After almost facing extinction in the 20th century, Irish whiskey sales are skyrocketing around the world.
From just four operational distilleries in Ireland in 2010, there are now 42 on the island. Annual global sales have surged from five million cases (60 million bottles) in 2010 to 14 million cases (168 million bottles) last year.
In the US sales rose 16% last year to a record $1.3billion, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. If the trend continues, Irish whiskey sales in the US – currently 5.9million cases – are predicted to overtake scotch by 2030.
It’s an admirable turnaround for the category, which hit its last peak during the 19th century, when Irish whiskey accounted for around 60% of total global consumption. Between 1823 and 1900, the output quadrupled as more than 1000 Irish distilleries shipped their products around the globe.
But in the 1920s, Prohibition in the United States and domestic conflicts that led to the end of British rule in Ireland in 1921 saw the spirit lose its two biggest customers, the US and the Commonwealth.
By the 1960s there were only a few distilleries left in Ireland and they amalgamated in 1966 under a parent company called Irish Distillers. At that point, Ireland produced less than half a million cases per year, compared to 12 million cases in 1900.
Irish Distillers is now in clover. Its’ Jameson brand – the fastest growing Irish whiskey in the world – passing the 10 million case milestone for the first time this year. The distillery sold a total of 10.4 million cases in FY22, up from 8.6 million cases the previous year – an increase of 22%.
The in-demand distillery was among eight celebrated at an Irish whiskey tasting hosted by the Consulate General of Ireland, in partnership with the Irish Whiskey Association, this month and attended by Drinks Digest.
According to Rosie Keane (below, with Drinks Digest editor Alana House), Irish Consul General to Sydney, Australia is one of the fastest growing markets for Irish whiskey globally, with sales doubling between 2016 to 2020.
Of the 14 million cases of Irish whiskey that were sold in 2021, three million of the bottles were shipped to Australia.
The tasting featured expressions from the Irish Whiskey Association’s member companies, including Teeling, Jameson, Writers Tears, McConnell’s, Slane, The Dubliner, Sliabh Liag Distillers, Pearse Whiskey and Tullamore Dew.
The tasting was led by Gemma Duff, General Manager of Poor Toms Distillery in Marrickville. Duff has been working in the spirits industry for the last 10 years, with brands including West Winds Gin, Abelforths, Tanqueray, Don Julio and Johnnie Walker.
“We chose the spirits in a way that represented the variety and depth of the whiskies in both flavour and geographically as we travelled around Ireland,” Duff explained.
“We wanted to showcase peated whiskey, some unique styles like Dubliner, and of course the smooth triple distilled unpeated whiskey Ireland is known for. With so many on show we could really showcase how flavour has changed, and just how skilful the distillers of today are.”
Celebrities raise a glass to Irish whiskey
You know a spirit has arrived when celebrity brands start popping up on shelves. The first was Irish mixed martial artist Conor McGregor, who launched Proper No.12 whiskey in 2019 and sold it last year for $600 million. McGregor earned approximately around $250 million from selling his brand, higher than what he earned in his whole fighting career.
Last month, Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber – whose character enjoys a tipple on the show – released an Irish whiskey called Sláinte (pronounced Slahn-cha), which translates to “good health” in Gaelic.
The brand debuted with two expressions: Smooth Blend, which retails at $38, and a limited edition 18-Year-Old single malt, being sold at $500 a bottle.
Schreiber is donating 100% of the funds from each limited edition bottle of Sláinte 18 year old whiskey to BlueCheck Ukraine. a collective of humanitarian crisis response experts, entrepreneurs, and filmmakers with decades of experience addressing the needs of conflict-affected populations and documenting solidarity movements countering oppression. The organization identifies, vets, and fast-tracks urgent financial support to Ukrainian NGOs and aid initiatives providing life-saving and other critical humanitarian work.
“The idea of a drink that in some ways represents the spirit of its name—a toast to your health, to connection, to bringing people together… At a time when we are so polarized in this country and across the globe,” Schreiber told Forbes.
“The idea of coming together over a bit of whiskey felt really good to me.”
He added: “I have a deep relationship with Irish whiskey. It’s always been that spirit for me.”