Irish whiskey is officially the fourth fastest growing spirits category in the U.S., and this news couldn’t come at a better time considering that St. Patrick’s Day is tomorrow. There are some key reasons behind the explosion in popularity of “uisce beatha,” the Gaelic term for “water of life” which is impossible to pronounce after a couple of drams of Irish whiskey.
The three categories that are still beating Irish whiskey in terms of revenue growth are ready-to-drink cocktails, tequila and mezcal, and good old American whiskey (in that order). But according to the Distilled Spirits Council, Irish whiskey sales have gone up 6.9 percent from 2021 to 2022, which in dollar terms is an increase from $91 million to $1.4 billion. And this past January, the Irish Whiskey Association said that the value of Irish whiskey exports had surpassed a billion dollars for the first time in 2022.
The market is still led by the workhorse blended whiskey, which can range from humble expressions from Jameson and Bushmills to the high-end Midleton Very Rare. In fact, Jameson (which is owned by Irish Distillers and parent company Pernod Ricard) is now the fastest growing whiskey brand in the world overall, according to a recent article in The Irish Times. Irish single malts are finally getting the recognition they deserve as drinkers turn to new expressions from distilleries like Bushmills instead of their usual bottle of scotch, and single pot still whiskey is getting a boost from brands like Redbreast, which Irish Distillers said is now the most popular in that distinctly Irish category with over 100,000 cases sold. And whiskeys like the brand-new 100 percent rye release from Powers are furthering the appeal of Irish whiskey as well to people who may consider themselves American whiskey diehards.
According to Irish Whiskey Association director William Lavelle, millennials and Gen Z are avid consumers of the category, which he calls “the global ‘spirit du jour’ for younger generations, including across the U.S.” He also credits e-commerce sales throughout the course of the pandemic as a major source of growth. “Irish whiskey has benefitted from the growing global demand for premium, higher-priced Irish whiskey,” he said, “in line with consumers drinking less, but drinking better. We believe Irish whiskey can increasingly compete more with scotch at the higher price points and win more market share, particularly in the U.S.”
So yes, you are still going to find plenty of people ordering a shot of Jameson to go along with a beer at their local dive bar. But you’ll also see Irish whiskey being used more frequently as a cocktail ingredient, and a wider variety of bottles on the back bar at high-end bars and restaurants. After all, there were only four distilleries making Irish whiskey in 2010 (with the majority of it being made at Midleton), and now there are more than 40 that are producing, sourcing, and blending whiskey. And if you’re uncertain where to start, check out our list of the best Irish whiskeys in different categories for some guidance.