Global thirst for Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whisky caused exports to spike beyond $1 billion US for the first time ever in 2013, a distilled spirits trade group said Tuesday.

Mixed together, bourbon and Tennessee whisky exports grew a projected five per cent, from $956.8 million in 2012 to just past $1 billion last year, the Distilled Spirits Council announced.

Bourbon and Tennessee whisky revenues shot up even higher within the U.S., rising by a projected 10.2 per cent last year, the council said.

Their performance overseas drove overall American distilled spirits exports above $1.5 billion, the council said. It marked the fourth straight year of record exports for American-crafted spirits.

U.S. earning reputation for quality

The steady rise reflects a growing reputation for American distilled spirits overseas, the group said.

"There is a genuine affection for 'Brand America' as a symbol of quality and taste," said Christine LoCascio, the council's senior vice-president for international trade.

The council said the export figures are based partly on data from the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Other factors behind the spike in exports include trade agreements in recent years, which reduced or eliminated tariffs in several countries, and new products by American whisky makers, the group said.

Japan was the pacesetter among the top six overseas growth markets for all American distilled spirits, based on dollar value, the group said. Sales there were up a projected $22.7 million last year, to $120.8 million. Germany was next, with sales up a projected $19.6 million to $140.1 million. Sales in France rose $14.5 million to $130.5 million while sales in the United Kingdom were up $8.8 million to $159.6 million.

Nigeria had the largest overall increase, at 475.5 per cent, bringing sales to a projected $5 million. Sales in Panama surged by 99 per cent, to $11.6 million, while sales in Greece shot up 72.5 per cent, to $9.2 million.

Bourbon barrels outnumber Ky. residents

In the U.S., total revenues for bourbon and Tennessee whisky reached $2.4 billion, a 10.2 per cent increase. Volume was up nearly seven per cent to 18 million cases, the council said.

The domestic numbers reflect sales from producers or suppliers to wholesalers.

The industry lumps bourbon and Tennessee whisky into one category. Both are produced in the same way and with similar ingredients. The main difference is that Jack Daniel's and a few other Tennessee whiskies are charcoal mellowed before going into the barrel to age, while bourbon isn't.

Kentucky produces 95 per cent of the world's bourbon supply, according to the Kentucky Distillers' Association. The number of bourbon barrels aging in Kentucky outnumbers the state's population.

Overall, supplier sales of American distilled spirits grew by 4.4 per cent to $22.2 billion last year in the U.S., the council said. Total U.S. volume growth was up 1.9 per cent to about 206 million cases. Overall domestic retail sales in the segment were estimated at upward of $66 billion.

Irish whisky volumes were up 17.5 per cent to 2.5 million cases last year in the U.S. while Single Malt Scotch volumes rose 11.6 per cent to 1.8 million cases, the council said.