We have yet to see the official figures on the US spirits market in 2011, but the signs suggest that renewed momentum in premium has been maintained.

When the US Distilled Spirits Council (DISCUS) reports its annual numbers for the market on 30 January, we can expect more toasts for the country's resilient premium spirits segment. Resilient may even by downplaying it slightly.

Despite heightened concerns about the state of the national and global economy, spirits sales in the US still seem to be improving from a tough 12 months in 2009.  

Citing Nielsen data for the 12 months to 7 January, analysts at Investec Securities said at the end of last week: "The US spirits market ... continues to demonstrate positive pricing momentum from the main manufacturers." 

Its comments came a day after Diageo cited IRI data to claim that 23 of its brands gained value share in in 2011, with 28 gaining volume share. Diageo did not name specific brands, apart from Ciroc, Ketel One, Smirnoff and Buchanan's as key value share earners.

No doubt there will be some debate around this, right up until Diageo reports its first-half numbers on 9 February. For example, Investec said that Nielsen data shows that, as an overall business, Diageo lost value share in the three months to 7 January. It has been losing volume share more rapidly.

Still, Investec added: "Though Diageo continues to cede market share, they remain determined in leading the market away from its formerly promotional climate, and booked an uptick in net sales momentum; +1% from +0.3% in the comparable prior 12-week period." Generally, then, the picture looks a little rosier for the biggest spirits company operating in the US.

According to the Nielsen data, Pernod Ricard, too, has shown improvement, with pricing gains and lighter overall market share losses than Diageo. In December, Sanford Bernstein pointed to gains for Jameson and Frïs vodka, as well as a price increase on The Glenlivet Scotch whisky, as reasons for Pernod's improved sales mix in the US in the three months to the end of October.

If there is to be a winner from 2011, though, then perhaps it will be newly-independent Beam Inc. In December, Bernstein said: "Beam Global continued to outgrow the market in October on a [rolling] three-month basis, with a lower volume growth advantage than six months ago but much better price-mix." Nielsen data released last week shows that Beam continued to lose volume share, but kept its value market share steady in the 12 weeks to 7 January. It was beaten over this three-month period only by Brown-Forman.

The key message ahead of the official DISCUS figures for 2011, not to mention results for most of the major players, looks likely to be that premium is far from dead in the US.

Unlike mainstream beer, which has been hit hard by high unemployment among male working class drinkers, Diageo's CEO Paul Walsh thinks that there are enough people still earning enough money in the US to propel premium spirits forward.

We must wait, of course, but the signs right now are that Walsh will be proved right.