midleton distillery irish distillers

Irish Distillers' Midleton Distillers

Irish whiskey: The innovation high

16 September, 2020

The case for Irish whiskey being the most exciting whiskey category globally gets stronger every year - and it is by no accident, says GreatDrams founder Greg Dillon.

"The Irish Whiskey category allows us, as distillers and blenders, to adopt approaches to production and flavour that are often unique to whiskey making on this island,” says Lora Hemy, head distiller of the Roe and Co Distillery, adding that what is even more exciting is that none of these approaches have just happened’ – they are all rooted in some form of historic practice”.

And she has a point - Irish whiskey has been engaging consumers the world over, becoming the fastest growing brown spirits category over the last few years and pre-Covid crisis volumes were looking really strong sales rose 10.6% in 2019 according to the IWSR. When looking into the brands that really stood out, Jameson - the de facto category leader globally - shifted 8m cases in 2019, up 800,000 cases on 2018 and Proper 12 volumes went up to 213,800 in 2019 cases from just over 38,000 the year before.

It is no coincidence that the top three brands in the category, Jameson, Bushmills and Tullamore Dew are the ones leading the way for cask exploration, innovation and communication, but the smaller players are able to be a lot more nimble with their cask maturation policies and products.

"Given our ability to mature in much more diverse barrels I believe it gives us a competitive advantage to excite a whole new generation of whiskey drinkers discovering Irish whiskey for the first time in a totally new way,” says Stephen Teeling of the Teeling Distillery.

“We have formed strong partnerships with other craft spirits producers like Plantation, Kyro and Trois Riviere to showcase the reciprocal relationship between their craft and ours which I feel adds to the category in a positive way rather than be locked in by strict regulations.”

Not being bound to rigid rules and mandates as their scotch whisky peers are by the Scotch Whisky Association certainly helps too as Kevin OGorman, master distiller at Midleton Distillery explains; “At Irish Distillers we believe innovation will propel the category forward. Irish whiskey regulations, as set out in the Irish Whiskey Technical File, stipulate that whiskey must be aged in wood for a minimum of three years, but do not limit the wood type to oak. This means the spirit lends itself to endless experimentation. As a result, we have worked with many different wood types over the last number of years releasing whiskeys with unique flavour profiles which highlight the role played by wood in the maturation process."

Teeling is a brand that releases a lot of single cask releases, including distillery exclusives, with each typically being driven by a desire to experiment and to innovate. "For our distillery exclusive range we have focused on using incredibly unique wood to showcase our ability to complement our blended Irish whiskey in a similar way that we marry the small batch in rum asks,” adds Teeling. “We started with Hungarian Oak, followed by Chestnut, then Chinkapin and this will be followed by Virign Irish Oak as a showcase for how exciting and diverse Irish whiskey can be.”

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