By Karisha Kuypers, Agricultural Attache, Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA), U.S. Mission to the European Union.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) is tasked with promoting exports of U.S. agricultural products overseas. We promote U.S. agriculture in many ways but much of our work involves supporting U.S. agricultural cooperator groups, which are organizations that offer marketing assistance to U.S. exporters, sponsor trade missions, and help farmers and ranchers identify international market opportunities. We recently worked with one such organization, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), hosting an event to highlight the quality and diversity of a great American product – American whiskeys.
On September 30, the U.S. Mission to the European Union (USEU) and the U.S. Mission to the Kingdom of Belgium co-hosted a whiskey tasting seminar sponsored by DISCUS to promote and educate guests about fine U.S. whiskeys and spirits. The tasting seminar was led by a well-known American mixologist from New York City, Christy Pope. Ms. Pope
discussed the cultural history of distilled spirits in the United States and explained the differences between American whiskeys and other whiskeys around the world. She then led guests through a formal tasting of six whiskeys and demonstrated how to make two kinds of specialty cocktails with American whiskey. After the presentation, guests had the opportunity to try a variety of small-batch whiskeys and spirits from craft distilleries from all around the United States. Almost 80 guests attended the tasting, including local spirits importers, distributors, and retail buyers, in addition to officials from EU institutions and European agricultural associations. European journalists who cover lifestyles, food, and wine, as well as political and business journalists, also participated.
Whiskey has a long history in the United States and in many ways forms an important part of American culture. American whiskeys are distinct from whiskeys made in other countries – it must contain at least 51 percent of corn (for bourbon) or rye (for rye whiskey) and adhere to a number of other criteria to be labeled an “American Whiskey.”
The countries of the European Union are some of the biggest export markets for U.S. spirits. One-half of U.S. exports of spirits now go to the EU and Europe is the largest and still fastest growing market for U.S. spirits. The United States exported almost $750 million of distilled spirits to the EU in 2014, with the United Kingdom ($178 million), Germany ($143 million), and France ($109 million) as the EU’s largest importers of U.S. spirits. Belgium is the ninth largest importer of U.S. spirits in the EU, bringing in $19.9 million in 2014. more than 80 percent of the spirits exported to the EU are Bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys, Europe is obviously already familiar with some of the more famous American whiskeys. However, what is not always well known is the incredible diversity of distilleries in the United States that are making high-quality American whiskey and other spirits. In 2013, there were over 600 craft distilleries making whiskeys and spirits in the United States. These distilleries range from big internationally known names like Jim Bean and Jack Daniels to craft distilleries making small batches of artisanal whiskeys and spirits.
The whiskey seminar was a great opportunity to familiarize the European market with high-quality U.S. whiskeys. For those who were already aware of these products, it was a chance to learn more about them. For all those attended, we hope that the event will not be the last time that they enjoy a fine American whiskey.