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Iowa liquor sales hit record in fiscal 2020 and Black Velvet whisky is still No. 1

'We've had huge numbers since COVID,' official says

The most popular spirit in Iowa is Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey (center) according to the Iowa Department of Alcoholic
The most popular spirit in Iowa is Black Velvet Canadian Whiskey (center) according to the Iowa Department of Alcoholic Beverages. (Gazette file photo)

Like the heart, home apparently also is where the booze is.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa last March and a subsequent temporary shutdown of Iowa’s bars, restaurants and hospitality industry and mitigation directives to slow the viral spread meant more Iowans were working and drinking at home — which translated into record liquor sales for fiscal 2020.

Officials in the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division say in a report released Thursday that liquor sales totaled $367.3 million during the fiscal year that ended June 30 — an increase of 8.2 percent over the previous fiscal year. Those record sales compared with $339.5 million in fiscal 2019, meaning the division transferred more than $133 million to the state’s general fund.

“We’ve had huge numbers since COVID,” said division Administrator Stephen Larson, who noted the current fiscal year that started July 1 likely will be even bigger with liquor sales running up to 16 percent higher than the fiscal 2020 record pace. “We’re seeing patterns of increased purchasing of beer, wine and spirits.”

The surging consumption of alcoholic beverages that began last March corresponded with Gov. Kim Reynold’s public health emergency proclamations and was rooted in part to changing consumer behaviors brought on by the pandemic that “created outliers in regards to profits and consumption.”

“We can’t measure that, but I can tell you that behavior changed so people went home to drink where in the old days they would stop at their local pub and have a few. And so they’re having a few at home and they might add on a couple more at home because there’s nothing to do,” said Larson. “Because they’re working at home, they get off at 4:30, they may start a little earlier.”

According to the agency, American vodka, Canadian whisky and spiced rum continued to be the top three categories of spirits in Iowa measured by gallons sold during fiscal 2020.

Black Velvet Canadian Whisky, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, Captain Morgan’s Original Spiced Rum, Hawkeye Vodka and Fireball Cinnamon Whisky were the top-selling brands, while Blue Ox Vodka was the top selling Iowa-made spirit. The top 50 brands sold in Iowa accounted for more than 60 percent of the yearly sales.

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Polk County topped Iowa’s 99 counties with liquor sales of $84.8 million, followed by Linn County with $32 million, Scott County with $26.6 million, Johnson County with $21 million and Black Hawk County with $20.1 million, according to the fiscal 2020 report.

State tax revenue from beer and wine products was down in fiscal 2020 but not due to less consumption, state officials said. Rather the decline resulted from the deferment of taxes and fees until Dec. 31 under the governor’s emergency order. Officials said it likely would be early spring when they would be able to determine how much wine and beer was sold and consumed in Iowa in the past fiscal year and beyond.

The issues related to beer and wine sales and revenue made for an incomplete picture of Iowans’ overall consumption of alcohol and license fee collections for fiscal 2020, Larson noted. The record sales numbers for fiscal 2020 would have been even larger had all the yearly data been complete, he said.

During the fiscal year, the division issued nearly 17,000 alcohol licenses, permits and certificates for a total of $17.6 million in revenue, which also was less than fiscal 2019 because of COVID-19 measures.

Additionally, the deferment of taxes and fees resulted in decreases in license and tax revenue. However, division officials said the decrease in revenue was minimal compared to the increase in liquor sales, which significantly offset those reduced revenues.

“This report demonstrates that ABD continues to provide a significant return on investment to the citizens of Iowa,” said Larson. “Despite the challenging times during the pandemic, the citizen-owned distribution model generated over $133 million that will be used by the Legislature for programs that benefit all Iowans, regardless of whether they choose to consume alcohol.”

He said public health and safety of Iowans was a priority for the division during the pandemic, with officials able to use the agency’s distribution system to disperse supplies such as hand sanitizer and masks to state agencies and charitable groups across the state.

Overall, the division’s compliance and education initiatives resulted in nearly 21,000 people being trained and certified in the responsible selling and serving of alcohol and over $100,000 collected as a result of licensees not in compliance with state laws.

Comments: (515) 243-7220; rod.boshart@thegazette.com

Iowans’ favorite spirits

The top 10 by gallons sold in fiscal 2020:

1. Black Velvet Canadian Whisky: 402,541

2. Tito’s Handmade Vodka: 289,097

3. Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum: 246,196

4. Hawkeye Vodka: 236,985

5. Fireball Cinnamon Whisky: 231,631

6. Five O’Clock Vodka: 124,284

7. McCormick Vodka: 121,027

8. Crown Royal Canadian Whisky: 96,797

9. Smirnoff Vodka: 96,394

10. Jack Daniel’s Old #7 Black Label Tennessee Whiskey: 94,555

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