Bottoms up: Iowans love cheap Black Velvet Whisky, helping fuel record liquor sales
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Black Velvet Canadian Whisky, known for its smooth taste and inexpensive price, remains Iowa's most popular brand of liquor. It's one reason why state government is raking in record revenue from alcoholic beverage sales.
The Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division said overall liquor sales totaled $320 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, with $120 million transferred to the state's general fund. That's a 4.7 percent sales hike over the previous year.
Iowans purchased a total of 5.6 million gallons of liquor over the 12-month period, up 2.9 percent from a year earlier. Drinkers bought 72.2 million gallons of beer, down 2.1 percent; and 4.8 million gallons of wine were sold, up about 1 percent.
Black Velvet, owned by New York-based Constellation Brands, is a long-standing top-seller in Iowa, dating back decades.
In a 1999 interview with the Des Moines Register, a state liquor official called Black Velvet "No. 1 by a country mile" among Iowa drinkers. The whiskey originated in Quebec and offers hints of caramel, vanilla, coconut and rye spiciness. It has a rye and corn mash bill and is produced with Canadian water.
A total of 141,877 cases of Black Velvet were poured in the latest fiscal year by Iowa bartenders, party hosts, individual consumers, and others.
Tom Duax, owner of Central City Liquors in Des Moines, said products like Black Velvet, Hawkeye Vodka and Jim Beam continue to fly off the shelves at his store just north of downtown.
There's a simple explanation for why Black Velvet remains the top seller among Iowa customers, Duax said: It's cheap and it tastes pretty good. Most folks who drink it are not trying to become connoisseurs.
"Sure," Duax joked. "It gives you a reasonable headache, not a bad one."
Customers can buy a half-gallon bottle of Black Velvet with a coupon and be out the door at Central City Liquors for about $17, including taxes.
The second most popular brand of liquor in Iowa over the past fiscal year was Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, which saw 134,233 cases sold, while Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum was third at 96,726 cases and Hawkeye Vodka fourth at 90,251 cases.
The most popular Iowa-based spirit was Templeton Rye's 4-year rye whiskey, which had 8,506 cases sold.
Polk County sold more liquor than any location in Iowa during the recent fiscal year —nearly 1.3 million gallons, state records show. Second was Linn County with 497,385 gallons; Scott County was third at 379,231 gallons; and Johnson County fourth with 318,077 gallons.
Fremont County in southwest Iowa was last in liquor sales at 1,125 gallons.
Under Iowa's alcoholic beverage control system, the wholesaling of liquor is handled by state government while the retail sale of liquor is done by private businesses. Beer and wine are distributed by private wholesalers and sold to the public by private retailers.
“This report demonstrates that the division is providing a significant return on investment to the citizens of Iowa,” said Stephen Larson, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division's administrator, in a statement.
The Alcoholic Beverages Division also has regulatory compliance responsibilities. During the fiscal year, nearly 17,000 alcohol licenses, permits and certificates were issued, more than 21,000 people were trained and certified in responsible selling and serving of alcohol, and over $157,000 was collected because of administrative actions.