The World’s Most Valuable Spirits Brand Is Not What You Think

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What’s the most popular distilled spirit in the world? Vodka? Scotch or bourbon? Tequila?

Not even close. The winner is baijiu, a traditional Chinese grain liquor, usually made from sorghum or rice with other grains added. Some 20 billion bottles are sold annually, almost all of them in China itself. 

And the leading brand of baijiu, Moutai, is now worth almost $30.5 billion — up an astonishing 43.4% over last year. That’s according to the Spirits 50 2019 survey just released by London-based Brand Finance, which describes itself as an “independent branded business valuation and strategy consultancy.” That makes it not just the top liquor brand but one of the most valuable brands in the world, period.

Not only is Moutai number one in the survey, but the second, third, fourth, and tenth most valuable brands are also baijius. In between are these five Western brands (in descending order) — Johnnie Walker, Jack Daniel’s, Hennessy, Bacardi, and Smirnoff. The French vodka brand Cîroc showed the most dramatic increase in value, up 113% over 2018 to a worth of $941 million.

Brand Finance calculates value through the Royalty Relief method, compliant with industry standards. This estimates potential revenues by calculating the net royalties a brand would bring in if licensed on the open market.

“Chinese baijiu brands are stealing the show, accounting for 54% of the total brand value in our rankings this year,” according to Brand Finance CEO David Haigh in a statement published in the report. He notes that “These brands have had to be nimble…following China’s recent economic and political changes,” and that how they respond to these changes will determine their future growth opportunities.

Baijiu is making modest inroads into the U.S. market, and beginning to appear in cocktails in trendy bars. There’s even a Chinese family distilling an American baijiu in Oregon. 

It’s a tough sell, though. Baiju is often expensive — Moutai’s Feitian offering has an asking price of $160 per half-bottle — and the ripe, earthy flavor takes some getting used to. But residents of some cities may be willing to pay the price — these are the cities that spend the most on alcohol