Irish whiskey now the world’s fastest-growing premium spirit thanks to a 300% increase in exports over the past decade. In total gross revenue for Irish whiskey up over 1000% since 2003 according to the Distilled Spirits Council and the number of distilleries on the Emerald Isle has shot up from just four in 2013 to almost 30 by the end of 2019 with several more in the works.
This budding renaissance reminds of Irish whiskey’s heyday in the late 19th century when it dominated the world as the most widely consumed spirit with at least 88 licensed distilleries across the island. By the second half of the 20th century this number had tumbled to just two distilleries thanks to a combination of Prohibition in the USA, the biggest market for Irish whiskey, and the economic impact of two World Wars.
For William Lavelle, Managing Director of the Irish Whiskey Association, increasing demand in new and emerging markets is the secret to success. “The value of Irish Whiskey grew by 14.3% last year compared to 10% for French Cognac. More growth is possible, but growth in new markets. While Ireland is very reliant on the USA, there is great potential in emerging markets in the Far East, Asia, Canada and especially Mexico, following Ireland’s recent success in trade negotiations.”
Like Scotch, there are strict rules and regulations for producing Irish whiskey; the spirit must be produced and matured on the island with a required minimum of three years ageing. Where the two styles differ, though, is in how they are made. Irish whiskey is typically triple-distilled and often made from a mixture of malted and unmalted barley and other grains whereas Scotch tends to be double distilled and made solely from malted barley. There are exceptions to these generalisations, but Irish whiskey is usually smoother and mellower than its Scotch cousins, making it a great choice for newer whisky drinkers.
This is no doubt one reason why Irish whiskey has gone from strength to strength since the beginning of the 21st century, with sales doubling from under 6 million cases (72 million bottles) in 2010 to over 12 million cases (144 million bottles) by 2020. This trend is also reflected in the rare and collectable Irish whiskey market; earlier in 2020 the most expensive Irish whiskey released to date went on the market for €35,000 a bottle. Just 48 bottles of Midleton Very Rare Silent Distillery Collection Chapter One, a 45 year old Irish whiskey, were released in February 2020 from the distillery which closed down in 1975. This strong pricing is proof of the growing global appetite for rare Irish whiskey – excellent news for investors looking to diversify their portfolio.