Are aged Irish whiskey stocks running low?

23rd January, 2013 by Becky Paskin

As Scotch struggles to supply Asia’s insatiable palate for aged spirits, can Irish whiskey avoid the mistakes of its Celtic cousin? Becky Paskin asks if it’s too late.

Irish whiskey barrels Jameson

Jameson continues to lead growth in the Irish whiskey category

How were the likes of Diageo, Edrington and Pernod Ricard to know 15 years ago that the Asian appetite for extra-aged Scotch would be so insatiable? A sign of wealth and status in emerging Asian middle class society, imported Scotch brands such as Johnnie Walker and The Macallan are in high demand in China, Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries.

Scotch exports grew by 23% in 2011 to £4.2bn, acccording to the Scotch Whisky Association, with direct exports to Singapore – an entry point for much of Asia – rising by 44%. But, as demand increases, the amount of aged whisky – which can’t be replaced by simply turning on a tap – inevitably depletes.

So much so that many Scotch producers, including Edrington-owned The Macallan, are seriously looking at ways around the issue, with the aforementioned removing age statements below 18 years old from its core range completely.

But, while Irish whiskey is not yet seeing similar numbers emerging from Asia, IWSR figures show the category grew to 4.9 million nine-litre cases globally last year and, bolstered by the popularity of Jameson, this is expected to soar to 7.9m cases per year by 2016, begging the question: Is the category in danger of falling into the same trap as Scotch?

Has time run out?
The big four producers – Diageo, Beam, William Grant and Pernod Ricard – claim to have had the foresight to grow their brands in line with what they can feasibly supply, keeping up the pace in established markets such as the US, and taking a measured approach to expansion in emerging markets such as Russia, Eastern Europe and South Africa.

While many are coy about how their stocks of aged whiskey are faring right now, all have identified a potential issue in the future, and have invested significantly in increasing production capacity in line with the anticipated surge in demand to avoid a lull in inventory. But is it too little, too late?

Leave a Reply

Subscribe to our newsletter