Irish whiskey is continuing its unstoppable growth with a rise in new distilleries and plans for multi-million-pound investments. These are the brands we think could be poised for great things in the coming 12 months.
The world’s fastest-growing spirits category has had another stellar year, with distillery numbers on the rise and sales continuing to grow. As the sector welcomed the opening of its 21st operational distillery, the Blackwater Distillery in County Waterford, figures from Euromonitor predict that year-on-year sales for Irish whiskey are set to rise by 5.8% from 2017-18.
However, as the sector’s popularity increases, questions over supply and demand are never far away. These reached fever pitch this year when professional fighter Conor McGregor released his Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey, which, since its launch, has seen demand “rapidly outpace supply”. The brand has suffered an “out-of-stock situation” after “hundreds of thousands” of bottles were sold.
To remain on top of demand, Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers plans to pump €150 million (US$170m) into its Midleton Distillery, maturation site and bottling plant over the next two years.
Conor McQuaid, chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers, says: “This investment will help to allow this growth to continue for years to come. The company is proud to play its role in the Irish drinks industry, which is a hugely important part of the Irish economy.”
Despite concerns about whiskey stocks, John Kelly, commercial director at Walsh Whiskey, believes there is still space for the category to expand. He says: “Irish whiskey is still a lot smaller than Scotch or Bourbon, and now that we have played our part in the revival of the Irish whiskey sector and added to our production capacity, we are positioned to expand for years to come.” This is a feeling echoed by Jack Teeling, founder and managing director of Teeling Whiskey, who believes new distillers should highlight their roots.
He says: “A slew of generic offerings of Irish whiskey have been released, and they will find it hard to stand out from the crowd. But if the new distilleries that are emerging embrace their location and brands, then I am excited by what the future of Irish whiskey will look like.”
Teeling has further reasons to be excited about the future of the category, after releasing the debut spirit produced at its Dublin distillery in September – which promptly broke auction records when the first bottle sold for £10,000.
To support the growing number of distilleries in Ireland that are producing whiskey, the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) this year launched its training platform for new distillers, called The Knowledge Still.
William Lavelle, head of the IWA, says: “Our main goal is to protect and pass on the high quality standards that have become a hallmark for Irish whiskey.”
Meanwhile, speaking to The Spirits Business this year, Mark Reynier, founder and CEO of Waterford Distillery, said he would like to see the IWA take on a role more akin to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), suggesting there should be an enhanced set of rules for distillers to adhere to.
However, Reynier’s comments have been met with hesitation from some producers, including Cooley Distillery founder John Teeling, who warned that the IWA “must not become the SWA”.
Click through the following pages to see which brands we believe are ones to watch in the year ahead.