This advertising content was produced in collaboration with our partner, Bord Bia.
Just when you thought the Irish whiskey sector couldn’t grow any further, it does, as Bord Bia, the Irish Food Board, can attest. According to its recent “Export Performance and Prospects” report, 2022 was a landmark year for Irish drinks exports, the total value of which was estimated to approach €2 billion ($2.1 billion). Whiskey accounted for 60 percent of value growth in Irish drinks exports, up 25 percent from 2022, demonstrating the category’s ongoing resilience. And the United States continues to be the key market for Irish whiskey exports, representing 57 percent of the total export value.
Industry trends like premiumization have helped Irish whiskey to flourish. Recent data from Distilled Spirits Council of the United States shows the Irish whiskey category has benefited from drinkers’ tendency to trade up, with a luxury tier developing that showcases rare and collectable Irish whiskeys. In fact, since 2003, high-end premium and super-premium Irish whiskey grew an astounding 1,053 percent and 2,769 percent, respectively.
SevenFifty Daily checked in with Henry Horkan, the North America market manager for Bord Bia for a deeper understanding of the category and its relentless success.
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What differentiates Irish whiskey from other whiskey categories?
Henry Horkan: Ireland’s whiskey industry has a long and storied past, filled with centuries of commitment, innovation, and rebellion. We consider Ireland to be the original home of whiskey. After all, it was Irish monks who first discovered the art of distillation in or around the 12th century. For many Irish people, whiskey is tied to our national identity and sense of locality.
But what truly makes Irish whiskey unique is its production process. Unlike other whiskey-producing countries, Ireland doesn’t have requirements around type or treatment of wood for aging or finishing. Distilleries are using amazingly distinctive woods, like Brazilian Amburana and Andean oak. This flexibility has pushed the boundaries of experimentation and innovation.
With more distilleries opening in both established and emerging whisky-making nations, how has Irish whiskey become the fastest growing whiskey category in the world?
Irish whiskey’s remarkable ascent can be attributed to the sheer diversity of product offerings, which has only grown over the past decade as the number of brands on the market increased from a few dozen to hundreds. The creation of new styles and expressions is a testament to the talent and ingenuity of Irish distilleries.
What measures are distilleries in Ireland taking to make whiskey-production a sustainable industry?
Many Irish distillers are part of Bord Bia’s Origin Green program, the world’s only national food and drink sustainability program, which enables the industry to set and achieve sustainability targets that respect the environment and serve local communities. Those measures have included installing a rainwater-harvesting system and implementing widespread energy optimization to make secondary packaging recyclable, reusable, compostable, or removed entirely by the end of 2025.
How does the Irish whiskey industry play into Ireland’s Food Vision 2030?
Food Vision 2030 is a ten-year strategy that aims to see a 25 percent reduction in emissions from the agri-food sector by 2030, and aims to make Ireland a global leader of innovation for sustainable food and agriculture systems.
We are extremely proud of Irish whiskey’s contribution to the Irish economy. However, we must also be conscious of our environmental and ecological impact, both in Ireland and in our export markets. With that in mind, distillers are taking or planning a target-focused approach to reducing carbon emissions in production and implementing sustainable sourcing, reuse, and recycling. Overall, this ensures support and funding for Irish farming communities.
What are some of the steps that Bord Bia is taking to connect with U.S. trade customers?
A key element of Bord Bia’s trade engagement is our interactive Spirit of Ireland educational program. Launched last year, the program has taken place in more than 10 U.S. control states as well as New York, California, and Illinois. Rollout is continuing at a steady clip.
The Spirit of Ireland program aims to ensure the category is protected and strengthened. Attendees learn about history, heritage, renaissance, and the future of Irish whiskey. It encompasses a full-immersion sensory experience that transports attendees to Irish barley fields and barrel houses, and virtual reality tours of 20 fully operational Irish distilleries.
Partnering with control states and other customer accounts has allowed us to measure the commercial impact of Spirit of Ireland, which is fundamentally the key objective, and it has really delivered on this with new listings and significant increases in value for our trade partners.
What are the most popular ways Irish whiskey is consumed in the U.S.?
With over 40 Irish distilleries on the island of Ireland, four types of Irish whiskey—pot still, single malt, single grain, and blended, and many flavored variations—the ways to consume Irish whiskey are endless.
Purists might turn their nose, but the introduction to Irish whiskey for many is their first pickleback at their local dive bar. But one thing that needs to be made clear is this: There is no right way or wrong way to enjoy Irish whiskey. It’s about one’s own personal preferences.
Irish whiskey is extremely versatile and highly regarded for its lighter style and unparalleled smoothness. As a result, most U.S. consumers drink Irish whiskey neat, or with a bit of water, which brings out the full flavor profile. Mixologists love it and regularly use it in classic cocktails, such as Old Fashioneds and Manhattan-style drinks, or they create new recipes. Its smoothness compliments both sweet and sour flavors. Of course, it also belongs in an Irish coffee.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
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