Words & Deeds

Idaho is buying more liquor than ever. The most popular booze is ... whaaat?

Idaho-made vodkas on display at the bar in Chandlers Steakhouse. As a category, vodka is the most popular booze in Idaho — and the nation.
Idaho-made vodkas on display at the bar in Chandlers Steakhouse. As a category, vodka is the most popular booze in Idaho — and the nation. Statesman file

Put down that cinnamon whiskey shot. Ready for a sobering statistic?

The Idaho State Liquor Division sold more booze than ever in fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30. Sales hit $203.4 million — up 6.5 percent. A whopping 12.2 million bottles were sold — up 3.9 percent.

Don’t beat yourself up too much. (Your liver might already feel smacked around.) Tony Faraca, CFO at the Idaho State Liquor Division, says the sales pace probably has more to do with population growth and the state’s thriving economy than overall consumption.

Idaho liquor sales have risen for several years, hovering around 6 to 7 percent growth.

“The economy is definitely humming,” Faraca says. “People are buying. They’re going out. They’re spending money. If people are moving here — jobs, retirees, whatever — that helps everybody.”

The Treasure Valley led the charge. Liquor sales in Boise and its surrounding cities were up 9.5 percent.

“Strongest I’ve seen of any area of the state,” Faraca says.

It’s not just Boise, though. This entire side of Idaho has been raising a toast.

“Even Pocatello has been stronger than it’s ever been,” Faraca says. “Twin Falls is doing well. Idaho Falls. We’ve got kind of everything in Southern Idaho firing on all cylinders.”

Washington accounts for about 7 percent of Idaho liquor sales. After Washington residents voted to change their liquor stores from state-run operations to private businesses in 2012, prices went up. Washingtonians now drive across the border to save a few bucks in the Gem State.

Dollar sales climbed faster than bottle sales last year. That means Idahoans drank more premium liquor and less bottom-shelf swill.

As a category, vodka is the most popular liquor in Idaho by volume. That’s also true nationwide, Faraca says.

But you might be surprised by Idaho’s favorite liquor. Based on total volume — meaning ounces sold overall — the Gem State’s most popular choices in fiscal year 2017 were:

1. Black Velvet Blended Canadian Whisky (regular): A new religion that will bring you to your knees, to quote singer Alannah Myles. Idahoans obviously appreciate the combination of taste and price.

2. Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey: Remember when people bought Jagermeister shots? Fireball has cornered that market. Based on dollar sales, it’s the No. 1 liquor in Idaho.

3. Smirnoff Vodka (regular): Winning that famous New York Times taste test in 2005 still feels good, right?

4. Potter’s Vodka: I couldn’t find a company website to link. That should tell you all you need to know. Grab a 1.75-liter bottle for under $14.

5. Tito’s Handmade Vodka (regular): This Austin, Texas-based vodka has grown massive while staying artisanal in consumer minds.

In dollar sales, the top three were Fireball, Crown Royal Canadian Whisky (regular) and Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7.

So what will be the next trendy liquor? The booze that will be stacked in high-profile displays at every liquor store?

“Remember moonshine?” Faraca asks. Yep. That “Moonshiners” show is still hanging around on Discovery Channel.

“Apparently, someone’s trying to start a mezcal craze,” Faraca says.

Liquor-company representatives are bombarding the Idaho State Liquor Division in hopes of getting mezcal placed on store shelves, Faraca says.

Will the attempted mezcal bandwagon plow forward? Let me ask you this: Do you like a worm in your booze? (It’s mezcal, not tequila, that sometimes includes the infamous moth larvae in the bottle.)

Faraca says he’s not an expert on mezcal, but he does know that it’s distinctive because of its smoky flavor.

“It’s kind of like a combination of tequila and scotch,” he says.

Hmmm. Anybody up for a sip of chilled Fireball?

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