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Jameson Drives Irish Whiskey To New Heights In U.S.

November 21, 2019

Irish whiskey continues to surge in the U.S. market, posting 11% growth to 4.3 million cases last year, according to Impact Databank. Over the past five years, the category has expanded by more than 1.9 million cases, or 82%—and approximately 84% of the total increase is attributable to market leader Jameson. This year, Irish whiskey’s momentum has continued, with volume up about 9% in control state channels in the year-to-date through September.

Jameson enjoyed 8.5% growth to nearly 3.5 million cases in the U.S. last year, capping a five-year run that saw the brand tack on roughly 1.6 million cases. In the year-to-date through September, Jameson advanced by 5.3% by volume in control states. Growth has been boosted lately by the robust performances of Jameson’s Black Barrel and Caskmates offshoots. Caskmates neared 200,000 cases on 60% growth last year, according to Impact Databank, while Black Barrel, retailing significantly above the core brand at $40 a 750-ml., hit 100,000 cases. Irish Distillers master distiller Brian Nation notes the potential for more innovation on Irish whiskey moving forward. “We’re fortunate in that the laws governing Irish whiskey don’t specifically require the liquid to be aged in oak—just wood,” Nation says. “That means we can try a variety of different wood types.”

William Grant & Sons-owned Tullamore Dew also continues to climb, topping 300,000 cases last year on 28% growth and outpacing its 21% average annual growth rate of the past five years. The brand rose by about 12% in control states in the nine months through September. Beyond its flagship release, Tullamore has found success with its cask-finished varieties. Brand manager Conor Neville tells SND that Tullamore’s Cider Cask and XO Rum Cask whiskies have drawn in new consumers and expanded its audience.

After a strong initial showing, XO Rum Cask has become a permanent addition to the Tullamore portfolio, and Cider Cask will return for a second year. William Grant & Sons completed a $30 million expansion of the Tullamore Dew distillery in late 2017, and has poured more than $70 million into the facility since 2010. “A huge impetus behind our new distillery in the town of Tullamore was to give us the flexibility to innovate from grain to glass,” says Neville.

Bushmills, part of the Proximo Spirits portfolio, rose 1% to 194,000 cases last year, reversing a decline from the previous year. The bulk of Bushmills’ volume is in its original blended release, but the brand has also expanded with its Black Bush and Red Bush offerings, finished in Oloroso Sherry and Bourbon barrels, and in first-fill Bourbon barrels, respectively. At the higher end, the brand offers 10-, 16-, and 21-year-old single malt whiskies. Earlier this year, Bushmills announced a plan to invest over $77 million over the next five years as it looks to double production capacity by 2024.

Bushmills also provides the liquid for the fast-rising Proper No. Twelve brand, owned by Conor McGregor’s Eire Born Spirits and distributed by Proximo. Proper No. Twelve ($25 a 750-ml.) depleted more than 40,000 cases in just three months on the market in 2018, and this year is expected to easily exceed 200,000 cases.

Elsewhere, Teeling, minority-owned by Bacardi, climbed into the top 10 Irish whiskey brands in the U.S. by volume last year at 16,000 cases, and Brown-Forman is seeding the category with its Slane label, which launched in 2017 and increased to 14,000 cases. Diageo, meanwhile, launched its Roe & Co. label in select markets this past spring.—Shane English

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