Connect to share and comment

The 'Whiskey Trail' now runs through China

Boozing it up in the land of Mao for fun and, of course, profit.

Three bourbon whiskeys, all owned by Fortune Brands including (L-R) Maker's Mark, Jim Beam and Knob Creek, are displayed in Golden, Colorado July 24, 2008. Fortune Brands reports second-quarter earnings on July 25. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

The gateway to the Whiskey Trail is at George Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate where the founding father in 1799 was the country’s largest whiskey distiller.

The Trail, studded with historic distilleries and sites in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee, is well-traveled by tourists, but its end point for today’s distillers now leads to lucrative export markets like China.

Hoping to cash in on the developing tastes of status-conscious Chinese, U.S. companies such as Beam Global Spirits & Wine and Brown-Forman are trying to introduce — with the help of the U.S. government — the distinctive taste of American whiskey and bourbon to the Asian palate.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States in Washington, D.C., a trade group representing companies that make and market distilled alcoholic beverages, undertook a 10-day trade journey to Shanghai and Hangzhou to promote more Chinese consumption of whiskey and bourbon. The venture included presentations at a major trade show, tastings, and media dinners.

“The trade mission was very successful. It left a clear understanding of the history and profile of American whiskey and did a very good job of explaining the different styles and regional variations of our product and how to use them in mixed drinks,” said Wayne Batwin, director of the agricultural trade office of the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai.

The trip was designed to compete with Scottish brand whiskys such as Johnnie Walker and China’s own white grain-based spirit, Baijiu. But the real agenda was to push exports of U.S agricultural commodities — and crack new luxury markets that were long closed to American distillers.

It might take a drink or two to make the connection, but the more whiskey and bourbon sold in countries like China, the more American farmers can export corn, rye, barley, wheat and the charred oak barrels that distillers use for the aging process.

For this reason, the trip was financed partially by a $200,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. On the menu was the promotion of brands such as Jack Daniel’s, made in Lynchburg, Tennessee; Jim Beam, distilled in Clermont, Kentucky; Wild Turkey from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky; and Maker’s Mark, Loretto, Kentucky.