In recent months, California legislators have been working to expand direct-to-consumer beverage alcohol shipping beyond wine to include at least some beer and spirits. With the Golden State preparing to present new opportunities to up-and-coming brands, it’s important to take a closer look to learn more about what Californians have been drinking over the last few years. We put together a comprehensive review of trends within categories and subcategories, as well as the top brands in California, according to the latest data from Beverage Information Group.

Categories in Context 

Spirits accounted for 7.2% of the beverage alcohol market share by case volume in California last year, with 32.7 million nine-liter cases sold. Overall, spirits were the fastest-growing category over the previous two years, with 7.3% more cases sold in 2021 than in 2019. 

Beer was the top category in the state by a wide margin and also showed healthy growth, with 5% more cases sold in 2021 than two years prior. Californians consumed 355.8 million cases of beer last year. Wine volumes in 2021 only managed to exceed 2019 volumes by 1.2% and saw a 0.3% drop from 2020. The state, which is home to Napa Valley, moved almost 65.4 million cases of wine last year. 

How Subcategories Performed

Tequila performed better in California than any of the other major markets we surveyed (Florida, New York, and New Jersey). The agave spirit was the second-largest subcategory among distilled spirits in the state, accounting for 4.7 million cases sold. Vodka was the top distilled spirits subcategory with 9.3 million cases sold, but this number represented a 1.5% drop from its 2020 volumes. Tequila was followed by American whiskey, rum, and brandy/cognac. 

The prepared cocktails subcategory showed extraordinary year-over-year growth in California, increasing 40% from its 2020 volumes to account for almost 1.9 million cases in 2021. Volumes for the subcategory increased 20% nationally in 2021, half the rate of growth it achieved in the state of California. 

Table wine was the largest subcategory within wines, accounting for 87.6% of total wine volumes, but the subcategory saw a drop of nearly 1% from its 2020 volumes. Sparkling wine saw a 1.1% increase in its total volumes in 2021 and increased its share of total wine from 8.7% in 2020 to 9% in 2021. 

Top Brands in the State

Jose Cuervo was the top tequila brand and the third-best-selling distilled spirits brand overall in California, selling 958,000 cases in the state. It was only topped by Tito’s Handmade Vodka and Smirnoff, which sold 1.3 million and 1 million cases respectively. Jim Beam Family and Jameson rounded out the top five brands. 

Hennessy, E&J, and Paul Masson represented the brandy/cognac category in the top 20 brands, while Jose Cuervo RTD was the only prepared cocktail to make the list. Overall, the top 20 brands in California consisted of six vodkas, three American whiskies, three brandy/cognacs, two tequilas, two rums, two other whiskies, a liqueur, and an RTD cocktail.

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