irish whiskey

Irish whiskey: Playing the long game

12 March, 2020

Irish whiskey is one of the most talked about spirits categories in the world – with a history dating back to the 12th century it is one of the oldest too.

But much like the economies of Europe, Irish whiskey suffered a depression at the turn of the 20th century. The overall Irish whiskey export gures declined dramatically between 1900 and 1914 while the domestic market suffered in both consumption and production due to an increase in spirit duty by almost a third as proposed by Lloyd George in his 1909 budget.

This depression is now history and exports of Irish whiskey have increased 370% since 2010 to US$809m last year, according to figures supplied by the Irish government trade department, Bord Bia.

This growth has primarily been driven by interest in the US and with Diageo launching its Roe & Coe brand in 2017 and Irish Distillers rebranding Powers at the start of this year, serious investment is taking place within the category.

Pernod’s Irish Distillers has unquestionably been the driving force behind the category for decades and totally dominated the market with Jameson, and while it’s volumes saw a 9% increase in 2018, according to DI’s The Millionaires’ Club, the shape of the market is changing rapidly.

By the end of 2019 there were 31 registered Irish whiskey distilleries, which is the most since 1900, and in 2018 the International Spirits Challenge saw a rise in the number of Irish whiskey entrants, while the number of gold medals and higher increased by more than 100%.

Stephen Teeling, sales & marketing director at Teeling Whiskey, says: “I think consumers are now starting to gain con dence in the fact there is a genuine Irish whiskey category, which is no longer run by one or two big companies.”


Premiumisation is a term thrown around in the drinks industry but Irish whiskey is a prime example of a cate- gory that has totally transformed over the past decade with a premium revolution. Bushmills, Diageo’s old Irish whiskey brand, remains one of the most established premium brands on the market and master distiller Colum Egan believes it is prepped to benefit from the trend.

“I would say that one of the biggest trends in our industry right now is the premiumisation of Irish whiskey,” says Egan. “With more than 400 years of whiskey-making heritage we continue to experience consistent demand for our portfolio of single malts and premium blended Irish whiskeys.

“To keep up with demand and introduce new products consumers will love, we continue to drive innovation, premiumisation and create premium products consumers will love as we want to give people a real experience when they’re drinking Bushmills.”


The rise of gin in the 21st century led to an aggressive rise in new products, many of which were short-term brands seeking a quick return on sales without a long-term plan, and the Irish whiskey category should be keen to avoid repetition.

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