BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- St. Patrick's Day, college spring break and the first signs of spring come together in March to result in notable instances of alcohol-fueled revelry. That may prompt investors to ponder the health of the alcoholic-beverage industry.

Suffice it to say, it's in recovery from a 2009 recession-induced hangover.

Spending on alcohol is heavily influenced by consumer-discretionary spending, as evidenced by a decline in alcohol sales in 2009 and into early 2010 and a rising tide over the past year, concurrent with the economy's rebound.

Goldman Sachs ( GS) said in a March 9 research report that it sees beer, wine and liquor sales on an upswing, particularly for "top-shelf," or premium, brands of hard liquor. "Consumers who traded down in the downturn are likely to trade up to more premium variants, benefiting companies with a premium portfolio."

The nation's economic recovery also bodes well for the beer industry, Goldman said, as it will lead to "positive volume growth in the U.S. beer market in 2011 and 2012, following the declines in 2009 and 2010."

The global investment bank estimates increases in the volume of beer sold will rise by 2.5% this year and 1.5% in 2012, "bringing beer volumes back to 2008 levels by the end of 2012."

But investors clearly are out of step with industry trends, or at least analysts' opinions, as the "beverages brewers" stock category as tracked by Morningstar is down 22% this year and off 40% over the past 12 months. But, curiously, after the economy's and industry's slump in 2008, beverage brewers gained 209% in 2009 while sales were still in the doldrums.

And the "beverages -- wineries and distilleries" index as tracked by Morningstar is down 1.3% this year, but up 27% over the past year, through March 11. The S&P 500 Index is little changed this year and up about 15% over the past 12 months.

In addition to Goldman Sachs, Standard & Poor's analysts are also bullish on the liquor and wine industries, saying in a recent research note that "our fundamental outlook for the distillers and vintners sub-industry is positive, reflecting our view of favorable demographics, strong consumption trends that we foresee, and a possible easing of pricing pressures.

"With demand for premium beverages expected to rise, we think companies offering high-end products and a selection of imported wines will benefit, allowing these companies to capture market share from domestic brewers," S&P said.

On the following pages are seven of the most highly rated alcoholic-beverage companies:

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Anheuser-Busch Inbev ( BUD) is the world's largest brewer, and one of the top five consumer-products companies. It holds a 49% U.S. beer market share across its 13 brands.

The company is rebounding from the slowdown it experienced along with the economy. Revenue grew by 4.4% in 2010 on only a 2.1% increase in volume, but earnings jumped 28% as it realized cost savings from its acquisition of Anheuser-Busch in 2008.

Morningstar analyst Dave Sekera said in a March 3 research note, after reviewing its fiscal 2010 earnings release, that "the firm's scale, brand strength and operating leverage will generate solid long-term shareholder returns."

He says the company's sheer scale makes it a formidable competitor. "Thanks to its size, it can outspend, outsell and out-market any beer company in the world," said Sekera. "Its success has been driven by its management team, which has instilled a corporate culture of relentless cost-cutting, a drive to increase shareholder value and a desire to outperform the competition."

Morningstar gives the shares a three-star rating out of a possible five and its shares a current fair market value of $58. It's trading at $57 now.

Anheuser-Busch Inbev owns four of the world's top 10 beer brands, has the No. 1 or 2 market position in 19 countries, and has a dominant share in several key markets including Brazil (69%), the U.S. (49%) and Canada (42%).

Morningstar's review of analysts' ratings found 17 "buy" ratings, seven "outperforms," 11 "holds" and one "underperform."

Goldman Sachs upgraded Anheuser-Busch Inbev shares to "buy" from "neutral" on March 9, saying "we believe the market is underestimating the positive impact of a U.S. economic recovery on the company."

Shares are little changed this year, but up 13% over the past year, giving it a $90 billion market value.

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Diageo ( DEO), the world's leading producer of premium spirits, owns eight of the world's top 20 brands and a distribution network that covers 180 countries. It also produces and markets beer and wine.

