A cut above

11 May, 2018


Walsh Whiskey’s Bernard Walsh says: “The Irish whiskey category is continuing on its path towards a strong recovery following a lost century. Sales continue to grow at double-digit rates across all brand categories, in all key markets and the much-needed capacity expansion is being infused with the diversity of many new distilleries, such as Walsh Whiskey distillery, so that Irish whiskey is literally laying down a treasure trove for the consumer to explore in the years ahead.”

Created through a collaboration between Camus, the leading family-owned cognac producer, and the Baring Family’s Revelstoke Trust, the Lambay Irish Whiskey Company was launched last year.

“We have been looking at the Irish whiskey category for some time,” says Cyril Camus. “But until recently much of the business was in the hands of a few companies. That has changed, and the new Irish brands are exciting consumers. Lambay Irish whiskeys will be released in the US during the first quarter of 2018.

Lambay whiskey brand manager Sabine Sheehan says: “While final sales volume figures are not yet available for 2017, statistics from the IWA show that approximately 10m 9-litre cases (120m bottles) were sold in 2017, up from 8.7m cases in 2016.

“This puts Irish whiskey well on course to exceed a target of 12m cases by 2020, so we would be quite happy about that.”

Asked about the progress of its newly created Roe & Co brand, which was launched in March last year, Diageo’s president for Europe, Russia, Turkey, John Kennedy, tells DI that it was seeding the brand, thus taping into the burgeoning interest in Irish whiskey.

Having sold Bushmills to Jose Cuervo, Diageo believes there is an opportunity in what it regards as the niche and yet-to-be-exploited premium/super-premium arena. Irish Distillers would dispute that.

Diageo says it will continue to build on the George Roe heritage by converting the former Guinness Power House into a new distillery. The St James’s Gate distillery, close to Diageo’s Guinness brewery, will be situated just a stone’s throw from the spot where the George Roe and Co distillery once stood – apparently once Ireland’s largest distillery, extending over 17 acres. Production will begin in the first half of 2019.

On super-premium, the launch of the Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey by the Dublin Liberties Whiskey Company (part of Quintessential Brands Group), named after the legendary New York Irish bar which has featured in the list of the World’s 50 Best Bars numerous times, aims to “capture the edge and attitude” and recruit non-whiskey drinkers to the category, says DLWC’s Sinead O’Frighil, international marketing director.

She says: “Irish whiskey accounts for 4% of the global premium whiskey market share and is expected to increase to 12% by 2030.

“With super-premium Irish whiskey growing at an impressive rate of 12%, we see plenty of room for growth in the category.

“With a move towards craft and premiumisation in spirits, we see this as a great opportunity for super-premium Irish whiskey and the Dead Rabbit Irish whiskey, which we launched in New York in February, is testament to this,” says O’Frighil.

Tullamore Dew’s Quinn expresses a note of caution, saying: “I suppose the greatest challenge is understanding that the growth drivers are: investment coupled with brand recognition – and not the building of new distilleries.

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