former climbed to 600,000 cases, fueled by growth in rosé, while Daou was at 590,000 cases. Finally, fellow California brand Joel Gott, part of the Trinchero portfolio, was at 960,000 cases, while JaM Cellars’ Butter Chardonnay is closing in on 1 million cases. 

Beer: Mexican Imports Lead

This year’s Blue Chips from the beer and flavored malt beverage categories number six brands, half of which are owned by Constellation Brands. In addition, two flavored malt beverages made the grade, along with one domestic light beer. Constellation’s portfolio of Mexican imports has been a massive growth driver for the company over the long term, and its growth continues apace. This year, top imported beer brand Modelo Especial returns to the Blue Chip list, along with portfoliomates Pacifico and Negra Modelo. All three brands also earned Impact “Hot Brand” awards earlier this year, illustrating their ongoing steep trajectories. Modelo Especial has averaged 15% volume growth annually over the past decade, during which the brand’s U.S. volume has more than quadrupled in size. It’s now the second-largest beer brand in the U.S. Modelo’s vice president of brand marketing Greg Gallagher attributes the brand’s phenomenal run to its focus on growing its consumer base and advertising efforts. “Modelo Especial continued to expand our reach within the general market while keeping the core Hispanic consumer top of mind,” he says. 

Growth for Pacifico, meanwhile, accelerated last year, soaring 30% to 17.7 million cases. Ryan Anderson, senior director for brand marketing at Pacifico and Victoria credits the performance to the brand’s growing popularity with young LDA consumers, a group that has befuddled many beer brands. “We’re focused on the LDA ‘Zillennial’ consumer and leaning in even more in the digital and social space since that’s where they’re spending their time,” he says. Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Michelob Ultra is the fourth-largest beer brand in the U.S., just behind Modelo Especial. The brand continues to be marketed with tie-ins to sports and fitness. 

From the flavored malt beverage category, Twisted Tea and Seagram’s Escapes likewise earned Blue Chip nods. Twisted Tea continues to be a growth engine for Boston Beer. Brand director Erica Taylor says Twisted Tea has broadened its reach by “increasing our media and sponsorship investments.” Seagram’s Escapes, part of the Fifco USA range, has doubled in size over the past ten years. Overall, Fifco ranks as the tenth-largest brewer in the U.S. at just under 30 million (2.25-gallon) cases. In addition to Seagram’s Escapes, its portfolio includes the Genesee line of beers, Cream ale, and the Original Honey Brown lager, and it’s the exclusive importer of the Labatt family of brands.