A truly dynamic sector that is bustling with innovation, Irish whiskey is a category in hot demand. So much so that the number of Irish whiskey distilleries has leapfrogged from four to 40 since 2010; writes Gillian Hamill
27 April 2022 | 0
The future of the Irish whiskey industry looks bright. After more than €1.5 billion was invested in the Irish whiskey sector in the 2010s and global sales grew from 60 million to 144 million bottles in January 2020, Irish whiskey was named the world’s fastest-growing spirits category of the past decade. And that growth looks set to continue. Drinks industry analyst IWSR expects to see Irish whiskey sales jump 33% from 2020 to 2024, recording sales of 15.3 million.
The success of Irish whiskey abroad is a true testament to the sector’s quality, which as Drinks Ireland points out, is impressively “rich with heritage”. According to Bord Bia data, Irish whiskey exports grew by 25% in 2021 and were valued at €855m. What’s more, Irish whiskies achieved sweeping success at the World Whiskies Awards held in London last month. “The sweeping success of Irish whiskey distilleries, bars and retailers confirms Ireland’s re-emergence as one of the world’s leading whiskey-producing nations,” said William Lavelle, director of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA).
The Irish Whiskey Association also recently drew attention to a multitude of reasons for celebration within the Irish whiskey sector. Impressively, the number of Irish whiskey distilleries has grown from four to 40 since 2010. Furthermore, the IWA assesses that global sales of Irish whiskey broke the 13 million case barrier in 2021 for the first time ever. That’s a massive 150% growth over the past decade. Meanwhile, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) has reported that sales of Irish whiskey in the US grew by 17.8% last year to 5.9 million cases.
The annual market report from Drinks Ireland|Spirits, which was published in September 2021, showed that despite sales and exports declining in 2020 due to Covid-19, Ireland’s spirits sector nevertheless demonstrated impressive resilience.
After vodka, which holds a 31.6% market share in the spirits category, Irish whiskey is the country’s second most popular spirit with a 26.3% market share.
Overall, this a hugely exciting sector to operate in, as the quality credentials of the distilleries displayed over the next few pages illustrates.
A measure of pride
At Titanic Distillers, the focus is firmly on crafting world class spirits that honour the heritage of the great ship, ship builders, and the city of Belfast.
Great skill and artistry were required to create this whiskey. To balance its complexity – yet ensure it is simple to appreciate and savour. To blend the light, sweet vanilla notes of Irish grain whiskies, with the rich, deep, spice of triple-distilled malts. To round everything out with a hint of peat smoke and a long, lingering finish. As Titanic Distillers aptly puts it: “We made the whiskey we want to enjoy after a long, hard day. The whiskey we want to share.”
2022 promises to be a huge year for Titanic Distillers and its Premium Irish Whiskey. Not only has the company secured one of the most globally recognised brand names, but it is also based in the famous Titanic Quarter of Belfast and has plans to convert the historic Titanic Pump-House and Thompson Dock into a new distillery and world class tourist attraction.
Titanic Distillers is inspired by the people who worked in Belfast’s shipyard more than a century ago – and now tourists will be able to walk in their footsteps in the very pump-house and dry dock that represent such an authentic part of the Titanic story and indeed the history of Belfast.
Q&A with… Stephen Symington, founder and commercial director, Titanic Distillers
Q: What are the qualities that make Titanic Distillers Whiskey stand out from the offerings currently available within the market?
A: Within Titanic Distillers Premium Irish Whiskey, there are five different spirits blended together, giving a huge amount of complexity and layers. It is a combination of Irish double and peated triple distilled single malts, along with a combination of bourbon, sherry and virgin oak-aged grain and malt whiskies. The main point of difference from our competitors is the introduction of peated single malt to our blend – this offers Irish whiskey drinkers the opportunity to delve into the world of peated Irish whiskey, which is becoming ever more popular, but at an affordable price. A whiskey that can be enjoyed neat or in a range of complex and simple cocktails for the consumers enjoyment.
Q: How extensive will the marketing campaign for the new whiskey prove, and what elements will this entail? How will this link in with the opening of the distillery later this year?
