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Irish Whiskey Players Look To Premiumize With Single Pot Still Segment

December 16, 2019

While most of the Irish whiskey category’s volume is composed of blended whiskies, there’s plenty of movement afoot at the high end, specifically in the single pot still segment, where a variety of producers are introducing new bottlings in a bid to premiumize the category.

As is the case in the broader Irish whiskey market, Pernod Ricard-owned Irish Distillers is the dominant player in the single pot still space. Its leading label in the segment is Redbreast ($45-$250 a 750-ml.), which did total U.S. volume of 33,000 cases last year, according to Impact Databank. The brand continues to build from its small base, roughly doubling in size over the past five years. Redbreast’s lineup includes a 12-year-old, a cask-strength variant, a Lustau Sherry finished whiskey, a 15-year-old, and a 21-year-old.

Pernod also offers the Spot range ($51-$120), comprising the non-age statement Green Spot, the 12-year-old Yellow Spot, and the 15-year-old Red Spot—a whiskey that returned to the market in 2018 following more than a 40-year absence. Irish Distillers’ Powers brand is also active in single pot still with Three Swallow, Signature Release, and John’s Lane. Three Swallow was among Whisky Advocate’s Top 20 Whiskies of 2019.

At the pinnacle of Pernod’s single pot still lineup is the Midleton brand, which includes Barry Crockett Legacy ($325) and Dair Ghaelach ($358), the latter finished in Irish oak. Overall, Pernod’s single pot still range has been growing by double-digits and is now above 70,000 cases in the U.S., according to Impact Databank.

“Up until around 2010, only two single pot still whiskies were still around—Green Spot and Redbreast,” says Irish Distillers master distiller Brian Nation. “But around that time, we committed to doing additional releases of single pot still whiskies each year. It’s only thanks to my predecessor, Barry Crockett, and his father before him, who laid down stocks of single pot still whiskey, that we’re able to release today.”

Teeling, which is minority-owned by Bacardi, is also present in the single pot still segment. Teeling Single Pot Still is currently marketed in Ireland, travel retail, and select European markets, but is launching in the U.S. in January at a suggested retail price of $65, though the initial release will be limited to 1,000 cases. The whiskey is made from a mash of 50% malted and 50% unmalted barley and is bottled at 46% after aging for three years in Muscat barrels. “It’s the first single pot still whiskey from Dublin in over 40 years,” notes Teeling founder Jack Teeling. “We’ve been trying to highlight the return of single pot still whiskey to its historic home.”

“If you look at Ireland versus Scotland, our ultra-premium-and-above category is still fairly limited, and the category occupying that space is single pot still,” says Alex Conyngham, founder of Slane Distillery in County Meath. “Give us 10 or 20 years, and single pot still will become the Irish equivalent of Scottish single malt.” Brown-Forman acquired Slane in 2015, and has since built a new $50 million distillery on the Slane Castle estate. With a capacity of 1.2 million liters, it’s producing single malt, single pot still, and grain whiskey, filling its first barrel last year.

Among smaller producers, Glendalough Distillery has a pot still expression ($50-$60 a 750-ml.) that’s set to launch in the U.S. Contract-produced by West Cork Distillery and aged in first-fill Bourbon casks for just over three years, the whiskey is then finished for six months in virgin Irish oak.

—Shane English

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