For the past 15 years, the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) has invited craft distillers to participate in international export promotions to help them learn more about opportunities to expand their brands into other countries.

These promotions have been conducted through DISCUS’ participation in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP). Under this program, USDA partners with U.S. processed food and agriculture stakeholders, such as DISCUS, to share the costs of overseas marketing and promotional activities that help build commercial export markets for U.S. agricultural products.

Over the years, these promotions have helped craft distillers break into new markets by helping them showcase their products to importers, restaurant and nightclub owners, managers and bartenders, spirits buyers and foreign journalists.

“DISCUS’ export promotion program has proven to be an effective resource for craft distillers interested in expanding into foreign markets,” said Charles McEntee, DISCUS, Director of Export Promotions, noting that DISCUS’ MAP activities have directly resulted in nearly $6 million in new exports for U.S. craft distillers since 2014. “The program has helped increase exports and promote the U.S. spirits sector abroad by educating hospitality industry leaders, adult consumers and media in key international markets on the taste, heritage and style of American distilled spirits.”

Overseas spirits promotional activities have been held in 18 countries. These activities have included trade exhibitions, seminars, American Whiskey ambassador programs, supply chain reports and localized marketing campaigns. Since DISCUS began its partnership with the USDA in 2006, total U.S. spirits exports increased by nearly 66 percent, from $831 million in 2006 to $1.39 billion in 2020.

“Expanding into select international markets has always been part of our strategy at Sagamore Spirit, but having never done it, we wanted to start with programs that came from a trusted source like DISCUS,” said Brian Treacy, President and Co-Founder of Sagamore Spirit in Baltimore, MD. “These programs do a great job of promoting our brand to the right audience, while being sensitive to budget.”

Treacy and other interested craft distillers are part of DISCUS’ Export Promotion Working Group, which provides the association with input on priority markets and future export promotion activities.

Promotional activities focus on the range of American spirits, with a particular focus on the unique qualities of American Whiskeys, including Bourbon, Tennessee Whiskey, American Rye Whiskey and American Single Malt Whiskey, which account for the vast majority of U.S. spirits exports worldwide.

Recently, DISCUS collaborated with U.S. distillers exporting to Canada to create a consumer-focused activity celebrating National Bourbon Day. Through a micro-website, adult-consumers could locate one of the 204 establishments across Canada celebrating Bourbon and the U.S. distillers producing it, as well as learn about the category and flavor profiles for each American Whiskey expression.

DISCUS also participates in one of the industry’s most important international trade events, Bar Convent Berlin, which represents the greatest opportunity for distillers looking to expand beyond the United States. DISCUS’ participation in BCB has led directly to numerous small-and-mid-sized distillers signing over $4 million in new contracts with importers/distributors from around the world.

Amir Peay, Owner, Operator and Chief Historian of James Pepper Distilling considers BCB to be, “the best spirits trade show in all of Europe.” Mr. Peay also noted that the first year he participated at DISCUS’ American spirits pavilion at BCB it, “directly resulted in establishing multiple European partners and us shipping many containers of whiskey to Europe in the months that followed.”

In 2019, DISCUS received additional funding to support American spirits exports under a three-year USDA program to assist agricultural groups adversely impacted by tariffs. This additional funding has allowed DISCUS to implement marketing campaigns in Canada, Europe and Mexico to build greater awareness of American spirits and regain market share lost due to retaliatory tariffs on American Whiskey.

It also allowed DISCUS to explore and establish new initiatives, including campaigns heavily incorporating digital marketing platforms. These platforms helped DISCUS’ campaigns quickly pivot to virtual events in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One of DISCUS’ early innovations, “Discover Distilleries: A Series of Tours” featured interactive virtual distillery tours and tastings. Brian Treacy believes the virtual tour DISCUS conducted featuring his distillery helped strengthen relationships among hospitality and importers throughout Canada and it has become a model for virtual events the company incorporates into its own campaigns.

Another innovative activity developed during COVID-19, “Distilleries at your Doorsteps,” featured a mobile tasting tour in London showcasing American spirits available in the UK and those looking to enter the market. Scheduled tastings were conducted via a touring e-bike equipped with a tasting table set up outside the residences and offices of key trade and media members throughout London.

DISCUS played a critical role in helping U.S. craft distillers weather a challenging 2020 due to tariffs and the COVID-19 pandemic. The export program helped craft distillers secured over $1.2 million in new exports last year.

In planning for the future of the program, DISCUS is utilizing USDA funding to provide comprehensive research reports, which focus on the supply chains in priority international markets, including applicable laws and regulations and details on the specific route to market for distilled spirits. DISCUS has also commissioned reports on the beverage alcohol e-commerce channel and the perceptions of American Whiskey in priority export markets.

DISCUS has a team of international trade professionals to assist craft distillers who participate in MAP events.

A key requirement of the USDA-supported export promotions is that all spirits products included must be distilled in the U.S. from at least 51 percent U.S. agricultural material. While DISCUS’ MAP funding covers the bulk of the expenses for the promotions, there may be cost share responsibilities for participating craft distillers that vary from activities and campaigns. For more information on how you can participate in the DISCUS’ export promotion programs, please contact Charles McEntee, Director, Export Promotion at DISCUS