There’s something decadent about a really good liquor. Rarely are suave, sophisticated, or rich figures in the media portrayed with a bottle of beer in their hand; rather, they have martinis (see James Bond), or Cosmopolitans (see Carrie Bradshaw of Sex and the City). Realistically speaking, however, for the struggling students and young professionals among us our habitual and frequent drink of choice is beer or wine, perhaps given its relative cheap price in comparison to its higher-percentage counterparts.
An annual survey on America’s alcohol consumption habits by Gallup in 2013 concluded that the most popular drink amongst eighteen to twenty-nine year olds in the United States was beer, with a considerable 41% stating that it was their preferred drink. The same survey, however, also showed that 28% of the same age group was a fan of liquor, which shows our attraction to a good spirit. This is a 15% increase in liquor fans within about a decade, with the 1992-1994 Gallup survey showing that only 13% of this age group considered spirits their favourite alcohol.
In keeping with the expansion of the worldwide consumption of different liquors, Drinks International set up a Millionaire’s Club, the sole purpose of which is to rank the biggest-selling brands in the global spirits industry. To be deemed eligible for inclusion on the list, brands must achieve minimum global sales volumes of one million nine-litre cases within the space of a year, which is no mean feat. Surprisingly enough given this stipulation, the 2013 Millionaire’s Club list manages to include one hundred and seventy-six brands. And who were the top 10 winners? Here they are…
10. Pirassununga 51, 18.5 million cases
At number ten is the mysteriously-named Pirassununga 51. Owned by the Companhia Müller de Bebidas, Pirassununga 51 is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Brazil, and was recorded in 2013 as having sold eighteen and a half million nine-litre cases worldwide the preceding year. The spirit has been around since 1543, when the distillation process was developed in Sao Paulo. Pirassununga 51 is a type of cachaça liquor, which differs from rum in that it is distilled from fermented sugar-cane juice – or garapa – instead of molasses. Cachaça is especially potent since the sugar-cane juice ferments in a container made of wood or copper for three weeks before it is distilled, and is then boiled down until its three times concentrated.
9. Johnnie Walker, 18.9 million cases
At number nine is Johnnie Walker, which sold almost nineteen million cases within a year. A type of scotch whiskey, Johnnie Walker is owned by the Diageo company. It has numerous different and distinctive labels, including black, red, and gold. John Walker was born in 1801 near Kilmarnock, a town in East Ayrshire, Scotland. By the year 1825 Walker was the lucrative owner of a grocery shop, and sold everything from writing paper to his own whiskies.
By 1860, the distinctive whiskey had begun to be distributed worldwide as the quintessential example of a Scottish liquor. Today, Johnnie Walker is billed by the official Diageo website as the number one scotch whiskey in the world, with its top market being the United States. The liquor has very recently come under scrutiny for its new range of Johnnie Walker Explorers’ Club whiskey. The Explorers’ Club, members of which include Neil Armstrong, claims that Diageo is seeking to affiliate itself with them by association of similar branding. Diageo has as yet declined to comment.
8. McDowell’s No. 1, 19.5 million cases
Developed by United Spirits, McDowell’s No. 1 sold nineteen and a half million cases in 2013. The brand was established in the year 1960 with the launch of McDowell’s No. 1 Brandy. Today the company produces brandy and rum as well as whiskey, but whiskey makes up the majority of its sales. McDowell’s No. 1 is the largest alcoholic beverage franchise in India and its whiskey is now the best-selling whiskey brand in Nigeria. It also holds the title of the world’s largest non-scotch whiskey offering.
7. Tanduay, 19.6 million cases
At number seven, with sales records of nineteen point six million cases within the last year, is Tanduay. Owned by Tanduay Distillers, the liquor is a type of rum. Tanduay Distillers is based in the Philippines, the country which has been home to the sugar-cane since around 4,000 BC. Tanduay rum is revered thanks to its use of Philippines-grown sugar-cane; the plant flourishes in the country’s climate and soil conditions. Tanduay is made by boiling the juices of the sugar-cane at a low and therefore less destructive boiling point. The juices are then separated from the crystalized sugar, and are left as molasses. This is fermented with pure water and yeast, during which time the mixture is kept in a sealed heated vessel, which evaporates the alcohols. They are then re-condensed and collected, and rested for five years before bottling. Tanduay comes in two main varieties, Silver and Gold.
6. Bacardi, 19.8 million cases
At number six is another brand of rum: Bacardi, which is said to have sold close to twenty million cases last year. The company Bacardi is the largest privately held spirits company in the world, other notable products of which include Grey Goose vodka and Blue Sapphire gin. Its Bacardi rum is the world’s best-selling rum. The company has been family-run since it was founded in Santiago de Cuba in 1862 by Don Facundo Bacardí Massó. Bacardi rum comes in different forms, including Dark, Superior and Oakheart, which is a spiced version that is fermented in charred oak barrels.
5. Ginebra san Miguel, 23.8 million cases
Ginebra san Miguel, a brand of gin, is at number five, having sold twenty-three point eight million cases worldwide in one year. The spirit is owned by a company of the same name which came out of a family-owned Spanish era distillery, and which introduced Ginebra san Miguel as the first ever Philippine gin in 1834. Today, the gin is the number one selling gin in the world. It is a Dutch-type gin, the main flavour of which comes from the juniper berry.
4. Lotte liquor, 25.4 million cases
At number four is Lotte liquor, owned by company Lotte Liquor BG, which was taken over in 2011 by the Lotte Chilsung Beverage Co., Ltd. Lotte liquor is a type of soju, a South Korean spirit, which consistently rates as the world’s best-selling spirit and sold twenty-five point four million cases within a last year. As with all spirits, the quality of the taste depends on the quality of the brand, but at the better end of the scale soju is said to taste buttery, grainy and/or malty, and also slightly sweet. Lotte liquor uses alkaline water in its soju, which gives the liquor a smooth taste and soothes the throat.
3. Smirnoff, 25.8 million cases
World-famous vodka Smirnoff is at number three, having sold close on twenty-six million cases worldwide in just one year. Also owned by Diageo, Smirnoff vodka is the largest vodka brand in the world. Created in 1864 by one Pyotr Arsenievich Smirnov, the alcohol quickly spread throughout the world. The 1940s saw the invention in the US of the Moscow Mule cocktail — ginger beer, lime, and Smirnoff vodka — which doubled sales of the brand. Smirnoff vodka is now one of the most iconic alcohol brands in the world, having been used in the very first James Bond film in 1963 as a component of Bond’s signature drink.
2. Emperador, 31 million cases
At number two is Emperador, which has sold over thirty million cases in the space of a year. Emperador is a type of brandy, and is owned by the Alliance Global Group. The company is another based in the Philippines, and boasts Emperador as the world’s best-selling brandy, selling almost twice as well as other well-known brands of the liquor, such as Hennessey. Emperador has received the Readers’ Digest Trusted Brand Award — an award given to brands that consistently show excellent quality, value, trustworthiness, image, and customer service — in the years 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2009.
1. Jinro, 65.3 million cases
The number one best-selling liquor in the world is a brand of soju named Jinro, which sold sixty-five point three million cases worldwide in just one year. Owned by Hite-Jinro, Jinro soju is a clear spirit traditionally made of rice and tastes sweet and light. The drink’s incredible popularity is often linked to its medium-proof level, which means that establishments that are not fully liquor licensed can legally sell it, despite its close resemblance to vodka. There’s also the fact that it’s incredibly cheap, at least in Korea; the drink can cost as little as the equivalent of one US dollar.