Industry: Irish Whiskey

Ireland is the home of whiskey and where whiskey got its name. From the heyday of the 1800s when there were distilleries scattered across all parts of the island; to the nadir of the 1980s when there were only two distilleries left, one in Northern Ireland and one in Ireland; Irish whiskey has always been an all-island industry – the embodiment of our shared economy.

Irish Whiskey is a protected Geographical Indication (GI), equally recognised and protected by both the EU and UK, and in laws of many countries around the world. This means a product can only be labelled and sold as Irish whiskey if it has been fully distilled and matured in wooden casks on the island of Ireland. The Irish whiskey industry depends on seamless cross-border supply chains. Every year, millions of litres of Irish whiskey spirits cross the border to be matured or blended or bottled by distilleries or businesses on the other part of the island.

Today, the island of Ireland is home to over 40 distilleries, distilling over 110 million litres of whiskey spirit every year with global sales having reached an estimated 16 million cases – over 190 million bottles in 2022. Exports of Irish whiskey are now worth over €1 billion to the all-island economy. The gross value added (GVA) per employee in the Irish whiskey industry was estimated to be €412,756 in 2019.

The BGFA also led to the establishment of Tourism Ireland as an all-island body to promote Ireland as an international tourist destination. Tourism Ireland has worked closely with The Irish Whiskey Association to promote IrishWhiskey360° and Irish whiskey tourism generally. Across the island, Irish whiskey distilleries attracted over one million visitors in 2019, with a strong post-Covid rebound in 2022. Irish whiskey tourism is delivering substantial multiplier gains for local economies, with visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries spending €63 million in local communities in 2019.

“There is and always has been co-operation and exchanges between distilleries across the island – and so it should be and must continue to be. The ingredients that make Irish whiskey a unique product – air, water, grains and an island location don’t see boundaries.”

John Teeling,
Executive Chairman of Great Northern Distillery, Dundalk

“The distinctive all-island nature of the Irish Whiskey industry highlights the opportunity for Irish Whiskey tourism. For those of us in border counties the ease of movement for tourists to visit distilleries in routes that could combine elements of the Antrim coast and the Wild Atlantic Way or from major tourist centres like Belfast and Derry/Londonderry through into Ireland’s hidden heartlands. It plays to what we know tourists love and the stories we all want to share – creating economic benefit for all our communities.”

James Doherty
Chairman, Irish Whiskey Association
Managing-Director, Sliabh Liag Distillers, Co. Donegal