The Irish have always celebrated their Whiskey heritage and indeed the island plays host to the world’s oldest licensed distillery, Old Bushmills in County Antrim.
However, is it enough to have a close connection to the past, or does more need to be done to move the Irish Whiskey market to become a serious global competitor to giants such as Scotland or the USA?
While Irish Whiskey has done well on the drinks market, it has been monopolised by only a few distilleries. The biggest and most well known is perhaps Jameson, a brand that is growing in popularity and rose in sales by 15% in 2013.
Deirdre Mahlan, CEO of Diageo pointed out the overwhelming effect of Jameson, owned by Pernod Ricard, on the Irish Whiskey Market, “The leading Irish whiskey brand has more than two-thirds of the category … It has transcended the category.”
With such a huge majority of Irish Whiskey sales belonging to one brand it can be hard to see where craft and smaller distillers are going to find ground. And even if they do find themselves succeeding, how long is it going to take to make a real dent in Jameson’s empire?
This could perhaps be why Diageo has taken its hand out of play and sole Old Bushmills, third in the market, to Jose Cuervo. Maybe they didn’t fancy going down with the ship?
It was recently announced by Dublin Airport that they would be unveiling a new display dedicated to Irish Whiskey. Featuring a total of 160 Whiskies, it is telling of the market that these only came from a grand total of four distilleries.
But in consideration and in spite of Jameson’s massive market share, there are some 30 new distilleries planned or already founded on the island.
With this number in mind, the Irish Whiskey Association, an organisation little over a year old itself, predicts that alongside rising production, exports and market growth will surely shoot up with it.
The aim is to eventually lead to an overall global market growth of 300% by 2030 for Irish Whiskey segment in the Whisk(e)y market at large.
Since it represents just 5% of the market today, that is tall order.
But with an influx of new distilleries, both craft and bigger, there is surely hope that the Irish can meet their target.
It has been projected that the market will grow by 8% in the next five years and if it keeps rising like that then maybe 300% is not out of the question.
The Irish have always been passionate about their distilling and with a Whiskey history as lucrative as Scotland’s, they offer another option to the sight-seeing tourist looking for beautiful surroundings and a tasty dram.
Perhaps the biggest tell of what is to come for Irish Whiskey is Brown-Forman’s recent buy of Slane Castle Distillery for an incredible $50 million.
Clearly there is something worth investing in if even the Americans with their booming Bourbon trade are willing to through their hand.
Could there be gold at the end of the Irish Whiskey rainbow? Only time will tell!