Increase in Bourbon Sales Abroad Credited to Rise of Southern Chic

by Gabe Bullard on May 4, 2011

When he announced his retirement earlier this year, Maker’s Mark president Bill Samuels Jr. said international interest in bourbon had increased under his tenure, and he predicted a sharp rise in sales over the next decade.

The rise in exported bourbon could be attributed to any number of factors: advertising; the maturation of the bourbon industry; or changing tastes. But Business Week speculates that bourbon sales may be part of a larger trend. The magazine points out that parts of southern culture that were previously seen as rote, extravagant or stereotypical  are fast becoming haute outside of the region.

The rise of the Southern brand, though, seems linked to the fall of many other things. “Consumers have been increasingly interested in the South as a result of several trends,” explains Savannah Haspel of market research firm IBIS World. (Yes, that’s her real name.) Among them, she says, is that “post-Katrina funding and aid turned consumers’ attention toward the region.” Harvey Jackson, a professor of history at Alabama’s Jacksonville State University and an editor of The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, believes that in uncertain times, “the South is a calmer, quieter place, and a lot of folks are craving that right now.”

And as others emulate southern culture, Kentucky exports prosper.

In the U.K., sales of Kentucky bourbon have risen by 25 percent since 2005, according to London-based market research firm International Wine and Spirits Research. (IWSR also predicts sales will increase an additional 22 percent by 2014.) The independent movie Winter’s Bone, which chronicles a teenage girl’s travails chopping wood and killing squirrels, is on pace to eclipse its U.S. domestic gross with overseas revenue.

But while some interest in bourbon and rural America may be good for business and tourism in Kentucky, there can be a dark side. As we’ve reported, certain events in southern history can’t be overlooked.

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