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Sales of top-shelf liquor lift spirits as economy appears 'more relaxed'

The American drinker is once again feeling rich enough to spend on expensive spirits such as Grey Goose vodka and Woodford Reserve, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Manufacturer sales to wholesalers of so-called super-premium spirits grew by 11 percent, to $3.1 billion, in 2010 after falling by 4.1 percent in the previous year, the council said Monday during its annual presentation in New York. Total sales of spirits by suppliers rose by 2.3 percent, to $19.2 billion.

Sales of higher-end liquor is further evidence that wealthy Americans, emboldened by gains in the stock market, are helping boost the U.S. economy. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index has soared by 91 percent from its March 2009 low, even as the United States struggles with the longest stretch of unemployment rates above 9 percent since monthly records began in 1948.

"People are coming back to the store, they have a little more money to spend, and they are feeling a little more relaxed about the economy," said Dom Simao, a manager at Smoke Rise Bottle Shoppe in Stone Mountain, Ga. The store was selling a 750-milliliter bottle of Patron Silver for $46.99 and the same-size bottle of Glenlivet 18 scotch for $81.99. Some of the top-dollar brands, such as Patron, were kept behind the counter to curb shoplifting.

So-called value spirits declined by 1.8 percent, to $4 billion, last year, according to the council, as consumers returned to spirits with better quality and taste. In 2007, just as the recession began to set in, sales of spirits grew by 5.8 percent.

The super-premium bump was helped by new laws allowing Sunday sales and in-store tastings in some states. Super-premium spirits account for 16 percent of total sales of spirits, led by vodka and whiskey.

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