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Irish whiskey brands to watch in 2020

The Irish whiskey renaissance is a force to be reckoned with and premiumisation could be key to further success next year. We take a look at the brands worth keeping an eye on in 2020.

If there is one word to sum up the Irish whiskey category, ‘resilient’ would be a pretty good one to use. From dizzying heights in the early 1900s to being almost wiped out in the same century, and now in the midst of a vibrant renaissance, Irish whiskey has much to be optimistic about.

“2019 has been another positive year for Irish whiskey,” says William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA). “Against the backdrop of uncertainty over EU‐US trade and Brexit, the Irish whiskey category has shown itself to be resilient, forging out continued strong growth, particularly in North America and in European markets, as well as accelerating green shoots of growth in non‐traditional markets, particularly in Asia.”

However, single malt Irish whiskey has, like single malt Scotch, been hit by a 25% tariff in the US over an aircraft subsidies dispute with the World Trade Organization. Thankfully, single malt represents a much smaller section of Irish whiskey, unlike Scotch, meaning “over 99.9% of Irish whiskey exports to the US” have been unaffected by the tariffs, says the IWA.

There are now 26 operational distilleries in Ireland – including newcomers Powerscourt, Clonakilty, Dublin Liberties and Roe & Co – and more will undoubtedly join the rising number in the coming year and beyond.

As Irish whiskey expands, so too has the number of geographical indications (GIs) around the world to protect the category. This past year, new GI statuses have been agreed in numerous regions, including the EU, Taiwan and China. And according to the IWA, Thailand is set to make a decision “imminently”.

Conor McQuaid, chairman and CEO of Irish Distillers, which owns Jameson Irish whiskey, says: “Having geographical indication is mutually beneficial for us as suppliers and consumers, as it helps ensure the quality of Irish whiskey across the category and thereby inspires consumer trust in our brands.

“For example, in September we obtained GI status in India. This enhances the reputation of Irish whiskey as a quality spirit, and Jameson as an authentic, imported brand. GI status will ensure that, above all, maintaining quality is paramount.”

Globally, sales of Irish whiskey continue to grow impressively. Forecast figures from Euromonitor for 2019 show volume sales are set to rise to 10.03m nine‐litre cases in 2019, up from 9.3m the previous year. Sales also look set to rise by value for another consecutive year, with forecast figures showing worldwide sales of US$6.2bn for 2019, compared to US$5.7bn in 2018.

“What we can say at this stage, though, is that we very much expect to see premiumisation continue to drive the category in 2020, building on the growth we have seen across our prestige ranges this year (+25%), led by Redbreast (+25%) and the Spot range (+40%),” adds McQuaid. “This reflects the increase in consumer appetite, particularly among millennials, for premium and super‐premium Irish whiskeys.”

Click through the following pages to see which brands we believe are ones to watch in the year ahead.

JJ Corry

Created by Irish whiskey bonder Chapel Gate, JJ Corry released a number of Irish whiskeys in 2019 and delved deep into the realms of cask experimentation. One of the brand’s highlights from the past year was the launch of the “first” Tequila and mezcal cask‐finished Irish whiskey.

With a new year on the horizon, which boundaries of whiskey maturation will JJ Corry push next?

Dingle Distillery

Former Glen Moray head of whisky Graham Coull swapped Scotch for Irish whiskey in October when he joined Ireland’s Dingle Distillery as master distiller.

With 14 years of Scotch whisky experience, keen whisk(e)y fans will be eager to see what influence his Scottish roots will have across the Irish Sea.

Proper No Twelve

It’s no secret that Proper No. Twelve founder Conor McGregor is a bit of an unpredictable character. The professional mixed martial arts fighter found himself in the midst of controversy in August following a bust‐up with a man in a Dublin pub.

His whiskey has had a string of seemingly successful launches in 2019, from the UK and Canada to Australia, which followed a sell‐out debut in the US the year prior. Can Proper No. Twelve maintain the momentum it’s built next year?

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