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No longer on the rocks: Irish whiskey booming

Bushmills whiskey has a long history, originally granted its license in 1608, just as settlers arrived in North America and as King James I was on the throne.

And for hundreds of years it was Irish whiskey, with its “e”, which flowed the world over, with sales far outstripping their Scottish neighbours.

By the 1980s though, Irish whiskey had collapsed, representing just 1% of the global market.

But now it is booming again, becoming the fastest growing spirit in the world with sales rising 131% in the past decade.

Master distiller Colm Egan says growth is significant: “Here at Bushmills we are looking at and really expanding the distillery itself, our markets are growing and our biggest market in the US continues to grow.

“It is exciting times, people are rediscovering Irish whiskey.”

Five years ago, there were just four distilleries in operation and five visitor centres on the island.

This year, there are 16 working distilleries, with another 15 with planning permission and many more projects at various stages of planning.

One of those new distilleries is BoAnn in Drogheda, which is being built by the Cooney family who are investing tens of millions of pounds to produce a new Irish whiskey.

Founder Paddy Cooney said: “Well I suppose you could say Irish whiskey is on fire.

“It is growing at 20% a year and now selling eight million cases with lots of potential for the future.”

BoAnn in Drogheda
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BoAnn in Drogheda says Irish whiskey ‘is on fire’

Irish whiskey now also accounts for more than a third of total beverage exports from Ireland, valued at around half a billion pounds per year.

The US is the largest export market followed by Germany, France, UK and Russia.

And according to William Lavelle from the Irish Whiskey Association, it is making significant contributions to the wider economy.

“The Irish spirits industry is a really important part of the economy,” he said.

“We are a major purchaser of Irish grain, of Irish barley, we are employing staff in distilleries right across the country from Dublin’s liberties to rural communities.

More from Republic of Ireland

“And whiskey tourism is becoming a real hot trend now.”

Few analysts are suggesting Irish whiskey could return to its heyday or rival scotch anytime soon but its clear ambitions are high, growth remains strong and history might, just might repeat itself.

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