Love it or hate it, one thing is certain about Pennsylvania’s government monopoly on liquor sales: it makes it pretty easy to track statewide drinking habits.
The state’s Liquor Control Board issues an annual report summarizing alcohol sales over the last fiscal year (the 12-month period that starts on July 1 and ends on June 30.)
Among other findings, this year’s report, published in November, informed us that Pennsylvanians really love small bottles of Fireball whiskey and American-made wines.
What these reports don’t always show, however, are the local alcohol preferences that dominate the Commonwealth’s diverse counties and cities. We’ve put some of that data to use here. In the map below, you can see the three highest-grossing alcohol products among retail consumers in each of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties and its 10 largest cities.
Pennsylvanians bought more than 5 million mini bottles of Fireball Whiskey last year, making the cinnamon liquor the top-selling alcohol product in the state. But at less than $2 a pop, those pocket-sized bottles don’t rake in the most money for the state liquor stores. That distinction belongs to Tito’s Homemade Vodka, a Texas-made liquor that’s Pennsylvania’s most popular unflavored vodka.
Tito’s brought in more than $72 million in sales for the Liquor Control Board last year, according to its annual report. Data provided to the Capital-Star shows that much of the revenue came from Pennsylvania’s suburbanites.
Thirty-three Pennsylvania counties, including all of those in the suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, spent more money on Tito’s Handmade Vodka last year than any other alcohol product on the market.
The 1.75 liter bottle, which retails for roughly $30, is the most popular offering, according to the Liquor Control Board data. But some places like their Tito’s in all sizes. The three best-selling products in Chester County, for instance, were differently sized bottles of Tito’s.
Rural Pennsylvania runs on rum
Many of the state’s rural counties favor Captain Morgan Original Spiced Rum. It was the top-grossing liquor product in 17 counties across the Commonwealth, including all four in the Allegheny National Forest (Forest, Elk, Warren and McKean counties.)
There was one local product that cut a major profile in Northwestern Pennsylvania, however: Clarion Red Wine, a proprietary blend from The Winery at Wilcox in bucolic Elk County. The sweet wine generated more than $60,000 in sales in Jefferson and Clarion Counties last year, and was the second-best selling product in both places. By the Capital-Star’s analysis, it was the only Pennsylvania-made product to eke out best-seller status anywhere in the state.
The Penn State Influence
We here at the Capital-Star can’t vouch for its quality. But at roughly $10 a bottle, a liter of Crown Russe Vodka offers one of the best values you can find if you’re looking to drink on the cheap.
It may come as no surprise, then, that Crown Russe Vodka is the best-selling product in Centre County, which is home to 40,000 undergrad students at the hard-partying Pennsylvania State University.
Crown Russe also topped the sales charts in neighboring Juniata County. But don’t call this bottom-shelf mixer a regional hegemon quite yet. Cutting straight through Crowne Russe territory is rural Mifflin County, where Jagermeister reigns supreme.
Luzerne County in Northeastern Pennsylvania is home to one of the country’s largest populations of people with Polish ancestry.
You may be as surprised as we were to learn, then, that the top-selling liquor there isn’t vodka, but Hennessy Cognac. Hennesey is also a perennial favorite in Pennsylvania’s biggest cities, including Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and Scranton.
Other inexplicable findings buried in the state data: Greene County loves Canadian whiskey. The rural county bordering Ohio and West Virginia spent more than $136,000 last year on Crown Royal Canadian Whiskey products. Bottles from Crown Royal and Black Velvet, another brand from our neighbors to the north, were also popular in other western counties, including Mercer, Lawrence, and Beaver.
And finally, Jack Daniels Black Label Whiskey is a reliable choice in many parts of the state, appearing as the second- or third-best selling product in two dozen counties. But nobody loves it as much as the good people of Perry County. The rural county was the only one in the state where the Tennessee-made whiskey snagged a top-selling spot.