Thinking Drinkers: on board with Irish whiskey

We recently received a lovely drop of Jameson 18 Year Old Bow Street. It came in a huge box, accompanied with hefty rocks glasses and the added fanfare of a massive bag of cheese. The dairy delights inspired a cheese joke session, which ended with an explosion at a French cheese factory – and all that was left was de brie. Even our dignity had evaporated. 

After these cheesy japes, we basked in the 20° heat of February and briefly considered the carbon footprint of this generous gesture, before greedily opening our bag of cheese. Alas there was no brie, but the Young Buck Blue from County Down was a brilliant pairing with the whiskey. So well done everyone involved.

The whiskey was distilled and initially matured at the Midleton Distillery, but this new addition to the Jameson family also enjoyed a six-month spell in the maturation house on the site of the original Jameson Distillery in Bow Street, Dublin. 

The release then, represents a new dawn of production for this historic brand. But more than this, it is further evidence of the recent renaissance in Irish whiskey, which is now one of the fastest growing spirits categories in the world.

We’ve been keeping an eye on its progress for the past few years, and indeed championed its quality along with its extraordinary heritage – the Irish being the first to make the spirit. But in the past 12 months, new openings, launches, investment and enthusiasm have seen the industry smash expectations and deliver unavoidable headlines.

William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, estimates that sales of whiskey in 2018 will be in the region of 10.7 million cases. In 2014, the Irish Whiskey Association had set a target for 12 million case sales by 2020,” he says. Our industry is on course to meet and exceed this target.”

According to Euromonitor International, Irish whiskey is one of the fastest-growing spirits categories with a CAGR of 9.1% in 2012-2017 and year-on-year growth of the same amount in 2017-2018.

Some producers are new. Dublin Liberties Distillery, for example, opened in Dublin city centre recently and became Ireland’s 22nd operational whiskey distillery, to add to the 16 new distilleries opening in the past five years, and as many as 29 in development. But the stalwarts are also investing and rejuvenating. Irish Distillers has driven plenty of innovation in the past year and announced a €150 million investment in the Midleton Distillery along with the developments at Bow Street.

All of which means there’s plenty of new spirit to put on shelves. Looking at Midleton alone you can add the 18 Year Old Bow Street to the ongoing releases from Redbreast and Midleton Very Rare. We’ve seen the Method & Madness range deliver Method & Madness 28 Year Old Potstill and a Hungarian oak finish. And this year we’ve enjoyed the new Red Spot 15 Year Old. And all this from one producer, which gives you an indication of how busy this category is getting.  

The spirit, and the industry, will want to mature, but this is undoubtedly fertile ground and means the story of Irish whiskey is no longer restricted to the geeks. This isn’t a secret club, far from a halloumi-nati, and it’s not too gouda be true because there are grater days ahead, so start Caerphilly wheying up the space on the shelves. Ignoring the phenomenon would be crackers.

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