Irish whiskey brands to watch in 2022By Melita Kiely
The Irish whiskey category is regaining momentum amid the fallout from tariffs and the global pandemic. We showcase the brands that will help take the spirit to the next level in 2022.
*This feature was originally published in the December 2021 issue of The Spirits Business magazine.
There continued to be a flurry of activity in the Irish whiskey category in 2021. However, the sector has not been without its challenges.
The year started with single malt Irish whiskey locked in a trade dispute between the US, the EU and the UK in relation to the Boeing-Airbus feud. In 2019, the US government imposed tariffs on US$7.5 billion worth of EU goods, including a 25% tax on single malt Irish whiskey, because of the ongoing disagreement.
Relief came in June when the US and the EU agreed to a five-year suspension of tariffs, a decision hailed as a “positive development for Irish spirits” by trade body Drinks Ireland|Spirits due to the importance of the US market. It was a welcome move at a time when the category, like others, was recovering from the devastation of Covid-19 that hit the previous year. In September, the annual market report from Drinks Ireland|Spirits showed spirits exports from the Republic of Ireland declined by 15.97% in 2020, from €1.18bn in 2019 to €990m in 2020, largely because of the collapse of global travel retail. Before the pandemic, the global travel retail channel was Irish whiskey’s second-biggest market.
Bryan Fallon, managing director of Heaven Hill Ireland, and chair of Drinks Ireland|Spirits, said: “The resilience shown by the spirits sector last year in the face of loss of one of the main consumer channels was remarkable, with producers responding with an increased emphasis on the off-trade and a focus on e-commerce.”
From new product launches to distillery investments, Spiros Malandrakis, head of research – alcoholic drinks at Euromonitor International, believes this will contribute to the “potential for the category to continue growing strongly”.
Irish Distillers, the Irish whiskey arm of French drinks group Pernod Ricard, remains the category leader. The firm’s Jameson Irish whiskey is ahead of the crowd, and sold 7.7 million nine-litre cases in 2020, according to The Brand Champions 2021 report, but this was a 5% volume decline for the brand.
However, Pernod Ricard reported a return to growth in its fiscal 2021 results – and Jameson’s sales jumped by 15%. This return to growth will continue across the entire category, says Malandrakis. “People are going back to what they were drinking before the apocalypse,” he adds. “Irish whiskey, like all whiskies, seems to be immediately going back to previous stellar growth rates.”
And with newcomers giving the sector an addional boost – such as Titanic Distillers, which in November secured planning permission to build a distillery and visitor centre on the site where RMS Titanic was built – 2022 is looking particularly bright for Irish whiskey.
Find our selection of brands to watch in 2022 below.
For more brand forecasts, read our predictions for American whiskey, Scotch whisky and vodka.
Becle-owned Irish whiskey brand Bushmills is a household name, but not a brand that likes to shout too loudly about its endeavours. This past year, however, has seen a large amount of activity from the brand. Not only was there a new Causeway Collection, launched with a campaign featuring George the Poet, but the brand appointed a new master blender in November, Alex Thomas. We have it on authority that 2022 will be the year when Bushmills is thrown into the spotlight more – and we can’t wait to see what Thomas comes up with in her new role.
The producer of the Writers’ Tears and The Irishman whiskey brands is under new ownership. In November, Amber Beverage Group acquired Walsh Whiskey for an undisclosed sum. While all staff will remain in place, including Bernard Walsh at the helm as managing director, Amber Beverage Group is on a quest for global dominance, so there is sure to be some interesting activity coming from Walsh Whiskey in 2022.
Proper No. Twelve
Jose Cuervo owner Becle snapped up the remaining stake in Conor McGregor’s Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey this year for US$600m. Since launching in 2018, Proper No. Twelve has shipped more than 500,000 ninelitre cases to eight internaonal markets. Now, with the full weight of Becle behind it, there is an opportunity for the brand to be a serious global competitor in the Irish whiskey category.