‘I’ve never seen anything like it’: Sales of Idaho’s favorite liquor are ‘on another level’

As Tony Faraca watched the meteoric ascent of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, he knew something special was happening.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he told the Idaho Statesman last year.

Idaho liquor stores sold $9,234,198 worth of Tito’s in fiscal 2020. That was up from $7,267,186 in 2019 — already a huge figure.

Fast-forward to now. Faraca, the Idaho State Liquor Division’s CFO, is staring at Tito’s sales numbers for fiscal 2021, which ended June 30.

The new mark? A staggering $11,517,123. That’s an increase of more than 25 percent over the previous mind-blowing year — and easily the biggest number for a single spirit in Idaho history.

Idaho has a favorite booze. It’s made in Austin, Texas. And we really, really like it.

“It’s incredible,” Faraca said. “The growth on its numbers. I mean, 25 percent. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Wait, didn’t he say that last year, too? That’s the point. Tito’s, which is America’s top-selling vodka, keeps breaking down sales walls. Not long ago, the top three or four selling spirits in Idaho each racked up between $4 and $5 million annually. Now they’re all above $7 million, with Tito’s pushing toward $12 million.

“We’re getting some separation from the pack now,” Faraca said, “especially with Tito’s. It’s really just on another level.”

For the past couple of years in Idaho, liquor sales in general were next-level. Statewide, they hit $297 million in fiscal 2021, up from $258.6 million the prior year — an increase of 15 percent. Idaho was up 12 percent the year before that.

“For us to be up double digits is something,” Faraca said. “That hasn’t happened here since 2007.”

So are our livers being pickled? Not necessarily. There are multiple reasons for the growth — some related to the coronavirus pandemic, some related to Idaho’s population increase.

As more people moved here, the boom drove higher liquor purchases. Nationwide, liquor sales increased during the initial stages of the pandemic as people stocked up — and more worked from home. And during lockdowns, Washington citizens crossed the North Idaho state line in greater numbers to purchase liquor at Gem State stores and to wine and dine in our restaurants, Faraca said.

Either way, things have begun to taper off during the first three months of the new fiscal year. “We projected 4 percent growth this year,” he said. “And we’re below that right now. We’re at about 3 percent.

“I think we’re just normalizing. The population migration has slowed down a bit. And people appear to have kind of gotten back into more normal consumption routines. Numbers-wise, it looks like a boring, if not slow, year in liquor growth right now — three months in.”

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin, Texas.Tito’s Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin, Texas.

Tito’s Handmade Vodka is produced in Austin, Texas.

Idaho’s favorite liquors

Here are Idaho’s best-selling liquors during fiscal 2021 based on dollar sales.

1. Tito’s Handmade Vodka: Is it Tito’s grass-roots marketing on the local level? Is it the so-called “craft” distilling? Is it the fact that Tito’s points out that it’s gluten-free? “I don’t even know how to explain it,” Faraca said. “.. I think there’s just a lot of little things that have just worked together in synergy.”

2. Pendleton Canadian Whisky: For the second straight year, Pendleton moved up one spot on this list. Oregon-based Hood River Distillers sold Pendleton to Proximo Spirits, the parent company of Jose Cuervo, in 2018. “They’re doing more on the marketing side of things, and clearly it’s making a difference,” Faraca said.

3. Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey: America’s preferred shot has spawned imitators, but the original Canadian creation is still on fire around these parts.

4. Crown Royal Canadian Whisky (regular not flavored): Years ago, this was Idaho’s biggest seller by volume. Not anymore (thanks, Tito!), but it’s still a force. Oh, and check this out, whiskey purists: Flavored Crown Royal Regal Apple ranks No. 11 statewide in total dollar sales.

5. Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7: Still a classic mixed with cola. The iconic Tennessee whiskey with the famous black label did over $6.5 million in annual Idaho sales.

Here are Idaho’s most popular liquors based on volume — total ounces sold overall — in fiscal 2021:

1. Tito’s Handmade Vodka: Nobody came even close to Tito’s. For $22.95 for a 750-milliliter bottle, Tito’s has somehow found a perfect marketing blend of premium and affordable. And as shelves become crowded with flavored vodkas, Tito’s stays pure. “They don’t do any flavors. They don’t do anything else,” Faraca said. “It’s just Tito’s regular vodka.”

2. Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey: Drink it. Brush your teeth with it. But at 66 proof, try not to guzzle this candy-like liquid.

3. Black Velvet Blended Canadian Whisky (regular): “Black Velvet will bring you to your knees,” Alannah Myles sang way back in 1989. But it won’t do that to your wallet in 2021. Not when a fat 1.75-liter bottle costs under $20.

4. Smirnoff Vodka (regular): Vodka is the best-selling product nationwide, and Tito’s leads the category. But worldwide? Smirnoff is the planet’s best-selling vodka.

5. Platinum 7x Vodka: “Distilled seven times for exceptional purity and a smooth, polished finish,” the company brags, “Platinum 7x has raised the bar on what it means to be smooth.” Um … not exactly. Still, you can pick up a 1.75-liter bottle for under $18 when it’s on sale, according to the liquor division’s website, MixBlendEnjoy.com.