It’s no secret that Irish Whiskey is a media darling these days. According to the Distilled Spirits Council (and their PR director, yours truly), Irish Whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category, up nearly 400% in volume since 2002. Last year, 2.2 million cases were sold here in the States. It’s important to note that in terms of volume, the category remains small (2.2 million cases sold here versus the 17 million cases of bourbon sold last year), but the growth potential is massive.
As I explained to the Leaguers, the global spirits companies recognize the potential for the category and have made some major investments in Irish Whiskey over the past few years. Beam bought the iconic Cooley distillery. Pernod Ricard is in the throws of a massive distillery expansion. They’re experimenting with new offerings, and are bringing several spirits to the U.S. that have previously only been available in and around Ireland.
So why the growth? Quite simply, it’s because Irish Whiskey is a lovely little category that’s an easy spirit to consume. Irish Whiskey is typically distilled three times, unlike its Scotch counterparts, which are distilled twice. The Irish claim the third distillation creates a smoother, more balanced spirit that’s easier to consume.
Ok, now on to our sampling spirits.
Jameson Irish Whiskey
- A Irish tasting wouldn’t be complete without Jameson, whose own success story deserves its own post. Jameson leads Irish category growth, with by far the largest category brand share. It’s owned by the good folks at Pernod Ricard, and the brand continues to grow rapidly, not just in the States but around the world.
- Jameson is produced at the Midleton Distillery, located near Cork in Ireland.
Kilbeggan Irish Whiskey
- A well-balanced Irish blended whiskey. You may have heard of it by now, Beam (their parent company) just launched its first marketing push around the brand in time for St. Patrick’s Day. Watch their “Tight Knit” TV spot here.
Connemara Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey
- Owned by the good folks at Beam, this peated whiskey is my personal favorite (probably because it reminds me of a perfect blend of a smoky Islay Scotch and a nice smooth Irish whiskey).
Michael Collins Irish Whiskey
- Owned by my friends at Sidney Frank, Michael Collins was my spirit of choice for our group’s Irish Toddy. It’s well-balanced and served as an excellent base for our cocktail goodness.
If you’re ever lucky enough to visit, make sure you see as many of Ireland’s distilleries as you can (though in truth, there are only three major distilleries in Ireland, and Bushmills in Northern Ireland). And until then, see below for a few of my favorite images from my trip there last September.
A very happy St. Patrick’s Day!