A: The brand will have a heavyweight campaign behind it which will feature digital, social, sampling, PR and events – including exhibiting at Whiskey Live in Dublin this June, along with being named category sponsor of leading Audio-Visual-Art festival, AVA, hosted at the Titanic Slipways in Belfast this summer. And all of that, ahead of the official Distillery launch in Summer 2022 which will see the historic Pumphouse at Thompson dock, where the Titanic once stood, become home to Titanic Distillers – right in the heart of Belfast’s maritime mile.
Once dwarfed by the Great Ship, the Pumphouse stood in the shadows. Now we’re inviting people to come and walk in the footsteps of the shipyard workers; the air thick with stories of former glory and experience the new spirit of Belfast’s famous docklands. Visitors can explore the true home of Titanic and learn first-hand about the characters that have shaped and inspired our story, and our whiskey. Simple. Honest. True.
With planning now granted, we are collaborating with stakeholders and funders to have our distillery and tours in operation by summer 2022.
Q: What are your growth projections for the brand for the next 12 months following launch?
A: We have ambitious targets for our brand which includes global exports and impressive NPD extensions over the next 12 months – but before that, and at the heart of our ambitions, is to create a credible brand for the home-market. A brand our city can be proud of and adopt as their own.
Q: Belfast was once the largest producer of Irish whiskey on the island of Ireland. How will you help revive this tradition through your brand and specifically through the opening of the distillery?
A: Whiskey has played an important part in the history of our city. We want to revive this great distilling tradition and bring Belfast back to the forefront of Irish whiskey production, by becoming the first working distillery in Belfast in over 100 years, while at the same time, telling the story of a past when Belfast led the way globally – not just in distilling or shipbuilding but across many areas of industry, manufacturing and innovation.
A journey of taste
Created through a collaboration between Camus, the world’s leading family-owned cognac producer, and the Baring Family’s Revelstoke Trust, Lambay Irish Whiskey is a combination of centuries-old Irish whiskey-making expertise and five generations of French Cognac blending and maturation expertise.
A unique location, Lambay Island is a hidden paradise just three miles off the coast of Dublin, Ireland. Here lies a playground for puffins, a sanctuary for seabirds, and the adopted home of a troupe of wallabies.
Lambay Island is also home to the business’s bonded warehouse, the Sea Cask Room, open to the rich micro-climate of maritime winds and sea pollens on Lambay. Its sleeping casks effectively absorb the rich Island maritime conditions of iodine, sea spray, and salt that enrich Lambay’s oak cognac casks with unique taste profiles.
Born from independently sourced single malts and created for a discerning whiskey palette, Lambay Whiskey is delighted to announce the launch of a new three-part collector’s series of single malts called the Reserve Cask Series.
Lambay Whiskey Single Malt – Batch 01 is the first batch of the series, limited to 10,000 bottles. It will be available on shop.lambaywhiskey.com from this month onwards, while Batch 02 will release at the end of 2022 and Batch 03 at the end of 2023.
“This series is designed to push the boundaries for our whiskey fans to taste the diversity of cask finishes we can create in our single malts,” says Sabine Sheehan, global brand ambassador, Lambay Whiskey. “Our first Lambay Single Malt release in 2018 was a huge success with its floral, tropical notes and lingering sweetness attracting a new swathe of whiskey drinkers to Lambay.
“This Reserve Cask Series will challenge that profile with three very different limited-edition cask releases,” she adds. “Oak, tobacco, salt and peat will challenge the traditional sweet, floral and mellow profile we had before, opening us up to new consumers that prefer those taste profiles and wish to leverage up, on their current favourites.”
Lambay Whiskey Single Malt – Batch 01 is no ordinary single malt. A rich triple-distilled single malt, it is matured in bourbon barrels and finished in Lambay Whiskey’s signature style of French Camus cognac casks.
Batch 01 contains a higher percentage of island matured Lambay Single Malt delivering a more intense salty note. This Single Malt consists of both first-fill and second-fill cognac cask finishing creating a more intense mouthfeel of spice, tobacco, and pepper on the palette.
Blended with Single Malt from the Lambay Island warehouse, the whiskey has soft smoky attributes with slight salinity and a lingering finish that balances the rich oak and herb note. Before bottling, the island’s own Trinity Well water is added in the final flourish, to deliver this delicious, triple distilled Irish whiskey (ABV: 43%).
