Monday 18 December 2017

Whiskey galore!

Thanks to series like 'Mad Men', whiskey is cool again and Americans can't get enough of it . But can Ireland deliver, asks Suzanne Campbell

Suzanne Campbell

Once confined to the man with the flat cap and pint at the bar, Irish whiskey is now one of the world's hottest drinks. Lady Gaga and Jay Z tweet about how wonderful it is, and in the US its sales have increased by 400pc since 2002.

Its huge popularity in China, Russia and particularly the US could be connected to television series such as Mad Men. Others say Irish whiskeys are sweeter and easier to swallow for the novice drinker.

In the last year, Irish whiskey sales have increased by 10.5% to 6.2m nine-litre cases.

Irish whiskey is now the drink to have in your hand, and several canny entrepreneurs are developing its success back home.

For Oisin Davis, of the Damson Diner on Dublin's South William Street, whiskey and whiskey cocktails have been a big part of the restaurant's success.

"Irish whiskey is really popular now. A lot of people in Dublin city bars are drinking a shot of Jameson with ginger ale and a slice of lime – it's called the 'perfect pour'.

"Whiskey cocktails are also very big. Our most popular one is a whiskey sour infused with various ingredients, Irish cherries, ginger and one we infuse with sloe berries for six months."

Being American-Irish, Oisin keeps a close watch on what's going on in the bars of New York and LA.

"Irish whiskey is huge in the States, it has a higher cool factor than here. In the States bars serve a lot of shots of Irish whiskey. It would be inconceivable for most Americans to start a meal without a cocktail, so it's basically Ireland catching up with the rest of the world."

While the Irish demographic drinking whiskey is changing, Russia and China, led by the huge trend in the US, is where Irish whiskey is booming. Jameson is the market leader and has a massive 70pc share of the Irish whiskey market in the US. It is now the biggest international whiskey brand in Russia, South Africa and is sold in over 120 countries.

Demand has led to Irish Distillers, who produce Jameson, to invest €200m in doubling capacity size at their Cork plant.

Irish Distillers is owned by Pernod Ricard; the second-largest drinks company in the world. All our large Irish whiskey distilleries are internationally owned. Scottish drinks giant William Grant are the parent company of Tullamore Dew and Diageo has taken over Bushmills.

Oliver Hughes, from the Porterhouse group, has recently opened a new distillery in an old sawmills outside Dingle in Kerry, the first purpose-built distillery in Ireland for 200 years.

Since the late 1990s Oliver has been running a successful chain of pubs and brewing a range of Porterhouse beers and stouts. So, why get into distilling?

"The French consume more whiskey than brandy, the US is mad for Irish whiskey, but Scottish whiskys tend to have a lot more character because they're double distilled and have a lot of peated malt. So we want to produce something that is on a par with the good Scotches."

Carlow Brewing company has also began producing a whiskey in partnership with Pearse Lyons, from multinational animal health business Alltech, which already has successful US brewing and distilling arms.

And Jack Teeling, who together with his father developed the successful Cooley whiskey brand, is also returning to distilling with a blend of Scotch and Irish and a new Irish distillery in the plans. His father John Teeling has just announced his €35m bid for the old Great Northern Brewery in Dundalk from Diageo.

What's very clear is that there is money to be made in whiskey and demand particularly from China seems to be insatiable.

"I heard of an order coming into Scotland from China for half a million cases, I don't think they could even supply it," says Michael Foggarty, a Scot and whiskey specialist behind the L Mulligans pub/restaurant, in Stoneybatter Dublin.

In terms of price, Michael feels pubs should list prices of beers, spirits and all drinks on menus.

"If you walk into a bar and decide to order a whiskey, you shouldn't have to pay €10."

Irish Independent

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