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If you’ve lost that loving feeling when it comes to bourbon’s recent surge in popularity, plenty of data points can help you rekindle that fire within. From sales data, to the increased number of United States distilleries, to the ever-growing number of releases we report on our Bourbon & American Whiskey Release Calendar, all indicators point in one direction: up.

There is one indicator that I find particularly interesting when analyzing what’s trending, and it’s readily-available and easily-accessible to all. Google Trends is a feature offered by Google that shows how frequently a given search term is entered into the Google search engine relative to Google’s total search volume over a given period of time. Basically, it allows us to see how popular a given search term is, how it compares to other search terms, and even allows us to break the results down by geographical region, among other things.

Consider this article a launching point. To make it easy for you, I’ve captured the results of a handful of search trends below along with some key takeaways. If you want to dig deeper, just click the results link to see it live on Google Trends where you can explore further. 


Moreover, these are only a small fraction of the data points revealed by this tool. If you think of any other interesting key term searches, look them up and then be sure to come back and drop the link in the Comments section below!

Results can be found here

Search term 1: bourbon

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Not surprisingly, the search term “bourbon” has consistently trended upward since the dataset started in 2004. Annual surges occur consistently, gaining the most ground in November and December each year. Also not surprising, is the fact that the state of Kentucky returns the most searches. However, it is a bit surprising to see Louisiana in second...but then again bourbon doesn’t just refer to the spirit. Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana is also quite popular.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: bourbon

Search term 2: scotch

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: As a category of whiskey, scotch is arguably bourbon’s competition when it comes to a popularity contest. While the search term “bourbon” has increased dramatically in the United States, the search term “scotch” has remained relatively flat by comparison, and as a result now quite a bit less popular than “bourbon.” Notably, the same surges occur in the November-December months for scotch as they do with bourbon.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: bourbon

Search term 2: scotch

Region: Worldwide

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Restricting the “bourbon” vs. “scotch” search term comparison to just the United States might be a little unfair though, given bourbon is America’s Native Spirit and can only be produced in the United States while scotch is a product of Scotland, and notably very popular around the world. Expanding the same comparison worldwide reveals a much closer race between these two popular whiskey categories, with "bourbon" taking a bit of a lead in recent years. It’s also worth noting the search term “bourbon” is very popular in Brazil. Further research reveals “bourbon” is a reference to coffee within the country, which appears to be popular in Brazil.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: pappy van winkle

Search term 2: buffalo trace

Search term 3: four roses

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Zeroing in on specific bourbon brands starts to reveal even more about popularity and growth. Given the incredible amount of discussion surrounding Pappy Van Winkle, an arguably small brand that is actually distilled by Buffalo Trace, it seemed like a fun place to start. Adding “buffalo trace” and “four roses” as comparisons to “pappy van winkle” (the graph becomes a bit messy beyond three search terms at a time), reveals just how popular the "pappy van winkle" search term is. While all three search terms have increased in popularity and show November-December surges consistent with other search terms (along with the fact that limited releases often come out in the fall), “pappy van winkle” experiences tremendous surges by comparison to the others. Notably, “buffalo trace” has demonstrated a stronger upward trend than the others when normalizing the surges.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: knob creek

Search term 2: wild turkey 101

Search term 3: elijah craig

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Drawing another comparison among brands reveals some more interesting data. While “knob creek” is more popular than “wild turkey 101” and “elijah craig,” “elijah craig” also shows the strongest recent growth. This may be due to the changes Heaven Hill has taken with the brand, along with efforts to make it an arguably more household name. This includes the loss of the 12 year statement on the standard bottling, the introduction of multiple brand extensions, and a bottle redesign all taking place in recent years.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: jim beam

Search term 2: heaven hill

Search term 3: maker’s mark

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Arguably “jim beam” should return high popularity given how popular the brand is. It does, and not surprisingly, “maker’s mark” follows. A distant third is “heaven hill,” which is notably more associated with the distillery and company than a brand, though there are multiple brands they produce using the Heaven Hill name. This is arguably a good case for why the company introduced Heaven Hill 7 Year Bottled in Bond, coupled with a move to release it nationwide as opposed to keeping it only for Kentucky (as was the case with its 6 year old predecessor). It certainly seems like a good idea to have a strong flagship product that incites name recognition across the brand(s) and the distillery where they’re produced.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: jack daniel’s

Search term 2: jim beam

Search term 3: pappy van winkle

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Given its popularity, I couldn’t resist exploring the “jack daniel’s” search term in comparison to a few popular bourbon brands revealed previously. By a landslide, “jack daniel’s” is more popular than “jim beam” and “pappy van winkle,” though it shows a strong consistent trend as opposed to a strong upward trend. Aside from a surge and then plateau that took place around 2009 - 2011, “jack daniel’s” has remained fairly constant in terms of popularity. It’s also most popular in Tennessee…go figure right?

Results can be found here 

Search term 1: is jack daniel’s bourbon

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway:
Just for fun, I was curious how the question “is jack daniel’s bourbon” has trended. It’s gotten more popular in recent years and surges kind of randomly. Maybe the surges represent every time someone writes an article or blog post about it. Notably, adding a “?” to the search returns no data.

Results can be found here

Search term 1: is jack daniel’s bourbon

Search term 2: is the world flat

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: I wanted some relativity to the question above, so I threw in another one (and yes, Jack Daniel’s is as much bourbon as bourbon is whiskey). Maybe more notable, around 2005 - 2007 there was a surge in searches for “is the world is flat.” Thankfully that trend has come down quite a bit...what year was the Common Core introduced again?

Results can be found here 

Search term 1: bourbon reviews

Search term 2: breaking bourbon

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: At Breaking Bourbon, we are probably most known for bourbon reviews. With that being said, I was curious how the search term “bourbon reviews” compared to “breaking bourbon.” While “bourbon reviews” is still more popular, a recent trend shows we’re gaining ground on the general search term. As mentioned above, a lot of our traffic is generated by direct brand searches, such as “wild turkey 101 review” for example, so this only reveals direct traffic. 

Results can be found here 

Search term 1: whiskey

Search term 2: whisky

Region: United States

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: As a final comparison, I wanted to check out the popularity of the search terms “whiskey” vs. “whisky.” While it is interesting to note the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) along with the United States regulations use the term “whisky,” the term “whiskey” is generally considered more popular in the United States. As revealed by the search term comparison, “whiskey” wins by a landslide.

Results can be found here 

Search term 1: whiskey

Search term 2: whisky

Region: Worldwide

Period: 2004 - present


Takeaway: Like the bourbon vs. scotch comparison, “whiskey” vs. “whisky” is probably more fairly compared worldwide. While I expected “whisky” to come out ahead on this one, I was surprised to learn that “whiskey” is the more popular worldwide search term and continues to be on a very consistent basis.


Conclusion

The purpose of exposing this data isn’t to draw an overall conclusion or settle on a statement of some kind. Rather, it’s a fun exploration into one specific source of data that helps us understand some of the ins and outs of the world’s growing affection for bourbon. I’ve shown just a small subset of searches here. There are infinite possibilities and there is plenty more that can be revealed. So check out Google Trends, and if you uncover any fun pieces of data come back here and drop a summary and the search results link into the Comments section below.


Written By: Nick

April 17, 2020
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