Triple blended to perfection
Uais: The Triple Blend is a unique fusion of pot still, single malt and grain whiskeys; the three types of Irish whiskey blended together in perfect harmony. Named for Colla Uais: one of the famed Three Collas, brothers who once ruled ancient Ireland. Uais is a whiskey that honours the past but moves in bold new directions.
The Uais bottle is made from the most eco-friendly materials possible; 100% recycled glass and recycled paper for the label with a sustainable wood stopper and a biodegradable vegetable-based seal. Uais is a part of Ahascragh Distillers Family Bond series of sourced releases but within a few years the liquid inside these bottles will be produced using a carbon neutral distilling process at Ahascragh Distillery. This eco-distillery in the west of Ireland will be powered by renewable energy. Its new highly efficient energy storage design was recently recognised by SEAI and through the Exeed Programme, was awarded capital grant support for its installation.
Uais is an authentic Irish whiskey with an innovative twist. A blend of old and new; traditions, flavours and stories, Uais is a step up from the ordinary.
Available now at Celtic Whiskey Shop, Irishmalts and all good stockists.
Grace and flavour
Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey unveils its most vibrant and colourful blend to date, ‘The Grace’, a collaboration with street artist Kathrina Rupit, also known as KinMx, who has taken her latest mural to new heights in the heart of the city’s creative quarter.
The Grace, a 60ft by 40ft public artwork sees a contemporary, artistic interpretation of the famous Irish pirate queen, Grace O’Malley, has taken up residency on Aungier Street in Dublin. Bottles, flowers and waves crash at Grace’s booted feet, bring to life the elements of achievement of Ireland’s most widely known warriors and notable seafarers.
The Grace is one element of an exciting project partnership with Fresco and the Subset Collective, rolling out this year. Having launched as a mural, artwork will also be painted across 500 black Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey bottles in a separate installation launching this month. These bottles will then be used for a limited edition bottling of Grace O’Malley 12 Year Old Single Grain Irish Whiskey Amarone Finish. Each whiskey bottle will host a sectional piece of the mural, representing a unique piece of the artwork with funds from the sale going directly to the Irish art community.
“We are committed to establishing a genuine long-term relationship with the Irish art community,” says Heather Clancy, brand manager for Grace O’Malley Irish Whiskey.
Four hundred of The Grace Limited Edition Whiskeys will be sold across e-commerce and off-trade platforms, with the remaining one hundred bottles sold alongside an NFT corresponding to the public artwork.
Inis Tine Uisce Teoranta (ITUT) which owns the Grace O’Malley Premium Irish Spirits Brand will only retain the production costs of the product, with all profits going directly to the team behind the project.
The painted bottles will be displayed at mend Studio in April, with the launch of the limited edition bottles and the corresponding NFTs in June. Further details will be announced via the brand’s Instagram page @graceomalleyspirits and www.graceomalleywhiskey.com.
It’s been a good start to 2022 for Clonakilty Distillery in terms of awards, and last month the team continued their winning ways by scooping two major awards at the prestigious World Whiskies Awards.
The maritime distillery trumped in two categories at the ceremony in London. Visitor experience manager Ewan Paterson won the Best Visitor Experience Manager category, whilst the muti-award winning Clonakilty Small Batch Single Malt Whiskey added another accolade to its collection of silverware.
Clonakilty’s Small Batch Single Malt was the second award for the team on the night, coming up trumps in the Single Malt Small Batch Category.
Head distiller at Clonakilty Distillery Paul Corbett said the team was delighted to be recognized for this, which was made in collaboration with O’Hara’s Brewery.
“O’Hara’s brews exceptional beers and on nosing the casks before filling I knew we were going to be crafting something special,” he says. “The resulting Clonakilty Small Batch Single Malt has a complex blend of chocolate, fruit and spice notes with a rich mouth-feel and we’re delighted it has been recognised on a global scale.”
To keep up to date with all things Clonakilty Distillery, check out Twitter @clondistillery, Facebook @clonakiltydistillery and Instagram @clonakiltydistillery For more information, visit www.clonakiltydistillery.ie/.
Spirit of wild, rugged beauty
There is no shortage of inspiration for a sublime range of Fercullen Irish Whiskey cocktails at Powerscourt Distillery. Surrounded by the wild, rugged beauty of the Wicklow Mountains, steeped in the history and traditions of Ireland’s Ancient East and nestled beside the splendour of The Powerscourt Gardens, wild and cultivated ingredients are abundant.