The London-based company was formed from the merger of Grand Metropolitan and Guinness in 1997. Its brands include Guinness stout, Smirnoff vodka, Tanqueray and Gordon's gins, Captain Morgan rum, Baileys Irish Cream, and Johnnie Walker and J&B scotch. Diageo also owns 34% of premium Champagne and cognac maker Moet Hennessy.

Morningstar, which gives it a three-star rating out a possible five, says: "We like the firm's focus on premium brands, but we expect growth to be harder to achieve over the next few years than it has been in the past, and we worry that the weak economy could provoke management to make a pricey acquisition."

But Standard & Poor's analysts are more optimistic. They give its shares a "buy" recommendation with four out a possible five-star rating. It assigns a 12-month price target of $86. Shares were recently trading at around $75.

S&P's review of other analysts' ratings found two "buys," one "buy/hold" and two "holds."

For fiscal 2011, those analysts estimate that Diageo will earn $5.16 per share and that will grow by 7% to $5.53 per share in 2012.

As of March 11, its shares are up 4% this year and 19% over the past 12 months, bringing its market value to $48 billion. Diageo's shares have a hefty 2.5% dividend yield.

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Fortune Brands ( FO) is a conglomerate made up of home and hardware products, and alcoholic beverages and golf businesses. It posted $6 billion of sales in 2009, which grew by 7% to $7.1 billion in 2010. Sales in its spirits business rose 7.9%. In 2011, analysts expect strong growth in the high-margin spirits segment on higher consumer spending and increasing market share in the U.S. and abroad.

It had revenue of $7.1 billion in 2010, up from $6.7 billion in 2009. For fiscal 2011, analysts estimate that Fortune will earn $3.25 per share and that will grow by 16% to $3.78 in 2012.

Fortune Brands has said it intends to break up and sell the home-and-security and golf segments to become a pure-play spirits manufacturer, which could help boost share prices if the those for-sale components fetch dear prices.

Fortune Brands' spirits brands include Jim Beam, Maker's Mark and Canadian Club.

Its home and security brands include Moen, Therma-Tru, and Master Lock, and golf brands include Titleist, Pinnacle and FootJoy.

Standard & Poor's gives Fortune Brands three stars out of a possible five but has a "hold" recommendation on its shares. It has a 12-month $68 price target on its shares, about an 11% premium to its current price.

S&P's review of other analysts' ratings found two "buy" ratings, one "buy/hold" and 10 "holds."

Shares are up 2% this year and 31% over the past year, giving it a market value of $9.3 billion. It has 76% institutional ownership.

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Constellation Brands ( STZ) is the largest winemaker in the world and the biggest marketer of imported beer in the U.S.

Constellation's core market is wine, which accounted for 87% of its fiscal 2010 revenue. The firm's wine portfolio includes the Robert Mondavi and Arbor Mist brands. Constellation's beer segment has the rights to distribute Corona in the U.S. Constellation also produces spirits, although it sold its value-priced spirits brands in March 2009.

Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham said in a Jan. 11 research note that Constellation's "scale and positioning at the premium end of its core markets should allow the firm to generate long-term margins above those of competitors."

But on the downside, he said "we think weak consumer brand loyalty, particularly in wine, and low-double-digit returns on invested capital mean Constellation Brands has no economic moat."

Analysts give it four "buy" ratings, one "outperform," six "holds" and two "underperforms," according to Morningstar.

Standard & Poor's gives it a "buy" recommendation and four out of a possible five-star rating, noting the company "operates in an industry that we believe has demonstrated stable revenue streams."

Shares are down 13% this year but up 23% over the past year. Its three-year average annual return is a meager 1.3%. It has a $4.2 billion market value and 86% institutional ownership.

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Molson Coors Brewing ( TAP), the second-largest beer seller in the U.S. with about a 30% market share and the fifth-biggest brewer in the world, was formed in early 2005 via a joint venture agreement between Colorado's Adolph Coors Co. and Canada's Molson Inc.

Major brands include Coors Light, Molson Canadian, Carling, Blue Moon, Killian's, Caffrey's, Worthington's and Keystone.

Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham, who gives Molson Coors a four-star rating, said in a Feb. 11 research note that "the firm has built a reputation for executing cost-saving measures effectively, and we think the MillerCoors joint venture will allow the company to extract further value from its operations.

"However, given its limited opportunities to grow volume, Molson Coors' margin expansion cannot continue indefinitely, and the firm will be at a crossroads when the current round of cost cuts have been implemented," he said.

On the downside, he said, "the company operates in mature, low-growth beer environments where price wars can severely affect profitability."

Nevertheless, "the market appears to be missing the value of the (joint venture), and we think there is double-digit upside to the stock from current levels." It was trading at $43.54 recently.

Gorham gives its shares a fair value estimate of $59 based on a price-to-earnings ratio of 13 on his 2011 earnings estimate and a forward free cash flow yield of 8%.

Analysts estimate that for fiscal 2011, it will earn $3.84 per share and that will grow by 5% to $4.03 per share in 2012.

Standard &Poor's analysts give it a "hold" recommendation and three stars out of a possible five, as well as a 12-month target price of $49 based on 13 times 2011 earnings estimates.

Analysts reports reviewed by S&P found two "buy" ratings, four "buy/holds" and seven "hold" ratings.

Molson Coors shares are down 12% this year, but up 5% over the past year. It has a market value of $8.5 billion.

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Boston Beer ( SAM) is the largest craft brewer in the U.S., and the sixth-biggest brewer in the U.S.

Industry analysts have a decidedly conflicting outlook for the company's shares.

Morningstar gives the company a two-star rating because it believes shares are overvalued at current prices ($87 recently), and it puts a fair value price of $75 on them. "Although we continue to admire the strength of the Sam Adams brand, we recommend investors look elsewhere for value in the brewing industry."

Morningstar analyst Philip Gorham said in a March 9 research note that even after the recent drop in the company's share price, "Boston Beer is still trading at 22 times 2011 (estimated) earnings, a valuation that we think reflects neither the firm's limited scale, which means it does not share the competitive advantages of its much larger peers, nor the looming risks to profitability."

Morningstar said its review of analysts' ratings found one "buy," three "holds" and "two" underperform" ratings.

But Standard & Poor's gives the company a four-star rating out of a possible five, a "buy" recommendation and a 12-month price target of $97 per share.

The ratings firm's analysts said in a March 5 research note that they expect "further volume growth in craft brews as consumers view products as an affordable luxury. Over the short term, we think we may see continued trading down within the beer category from premium brands but believe those trends will reverse in 2011."

Shares are down 8% this year but have risen 75% over the past year. Its shares have an impressive five-year average annual return of 26%. It has a market value of $1.2 billion.

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Brown-Forman ( BF.B) is a major distiller and importer of alcoholic beverages and owns the Jack Daniel's, Southern Comfort, Finlandia, Korbel and Bolla brands.

Jack Daniel's represented 45% of Brown-Forman's sales volume in 2010. It is the fifth-largest premium spirits brand in the world.

Standard &Poor's analysts have a "hold" recommendation on its shares and give the company a three-star rating out of a possible five. The ratings firm has a $77 12-month price target on its shares. The current price is about $71.

S&P analysts said in a March 9 research note that Brown-Forman "should continue to capitalize on what we see as positive industry trends with its strong portfolio of spirits and international reach, particularly with its Jack Daniel's brand."

"Long term, with 53% of fiscal 2010 net sales from outside the U.S., we see Finlandia and, secondarily, Jack Daniel's, driving more than 50% of net sales growth," S&P said.

S&P's review of analysts' earnings estimates finds an outlook of $3.31 per share for 2011, which will grow by 8% to $3.57 per share in 2012. Those same analysts give Brown-Forman's shares one "buy" rating, eight "holds" and two "weak/holds."

Shares are up 0.5% this year and 29% over the past year, giving Brown-Forman a market value of $9.8 billion. Over the past three years, its shares have an average annual return of 12%.Its shares have a dividend yield of 1.8%.

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