PLCB: Spirits higher in 2017

Whiskey crowned top liquor locally

Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec / Jackie Amick, a clerk at the Hollidaysburg Plaza Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, restocks bottles of whiskey. Whiskey topped Blair County sales, garnering $3.4 million. Vodka, red table wine, rum and liqueurs rounded out Blair’s top-five sales list in order — each exceeding the $1 million mark, with both vodka and red table wine raking in more than $2 million.

When it comes to wines and spirits, local drinkers favor whiskey — or at least they spend more to buy it.

The spending habits of Blair County drinkers, as well as drinkers across the state, were recorded and shared in a year-long sales review published by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

In addition to broadcasting the state’s hooch hierarchy, the report provides valuable consumer spending data, which is used to drive inventory and sales at the PLCB’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores, said Shawn Kelly, a PLCB spokesman.

“We are constantly looking at sales trends, marketplace trends, what’s hot in the beverage-alcohol industry,” Kelly said. “We’re always looking for increased customer convenience.”

Spending on alcohol is up, as Pennsylvanians shelled out $2.44 billion on liquor and wine last fiscal year. That total, which includes revenue from a state liquor tax, is up more than 6 percent from the previous year.

The report takes into account wines and spirits sold across the state. It does not include beer.

Among wines and spirits, vodka was chief in 2016-17, according to the report, which reveals Pennsylvania drinkers spent more than $281 million on the liquor last fiscal year.

Vodka topped bourbon — the No. 2 most purchased liquor in the state, which brought in $100.5 million last year.

Locally, however, the opposite is true. The PLCB report also examines sales at the county level, and in Blair County, consumers of alcohol spent big on whiskey.

Whiskey sales topped the Blair County chart, garnering $3.4 million. Vodka, red table wine, rum and liqueurs rounded out Blair’s top-five sales list in order — each exceeding the $1 million mark, with both vodka and red table raking in more than $2 million.

In terms of total alcohol sales, Blair County ranked 24 out of the state’s 67 counties, according to the PLCB’s report. Last fiscal year, Blair County drinkers spent $15.7 million at PLCB stores — an increase of 1.5 percent from the 2015-16 year.

More money was spent last year on alcohol in Allegheny County than in any other Pennsylvania county at

$300 million, according to the report. Cameron County saw the least amount spent on alcohol at $454,218.

Locally, Centre County ranked 21st on the total-alcohol-sales list at $30.3 million; Cambria ranked 25th at $15.5 million; Clearfield ranked 36th at $8 million; Bedford ranked 50th at $3.7 million; and Huntingdon ranked 54th at $3.4 million. In each of those local counties, whiskey was the top-selling spirit.

It is not uncommon for drinkers to favor a specific beverage in a distinct geographic area, Kelly said.

“They do have regional preference,” he said.

Identifying those preferences is one goal of the annual sales report, Kelly said, explaining it helps PLCB officials plan store inventories, as well as marketing and layout plans.

“The sales data is reviewed more than once a year,” Kelly said.

In the annual report, the PLCB also ranked sales at its 623 stores.

The highest-earning store locally is the Fine Wine & Good Spirits at 1682 N. Atherton St., State College. The store sold $11.3 million worth of alcohol last year, making it the 24th highest earner for the year. The highest-earning Blair County store was the Fine Wine & Good Spirits in Altoona’s Pleasant Valley Shopping Center, which sold $7.9 million worth of alcohol in 2016-17, putting it at No. 54 on the list.

“I think the listing of the stores is a pretty good way of telling how sales do in a particular town,” Kelly said.

Basic layout and inventory plans are implemented at every Fine Wine & Good Spirits store, but sales data can allow for the introduction of specialty items and other exceptions, he said, noting store managers also play a part in driving those additions.

“Store managers are very aware of what sells in their store and their areas,” Kelly said. “You can definitely see there are trends.”

Seasonally, those trends can change, he said.

“You may see more sales of a heavy red wine as you move into fall and winter,” Kelly said, guessing light white wines may be popular in spring and summer.

During the last fiscal year, which began in July 2016 and ended in June 2017, more transactions were made and more money was spent on alcohol in December than any other month, according to the report.

In December 2016, Pennsyl­vanians spent $306.8 million at Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores. January 2017 saw the least revenue of the fiscal year at $158.2 million.

Aside from seasonal popularity, Kelly said he could not comment on what makes a particular type of alcohol sell better than another or why whiskey sales seem dominant locally.

At two local clubs, whiskey is a popular drink, but it doesn’t bring in the most revenue, and it’s not the favorite of all patrons.

“To be honest, our whiskey sales are not our No. 1 seller,” said Don Zolnosky, general manager at the Blairmont Club. “We sell a reasonable amount of bourbons and scotches.”

At the Blairmont Club, Zolnosky said wine is likely the top seller, attributing the popularity to a large variety offered at the club.

Jonnie Frederick, manager at the Heidelberg Country Club, said the same.

“We have a lot wine drinkers here,” she said, listing vodka and brandy among other popular drinks.

Frederick said factors like age and other demographics often dictate what type of alcohol is popular among different groups. Food sales also can lead to higher spending on alcohol, she said. And like the PLCB, Zolnosky said he and other Blairmont employees track sales trends.