Vodka Reigns Supreme as Whiskey's 'Mad Men' Effect Fades


For many fans of hit TV show "Mad Men," if you couldn't be lead character Don Draper you could at least drink whiskey like him. But it seems fans might now be tuning into Russian TV as vodka has cements its position as America's favorite.

"Vodka continues to grow strongly in the U.S., ahead of the broader spirits market," analysts at Bernstein Research said in a note on Friday.

Ten of the top 24 spirits brands in the U.S. are now vodka, according to Bernstein, which quoted a "hit brands" poll by Impact Magazine. The list highlights the fast-growing spirits brands which have had robust growth over the last three years. All top five positions in the poll are vodkas. More specifically, dessert-style flavored vodkas have taken up key positions in the rankings, with Sweden's Svedka—owned by New York's Constellation Brands—taking the top spot.

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"In 2011, there were three overriding trends that we highlighted: the continuation of the strength of vodka, the revival of whiskey and the introduction of low-calorie cocktails targeted at women," Bernstein said.

"This year, while the general trends remain similar, we have seen a strengthening of the vodka category while whiskey and low-calorie cocktails have slowed."

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Whiskey's bounce in 2011 was put down to the popularity of television series like "Mad Men," with fans hoping to imitate fictional ad executive Don Draper, whose favorite beverage of choice was a glass of Canadian Club, served neat.

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Even HBO's prohibition drama "Boardwalk Empire" got in on the act, showing several washed up bottles of Canadian Club in its title sequence.

"Whiskey continues to benefit from the popularity of 'Mad Men' and the 'hipster' culture, though trends are decelerating." Bernstein said. "In addition to traditional whiskies, a number of innovations have helped attract new consumers into the category. While we have seen a continuation of these trends in 2012, the momentum has slowed."

Across the Atlantic the same change seems to be playing out. In the U.K., year-on-year growth for take home sales—in both value and volumes—shows vodka is a clear leader over whiskey, according to research firm Kantar Worldpanel.

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In the last four years the value of take home sales for vodka has surged by 22.5 percent, with whiskey it has seen just a 10 percent rise.

"In Great Britain we are seeing vodka performing stronger than whisky in both value and volume," Peter Christou, a consumer insight director at Kantar Worldpanel told CNBC.

"Both spirits are declining in volume terms, but price increases are keeping the two markets growing in value. Despite the faster growth for vodka in recent years, the whiskey market is still the larger at 1.1 billion pounds ($1.68 billion)."

Vodka makes up 31 percent of the total sales value of the U.S spirits market, while whiskey stands at 22 percent, according to the latest data from IRI.

However, IRI's numbers show whiskey hasn't given up the ghost yet, with sales value up 9.8 percent in the latest 52 weeks. This compares to vodka's growth of 4.7 percent over the same time period.

By's Matt Clinch. Follow him on Twitter @mattclinch81.