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Irish Whiskey’s Boom Prompts Expansion Plans

Irish whiskey’s strong upswing of recent years shows no sign of slowing. The category’s six top global markets by volume all grew last calendar year, with the U.S. (ranked first), South Africa (fifth) and Germany (sixth) all showing double-digit growth. The U.S. was particularly buoyant, with volume rising 24% to 1.71 million nine-liter cases, according to Impact Databank.

Those trends have prompted distilleries in Ireland to map expansion plans. Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers has invested over €100 million ($127.9m) to expand its distillery in Midleton. William Grant & Sons is also planning to ramp up and gain greater control of production for its Tullamore Dew brand. The world’s second-leading Irish whiskey after Jameson, Tullamore Dew is getting a €35 million ($44.8m) investment in a new distillery. William Grant, which currently contracts Tullamore Dew’s production out to Irish Distillers, says the new facility will meet long-term supply demands for the brand. “You’ve got to take a 20- to 30-year perspective when you think about whisk(e)y,” says Tullamore Dew global brand director Shane Hoyne. “We’re building a distillery that will have more than enough flexibility to meet our needs into the future.” Hoyne predicts that Tullamore Dew will reach global volume of 2 million cases within the next decade.

Beam Inc. also is now a player in Irish whiskey, thanks to its $95 million acquisition of Cooley Distillery in December. The purchase included the Kilbeggan brand, which will be the company’s main focus, as well as Connemara, Tyrconnell and Greenore. Cooley has annual global volume of around 250,000 cases, divided among its brands, private label products and bulk sales.

Diageo, meanwhile, has capitalized on the rising popularity of flavored whiskies by launching Bushmills Irish Honey this spring, which rolled out first exclusively to the U.S. At 35% abv, Bushmills Irish Honey retails at $24.99 a 750-ml. “Not only does it enable us to reignite this classic whiskey, but in adding the essence of honey, it allows us to introduce—or in some cases re-introduce—the iconic Bushmills trademark range to consumers,” says Bushmills global brand director Samantha Reader.

While the U.S. remains Irish whiskey’s biggest market by far, volumes in the U.S. still represent only a fraction of the Bourbon (roughly 16 million cases), Canadian (14 million cases) and Scotch whisky (8 million cases) markets—showing that there remains huge potential for further growth.