Love for the Irish and all they do just seems to be unabating, especially if their Whiskey sales are anything to go by.
Originally published in the print and web version of Whisky Magazine
Irish whiskey is currently the fastest growing spirits category across the world, with people turning to whiskey from the Emerald Isle to fulfil their dramming dreams more and more each day.
Where did it come from, and what precipitated such an incredible boost to the Irish whiskey market?
There has been growth in the whiskey market across all categories, for a number of years as new brands enter and as the incumbent brands – predominantly Irish Distillers, IDL, and Jameson – push forward, not resting on their laurels and taking their loft position and market share for granted, but seeing it more as a platform for innovation in the category .
Scotch whisky and American whiskey have seen great increases, with a new cohort of so-called craft distillers rising from seemingly every corner of the land. With this increased demand and quest to try new and different whiskeys and whiskeys from consumers who are savvy, more switched on to their mental as well as physical and emotional needs and who have a desire to explore and understand flavour like no generation before them, there has been a great increase in the popularity of Irish whiskey as a category itself.
Brian Nation, Master Distiller at the Midleton Distillery explains that “Irish whiskey is experiencing a global renaissance, led by Jameson which has been driving the growth of the category for the past 29 years and continues to thrive in more than 70 countries around the world. Whiskey drinkers like the smooth taste, approachability and Irish personality of Jameson, but are also increasingly selecting our super-premium Jameson Black Barrel and Jameson Caskmates whiskeys as the category develops. The cult of Irish whiskey is underpinned by a thriving base of new and planned distilleries that would have been unimaginable a decade ago – we have just seen the opening of Ireland’s 23rd distillery, and we look forward to seeing what these new players bring to the category.”
It was indeed Jameson who really embraced the rise at the very beginning and invested more in their marketing and visitor experience. They also released new bottlings that showcase their innovation, including the Caskmates collection which has a core range of two products – Jameson Caskmates Stout Edition and Jameson Caskmates IPA Edition – but also produces local releases in the States and other key territories to show they can offer a local take on a global brand, something that is vital for modern day consumers to buy in to a product from thousands of miles away.
From here, smaller brands were able to piggy back on the increase in demand, and other IDL brands such as Green Spot and Redbreast have now started to sell to a wider global market than ever before, whilst also expanding their ranges to keep the conversation going, create new news and connect with different whiskey drinkers at different times.
The Teeling Distillery was also a big driver of attitude change, arguably it could be said that their single cask programme, along with their ballsy way of marketing and their brutally consistent and refined messaging nudged IDL to act and to rethink their approach to innovation. They have also crafted a cult following of very loyal fans and collectors who go far and beyond the realms of reason to add the latest or the most obscure single cask Teeling release to their burgeoning collections.
“I have been in the industry now for near 20 years and I have been extremely lucky to have been able to see firsthand the phenomenal growth enjoyed by Irish whiskey over this period. The roots of this growth started in Europe in particular in France but for the last 15 or so years Irish whiskey has truly been a US growth story with some outliers in Central & Eastern Europe and Russia but on a much smaller scale. The huge growth however has been clustered to just a handful of brands and what I find particularly exciting today is the seeds of true segmentation and evolution to a dynamic diversified Irish whiskey category which we hope we are helping achieve. There are still huge opportunities for Irish whiskey as a new generation of whiskey drinkers around the world discover the quality and breadth of character and flavours which are now and will be available in the future,” Jack Teeling, Chief Bottle Washer, Teeling Whiskey
Today, Irish whiskey is steaming ahead, riding that cult following all the way as the Irish definitely have a reputation around the globe as drinkers and creators of fine whiskey, and this has picked up during the boom. Irish Whiskey has a friendliness that Scotch just doesn’t seem able to achieve, lacks the stuffiness of Scotch and that has helped them to grow and maintain their audience.
Brands are focussing on the centuries of tradition imbued in the creation of Irish whiskey. Teeling, Roe & Co., Tullamore D.E.W., J.J. Correy, Pearse Lyons, the list goes on. These brands are all embracing the tradition and history of Irish Whiskey that has gone before them.
As with every global whisky and whiskey category, innovation is key and alongside those who are keeping with the old comes a new breed of Irish distillers who are embracing the new. While there may be a cult following that seems to be growing, without anything new to enjoy, this might start to die off when interest wanes.
“The triple distillation process tends to make Irish Whiskey soft and smooth, then the blending process balances out the sweet, spicy, or fruity characteristics. This results in versatile styles of whiskey which lend themselves to being enjoyed with friends and family. The Irish whiskey category and brands within it have rich, intriguing histories worth talking about, and more recently both large and small Irish brands have been adding to the buzz by pushing the boundaries of the category, resulting in products finished in Chinese red wine casks, Stout, or in Tully’s Case XO Demerara rum,” says Freddie Vereker, Brand Manager, Tullamore D.E.W.
Some examples of note:
Jameson Caskmates was a harbinger of the new wave of whiskey innovation that is set to explode across Ireland and key markets around the world.
IDL also released the Method & Madness range, which has since expanded into gin, which bucked the trend and created a design icon as well as a fantastic range of whiskeys.
Waterford Distillery, owned by Mark Reynier, famous for his work at Bruichladdich, is also planning a new whiskey brand that will be a leader in innovation.
Teeling are also pushing innovation with the Kith & Kin expression, which is whiskey matured in Scottish stout casks, in collaboration with Innis & Gunn brewers.
“While new entrants to the Irish whiskey category will help drive the sector forward, maintaining quality will be a key pre-requisite to sustaining this growth for the long term. In response to the industry diversifying, the Irish Whiskey Association, in 2014, created the Irish whiskey technical file in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, to clearly set out in law the specifications with which Irish whiskey must comply. We are confident that the technical file will ensure that high the standards in quality and consistency achieved over the past 40 years in Midleton will continue. As part of our commitment to leading the Irish whiskey renaissance we, along with other established distilleries, work closely with the Irish Whiskey Association on a production mentoring programme where we offer support to new distilleries in order to help maintain quality and consistency in Irish whiskey, “ says Nation
Assuming things go the way they are predicted, Irish whiskey sales are set to skyrocket with the cult of Irish Whiskey looking like it will prevail, with brands set to invest €1.1 billion over the period of 15 years between 2010-2025.
Irish Whiskey has struggled on, battling one crisis and issue after another for a century or more, and it finally seems to be pulling back some of the glory of its heyday. Since half the world claim that they are Irish in some form or other maybe it isn’t even the Whiskey that keeps them buying it, but the eternal need they feel to reassure everyone that they are actually Irish, even with a thick American/English/any other accent.
Jack Teeling had one final thought on the future of Irish whiskey; “I foresee the dynamic growth to continue across all key markets for Irish whiskey. However I believe we will also see the start of a potential shakeout of pseudo brands of Irish whiskey which have mushroomed over the last few years as whiskey drinkers and the trade realise there is nothing substantial behind them. However I hope these will be replaced by new expressions of Irish whiskey from the many new distilleries hopefully delivering true diversity in liquid thus providing the vibrancy and energy the category needs to continue to be relevant for future years to come”.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. With Irish whiskey growing as fast as it is, especially since so many new brands being established, innovation and flavour exploration will become more and more important to brands both incumbent and intend on chipping away at the loft market share of those who have been in the game for many decades or centuries longer than they have.