The distillery uses only the best Irish ingredients to reflect the current consumer expectations for authentic, seasonal and delicious hand-crafted cocktails. Creating cocktails that reflect this landscape, drawing on classic cocktails and adding a fresh new twist allows Fercullen Irish Whiskey’s extraordinary spirit to shine through!
Delicious and refreshing, the Powerscourt Pear Blossom is inspired by the delicate pear blossom on the longstanding pear trees clinging to the old stones walls of the walled garden of Powerscourt House. It’s made with Fercullen 8-Year-Old Blended Whiskey, mixed with the incredible smoked pear bitters from Beara Bitters and Irish pear juice from another excellent Irish producer DP Connolly. The distillery loves collaborating with local artisan producers from Wicklow and Ireland’s Ancient East.
Fercullen 8-Year-Old Irish Whiskey is a carefully selected blend of aged malt and grain whiskeys, matured for eight years in American oak and skilfully blended to deliver a classic Irish whiskey. Hints of citrus, vanilla and oak combine delicately to produce a satisfying, clean, crisp mouthfeel with enough depth to bring life to summer drinks and cocktails.
With a RSP of €43.99, it is available now in O’Brien’s off-licenses, SuperValu and through Barry & Fitzwilliam.
For more information, visit www.PowerscourtDistillery.com.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a multi-award-winning blend that is triple distilled for smoothness and triple-casked for character. Matured in a combination of American Virgin Oak, Seasoned Bourbon and Oloroso Sherry Casks, Slane is a smooth, complex and robust blend that is rich in colour and full of flavour.
A striking black bottle calls out its distinctive flavour and unconventional approach that embodies the trail-blazing spirit of Slane, setting itself apart from other brands. It has received multiple awards since launch at a local and international level, including Best Irish Blended Whiskey (RRP of less than €60) at the 2019 Irish Whiskey Awards* and most recently receiving the Gold Medal Irish Whiskey Masters from The Spirit Business 2021.
A trail-blazing Distillery and Visitor Centre is situated on the grounds of the legendary Slane Castle.
Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon & Co. Ltd, a 700ml format is widely available across multiples and off-licences nationwide, as well as a 50ml format. With 40% ABV, the RSP is €33.**
**(RSP is at the sole discretion of the retailer)
The Irishman range of super-premium whiskeys, produced by Walsh Whiskey, recently unveiled an extensive rebranding to reflect its dedication to the pursuit of excellence in single malt whiskeys. The most striking change in The Irishman rebrand is the introduction of a bespoke, tall, tapered bottle. A significant feature of the bottle is a series of embossed phrases around the lower part of the bottle that capture the essence of The Irishman’s focus and purpose, which is ‘to pursue a lifelong journey in search of the perfect dram/ taoscán of single malt, while respecting past traditions and with ambition for future possibilities’.
A new brand icon is one of three distinctive features on the label and product packaging, which also contain a lot of the unique, technical details of each expression. The icon, which features a capital letter ‘I’ (for Irishman) inside two-tone staves of a barrel, signifies The Irishman’s journey to learn from the past while creating the future.
Other unique and notable features of the new labels are the addition of braille for the visually impaired and nutritional and calorific information on e-labels positioned on back of pack and online. The braille highlighting The Irishman’s brand name, is also a personal tribute by Bernard Walsh to the memory of his own grandfather, Jack Walsh, whose loss of vision made a lasting impression on his grandson.
There are also changes to the composition of the range, with a change of name for one core expression and the addition of a limited edition to the core of the portfolio. The Founder’s Reserve blend (70% single malt and 30% single pot still) has been renamed The Harvest. The new name, The Harvest, honours the great contribution of the farming community in the whiskey-making process. The whiskey is crafted entirely from a mash bill of 100% Irish barley.
The Irishman Caribbean Cask, first released as a limited edition bottling in 2018, has also been added to the portfolio’s core expressions which include The Harvest; Single Malt; 12-Year-Old Single Malt; 17-Year-Old Single Malt & the Vintage Cask. The Irishman Caribbean Cask Finish is a rare vatting of single malt and single pot still whiskeys finished for six months in Chairman’s Reserve Rum casks from the tiny tropical Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, before being bottled at 46% ABV.
