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Watch: Millennials help double sales of Irish whiskey in a decade

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Irish whiskey had been in a century-long decline until the last decade
Irish whiskey had been in a century-long decline until the last decade -
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After a century of decline, demand for Irish whiskey has doubled in the last decade, thanks to millennials developing a taste for the tipple.

According to the Irish Whiskey Association, over the course of this decade sales are projected to have increased from just under 6 million cases in 2010, to more than 12 million cases in 2020.

Of the 140 countries around the world it is exported to, America is whiskey's biggest market. It consumes almost 43 percent of world sales, which in 2018 exceeded $1 billion (€900,000,000) according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

The key to the success of Irish whiskey is its versatility compared to other whiskies says Ciaran Keane, Craft Ambassador at the Jameson distillery in Dublin.

"Irish whiskey works so well in cocktails. It's just how we make it. It just has such a versatile taste if you compare this to a scotch or a bourbon. With the scotch you have that kind of natural smokiness from the peat which will dominate all the other flavours within the mixed drink. Or if you have a bourbon you have that kind of extra sweetness from the virgin barrels they use. And again that's going to give you extra residual sweetness.

"But with the Irish whiskey with our kind of natural dry smokeless fuel and also our seasoned barrels they don't get too much excess oil. I think it makes a perfect balance for all cocktails."

Fans of scotch will mythbust Keane's claim that all whiskies from Scotland are peaty. Many of them are not. Nevertheless, the quaffability of Irish whiskey has helped drive the boom. This is true particularly among millennials, according to William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association.

Lavelle says: "Consumers are flocking to Irish whiskey really because of its approachability. Because of the Irish climate, because of the way that we double and triple distil our whiskey its very approachable to consumers and it can be consumed in a whole variety of ways, as a shot, on the rocks, as a long-sip and in cocktails. And indeed its suitability for cocktails is helping drive sales, particularly among millennials who are buying into cocktail culture."

The rise and fall

During the 1800s Irish whiskey was in its heyday. The country had hundreds of distillers producing an estimated 10 million gallons a year, but the industry then went into near-terminal decline.

The impact of American prohibition, combined with a trade war with the United Kingdom in the 1930s, was compounded by Irish whiskey producers' reluctance to adopt new technologies such as the column still, which handed Scottish whisky makers a huge advantage.

Only two distillers remained by the mid 1980s, but since then Irish whiskey has bounced back strongly says Kevin Martin, author of'Have Ye No Homes To Go To?: The History of the Irish Pub.

"Up to the last decade it had died out to a large extent, drinking whiskey in public, but its become de rigueur, it has become hugely popular again with this renaissance of of distilleries, and now you have stand-alone whiskey bars, particularly in the cities, which would have been unimaginable forty years ago.

"You would have thought of cocktail bars, but you'd never have thought there'd be whiskey bars. So it just goes to show you the power of the renaissance in whiskey drinking in Ireland," says Martin.

Who made it first?

Whether we will ever truly know where the first whiskey or whisky (as the Scots spell it) was distilled is difficult to predict but both Scotland and Ireland have claimed provenance over the 'aquavitae', as it was referenced in the early Renaissance.

The Irish Whiskey Association says there is evidence that whiskey was first produced in Ireland in 1324.

This is because recipes and distillation techniques are mentioned by monks in the Red Book of Ossery, a medieval text produced in Kilkenny. There is also evidence of whiskey being produced in Ireland on islands in a lake on the River Shannon in the early 15th century.

The latest Renaissance

The renaissance of Irish whiskey has been a boost to the country's tourism industry. There are now 26 whiskey distilleries many of which are open to the public. According to the Irish Whiskey Association there were more than 1 million visitors to Irish distilleries over the last year, with most coming from the UK, US, Canada, Germany and France, but locals are becoming visitors too.

The growth in Irish Whiskey sales is expected to continue, but there are challenges ahead. The US has threatened tariffs on EU goods including Irish whiskey in a long-running dispute over aircraft subsidies.

But William Lavelle of the Irish Whiskey Association says that the damage can be offset by growth in other markets.

"Over the recent years years we've seen central and eastern Europe emerging as a really strong counterbalance to North America. Germany to Russia and everywhere in between are flocking to Irish whiskey. But South Africa, Australia, other markets in Europe, we're seeing that growth and we believe that growth will continue right throughout the globe. And increasingly in non-traditional markets in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America."

From its humble rural origins, Irish whiskey may be reclaiming its place as one of the world's favourite tipples.

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