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Scotch, Irish whiskey fuel U.S. spirit sales: trade group

By Martinne Geller

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sprits companies sold 3 percent more liquor in 2012 in the United States than in 2011, fueled by flavored drinks and a big thirst for Irish whiskey and single malt Scotch, an industry trade group said on Wednesday.

On a revenue basis, sales rose 4.5 percent to $21.3 billion, as higher-end spirits outshone value brands, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Liquor companies, including Diageo, Pernod Ricard, Beam Inc and Brown-Forman, sold 202 million 9-liter cases of spirits in 2012, an increase of 3 percent from 2011, when the industry first recovered to its pre-recession levels.

Together, the last two years marked the best back-to-back performance for the industry since 2003/2004, said David Ozgo, the group's economist. He declined to predict how sales will look in 2013.

"We don't make projections, however I believe if the economy holds up, we'll have a very, very solid year," Ozgo said.

Relative to other types of alcoholic drinks, like wine and beer, spirits gained just 0.2 percentage point of market share, on both a volume and value basis, the industry's lobby group said ahead of a briefing in New York.

Flavored spirits also fueled growth, it said, noting that over 40 percent of all products in the U.S. market have a flavored version beyond the traditional product -- with as many as 220 flavors, from citrus to wasabi.

Vodka, which accounts for nearly a third of all sales, had a 4 percent increase in volume last year, with "super premium" brands up 10 percent.

The fastest-growing category was Irish whiskey, whose brands include Jameson, Bushmills and Kilbeggan, with volume up 22.5 percent. Single malt Scotch, such as Laphroaig, Macallan and Glenlivet, rose 13 percent.

Bourbon and Tennessee whiskey volume rose 5 percent, fueled by new products, including flavored bourbons. Recent popularity of bourbon has spurred interest in other American whiskeys, with rye volume up 50 percent, though sales are still quite small.

(Editing by Dan Grebler)

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