Inspired by the untamed spirit of the founders of The Wild Geese in their stand against corporate bullying and the pioneering spirit of the “Wild Geese”, founding fathers of the Irish diaspora, Wild Geese Untamed Non-Chill Filtered Cask Strength Irish whiskey is a multi-award winner, having taken Gold at the 2021 Irish Whiskey Masters, Silver at the International Spirits Challenge in 2020 and another Gold at the 2019 PR%F Awards.
A blend of malt and grain whiskeys, Untamed is double distilled then matured in single-use white oak Bourbon casks. Clean, bright and pale yellow in colour, Untamed is light and floral on the nose, before opening up with bright, citrus flavours with a hint of spice on the palate. Perfect neat, chilled or on the rocks, it finishes surprisingly long and soft for a cask-strength whiskey – an iron fist in a velvet glove – making it the ideal addition to any connoisseur’s cabinet.
The Wild Geese Heritage Collection has a whiskey for every palate in its portfolio. The three-time ‘Best Irish Whiskey’ winner was one of the first independent bottlings and the first super-premium Irish whiskey collection. From single malts to carefully crafted blends, these best-in-class whiskies are produced using an extended double distillation process for a smoother product with distinctive character.
In recognition of the untamed spirit so vividly demonstrated by the Ukrainian people, The Wild Geese has produced a t-shirt with the message Unbroken Unbowed Untamed emblazoned on it. All profits will help Ukrainian refugees. It aims to sell 1,000 t-shirts to raise tens of thousands of euros for their cause.
Sip and whistle a while
The Whistler range is crafted by the Cooney family in Boann Distillery in the heart of the Boyne Valley.
Whistled into life one fabled New Year’s Eve, the multi-award-winning range of Irish whiskey expressions are matured and finished in a host of fascinating casks from around the world.
The brand’s newest release, The Whistler ‘Mosaic’ Marsala cask small batch single grain whiskey recently won the title of ‘World’s Best Single Grain’ at the World Whiskies Awards in London.
This unique single grain Irish whiskey has been initially matured in ex-bourbon casks before being finished for no less than 15 months in exquisite Sicilian Marsala casks. This creates a perfectly balanced whiskey which boasts a deliciously fruity and flavoursome nose and palate to match.
The latest award is the fourth international ‘World’s Best’ gong for the distillery in the World Whiskies Awards since 2019 and it was also nominated in the finals for the world’s best blended malt for The Whistler ‘The Good, The Bad and The Smoky’ which came away as Irelands best blended malt.
At the WWA last year, Boann won the world’s Best New Make 2021 and world’s best honey for the Whistler Irish Honey, in addition to the world’s best cream for Merrys Irish Cream Liqueur in 2019.
The Co Meath distillery, based just outside Drogheda, blazed a trail to the finals in London after coming through the first round of blind tastings, in which it scooped 11 prizes.
The Whistler range is distributed exclusively in Ireland by Barry & Fitzwilliam.
For further information, visit www.boanndistillery.ie.
2021 was milestone year for the Connacht Distillery as it successfully brought its Connacht Single Malt Irish Whiskey to the market. The first whiskey to be distilled in Co. Mayo in over 150 years, it has been extremely well received and acknowledged by industry commentators and experts alike, winning a gold medal in the ‘New Irish Whiskey’ category at the 2021 Irish Whiskey Awards.
Crafted using 100% Irish malted barley, aged in ex-bourbon casks for four years and finished in ex-Oloroso sherry casks, it is then double distilled from the distillery’s own copper pot stills. It features a warm and full-bodied finish, with tasting notes including raisin and dried fruits, a honey sweetness and hints of almond and star anise, as well as a palate of vanilla, spices, dried fruit and malt.
It is available through the Connacht Distillery’s own website and stockists nationwide (RRP €65).
2022 is shaping up to be another busy year for the Connacht Distillery. It recently announced its expansion into the UK market, appointing Spirit Cartel as its whiskey distributor. It also recently welcomed the return of tours of the distillery in Ballina, Co. Mayo, with large numbers of visitors expected over the summer months. Visitors are encouraged to book tours and tastings in advance online at www.connachtwhiskey.com.