Ireland is the home of whiskey, but with a chequered history. In 2010, there were only four distilleries in operation, while sales were under five million cases. But the decade that followed has proved to be a phenomenal one for the Irish whiskey industry. We have now reached a stage where Irish whiskey has been restored as one of our leading all-island industries, making a substantial contribution to our shared economy with tangible impacts for communities across our shared island.
By the end of 2020, the number of operational Irish whiskey distilleries had increased to 38 and the map of the Irish whiskey landscape had been radically redrawn. From the largest investments in Midleton and Tullamore to other towns and villages throughout Ireland, we saw the restoration of distilling to areas which once had rich traditions in whiskey production. Distillery developments have made a tangible and substantial contribution to local economic regeneration and to the social fabric of urban and rural communities throughout the island of Ireland.
In 2010, sales of Irish whiskey were less than five million cases (60 million bottles). But Irish whiskey was the fastest growing spirits category of the past decade, with 140% volume growth. By January 2020, just before the on-set of the Covid-19 pandemic, the twelve-month rolling sales total for Irish whiskey exceeded 12 million cases (144 million bottles), delivering on the industry target and achieving heights not last seen since the early 1900’s. In total, the aggregate value of Irish whiskey exports from the island of Ireland reached €890 million in 2019. Irish whiskey is now being sold in 140 markets globally. The United States has led the way, accounting for 51% of all Irish whiskey sales growth across the decade.
During the second part of the decade, Irish whiskey tourism emerged as a star performer in Ireland’s tourism offering; and Irish whiskey began to be recognised as a world leader in experiential tourism. Overall visitor numbers to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes grew by 54%, from 653,000 in 2015 to just over one million in 2019. The number of staff directly employed in visitor centres peaked at 409 in 2019. It is estimated that visitors to distilleries and brand homes in 2019 contributed spending of €90 million in total to the broader economy.
Over the past decade, the Irish whiskey industry:
- Invested €1.55 billion
- Contributed €686 million in value added to our shared economy
- Contributed €412,756 GVA per employee, the highest across Irish food and drink
- Directly employed 1,640 persons pre-Covid
- Delivered €770 million in excise on domestic sales to the Irish exchequer