Irish whiskey brands to watch in 2021

14th December, 2020 by Nicola Carruthers

The Irish whiskey category is expected to bounce back quickly from the pandemic, boosted by a strong performance in e-commerce and retail. We forecast the brands that will soar to new heights in the next 12 months.

For Irish whiskey, 2020 was the year the category was expected to storm past its goal of 12 million cases. However, while the sector was on track to hit its target, the global pandemic knocked sales back down.

The Irish Whiskey Association’s (IWA) 12m‐case goal by 2020 was surpassed in the 12 months before the pandemic struck, William Lavelle, head of Drinks Ireland/IWA told The Spirits Business this year. But IWSR Drinks Market Analysis expects it will be 2022 until the category reaches pre‐pandemic volumes again.

“Despite the challenges presented by Covid‐19, the Irish whiskey industry has shown remarkable resilience throughout 2020,” says Conor McQuaid, chairman and CEO of Pernod Ricard’s Irish Distillers unit, which owns Jameson.

He says drinkers have continued to trade up to premium options at home. “We have seen an increased demand across the portfolio for our super‐premium‐and‐above references,” he adds. There is also more innovation to come from Irish Distillers, including experimentation with different wood types to “push the boundaries” of Irish whiskey.

The top markets for Irish whiskey in 2019 were the US, followed by global travel retail (GTR) and Russia. Stephen Teeling, sales and marketing director at Teeling, says: “GTR was the number two market for Irish whiskey globally so the implosion of international travel will have a severe impact on the performance in 2020. However, in all the key markets there has been a very strong performance in retail and e‐commerce by Irish whiskey, and the long‐term trend is still very strong.”

Jameson recorded “solid growth” in its key markets in the 12 months to June 2020, despite the pandemic. The brand recorded double‐digit gains in Australia and Germany, as well as in emerging markets such as Nigeria (163%), China (48%), India (25%) and Japan (16%).

Alongside the pandemic, Irish whiskey also faces challenges from Brexit and the EU‐US trade disputes. Single malt Irish whiskey from Northern Ireland was hit with a 25% tariff in the US in October 2019.

Teeling adds: “The constant threat and uncertainty associated with the ongoing dispute has caused a lot of issues in terms of planning. The largest market for Irish whiskey in the world is the US, and it has been the engine for growth over the past 10 years. Tariffs are a barrier to trade, and if imposed across the wider Irish whiskey category, [it] would have severe and long‐term effects on the continued growth of our industry.”

Looking ahead, Teeling believes there is a “large opportunity to excite and recruit new Irish whiskey consumers through digital and e‐commerce”. Quaid also expects the ready‐to‐drink trend to continue into next year.

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

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