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Irish Whiskey Back On The Upswing In 2021

August 26, 2021

Irish whiskey suffered its first decline in the U.S. in many years in 2020, hit especially hard by on-premise shutdowns associated with the pandemic. This year, however, the category has resumed its long-term growth trend, with control state volume increasing 19% in the six months through June according to NABCA.

Growth has been solid among the Irish whiskey category leaders so far in 2021, with Pernod Ricard’s Jameson climbing 18.9% in control states through the first half after a rare down year in 2020. Jameson recently announced a new orange-flavored expression that’s set to hit the U.S. next year. The rest of Irish whiskey’s top five in the U.S.—Tullamore Dew (+9.1%), Proper No. Twelve (+36%), Bushmills (+2.2%), and Redbreast (+43%)—also had strong showings in control markets through June.

Retailers are reporting demand not only for Irish whiskey’s standard offerings but also upscale expressions. “Generally, consumers are showing more interest in single malt and single pot still whiskies, such as Redbreast 12-year-old ($60 a 750-ml.) and Green Spot ($80), as opposed to blends that have been traditionally more popular,” says Will Jones, manager of The Whisky Shop in San Francisco. The store—which currently stocks 127 Irish whiskey SKUs, up from 109 in 2019—saw category sales double last year. “Sales have gone through the roof since last year across the board,” Jones adds.

As the market premiumizes, ambitious newer players are intent on carving out share. Proximo Spirits’ Proper No. Twelve Irish whiskey has quickly become a contender, tracking at around 345,000 cases in rolling 12-month sales as of this spring. In April, Proximo took a controlling stake in Proper No. Twelve. The long-term deal is worth up to $600 million for brand co-founders Conor McGregor, Audie Attar, and Ken Austin, Shanken News Daily exclusively reported. “It’s hard to predict how long it’s going to take, but I’m looking at a million cases and saying that’s a starting point for this brand,” Austin told SND.

Other newer players are also on the move in Irish whiskey. Terlato Wines is introducing a Dublin Ink brand, a 90-proof bottling that will debut in September at around $40 a bottle. Palm Bay International last year extended its Drumshanbo label with a single pot still Irish whiskey selling at $65. And WhistlePig launched a new Limavady brand ($50) this month. Also, last year Hotaling & Co. won import rights to the Writers’ Tears and The Irishman brands from Walsh Whiskey. “We’re seeing success with Writers’ Tears in national accounts as customers trade up from more traditional Irish whiskey labels,” says Hotaling CEO Dan Leese.

Disaronno International’s The Busker is aiming to distinguish itself with a unique cask-finishing regimen for its Triple Cask Triple Smooth, a traditional blend of grain, pot still, and malt whiskies aged in Bourbon, Marsala, and Sherry casks. The brand recently received a new ad campaign, “Born to Be Here,” aimed at millennial whiskey consumers. The campaign is part of an overall $10 million advertising push by Disaronno International this year.

Meanwhile, Lambay, the brand founded by Cognac player Camus and the Baring family’s Revelstoke Trust, is transitioning to its own Lambay Irish Whiskey America importer this year, after previously being handled by Camus’ CIL Wines & Spirits Ltd.

Leading Irish Whiskies – YTD Growth In Control States
Brand Marketer Total 2020
Case Depletions1
2021 YTD
Percent Growth
In Control States2
Jameson Pernod Ricard USA 3,580 18.9%
Tullamore Dew William Grant & Sons USA 304 9.1%
Proper No. Twelve Proximo Spirits 232 36.0%
Bushmills Proximo Spirits 201 2.2%
Redbreast Pernod Ricard USA 47 43.1%
1 thousands of 9-liter cases
2 year-to-date through June
Source: NABCA and IMPACT DATABANK © 2021
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