The Wall Street Journal has an article that will warm the hearts of bourbon and Tennessee whiskey drinkers … and investors wise enough to have gone long and gone big on global drinks brands.

In “Small-Batch Bourbon Gives Distillers A Big Lift,” WSJ reporter Melissa Korn reports some of the world’s largest alcoholic-beverage companies are looking for small-batch bourbon/whiskey sales to grow.

Not big news in Kentucky, maybe.

But  the story is remarkable for pulling back the curtain on various brands.

While we knew that soon-to-be independent Beam Global Brands’ Jim Beam, the largest selling bourbon in the world, sells about six million cases annually, we were shocked to see Beam Global’s Knob Creek bourbon only sells about 200,000 cases each year.

And even more shocked to realize Tennessee wins the whiskey-versus-bourbon rivalry by a mile.

Brown-Forman Corp.’s top brand, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey, sells 10 million cases per year, or $1.32 billion worth at $22 per 750-ml bottle.

No wonder Louisville-based Brown-Forman saw stock close Friday at $73.67, near its 52-week high of $74.57 even after seven brutal weeks of market declines.

Other amazing numbers:

  • Woodford Reserve brand sold 160,000 cases in 2010. Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch declined to give Korn specific sales figures, but confirmed sales of Woodford Reserve have increased by double digits every year since the brand debuted in 1996!
  • By comparison, Gentleman Jack, a smoother version of Jack Daniel’s comparable in price to Woodford, sold 334,000 cases.
  • A Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel whiskey sold 108,000 cases.
  • The super-premium segment – bourbons/whiskeys selling for $50 per bottle or more – saw revenue increase 91 percent over five years, from 2005 to 2010.

The story kind of mixes apples (bourbon) and oranges (bourbon-like Tennessee whiskey) and hints at, though never quite says, the profit margin is much higher on the high-dollar, single barrels and small batch brands.

Count on more crazy-expensive concoctions hitting beverage market shelves in short order until the boutique bourbon niche hits the saturation point.