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Irish Whiskey Booming Again

After decades of decline, Irish whiskey is roaring back. From just four operational distilleries in 2010, there are now 42 on the island of Ireland. Annual global sales have surged from 5m cases (60m bottles) in 2010 to 14m cases (168m bottles) last year, fuelled by new offerings and younger drinkers.

Glass of Irish Whiskey

Irish distillers are loving the fact that they're closing the market gap on their hitherto dominant Scottish rivals - but there's still a fair way to go.

At one point, Ireland had more than 1,000 distilleries. By the 19th century a cluster of producers in Dublin’s Liberties district supplied much of the world. At the time. Ireland’s distilleries accounted for more than 60 percent of sales in the US, before the tide turned. The Irish ignored new technologies, restricted exports during US prohibition in the 1920s, and got caught in a trade war with the UK. Scotland seized its chance and ramped up global exports, establishing scotch as a synonym for all types of whiskey.

Growth in the US has been especially strong, rising 16 percent last year to a record $1.3bn, according to the Distilled Spirits Council. If the trend continues, Irish whiskey sales in the US – currently 5.9m cases – will overtake scotch, which has plateaued at about 8m cases, by 2030.

Globally, however, sales of scotch, at 1.3bn bottles, still dwarf its Irish rival, which sells 190m bottles.

“We fell from 60 percent to 2 percent in the US, that’s some trick,” said John Teeling, a doyen of Irish whiskey producers. Then he smiled: “But I think we’ll overtake the Scots by the end of the decade. There’ll be a huge party when that happens.”



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