Growing thirst for Northern Ireland whiskey overseas

The Friend at Hand shop in Belfast only sells Irish whiskeys, and exports from brands from the north have been soaring according to new figures
Gary McDonald Business Editor

DISTILLERIES in Northern Ireland are sparking a renaissance of Irish whiskey - and last year exported more than £25 million worth of the spirit.

Irish whiskey is currently the fastest growing premium spirit category in the world (up 300 per cent in the last decade), with exports set to double to 12 million cases by 2020, according to the Irish Whiskey Association.

And distilleries in the north - not just the centuries-established Bushmills but also new entrants to the market - are contributing to this growth, with exports from the ports of Belfast, Londonderry, Warrenpoint and Coleraine to non-EU countries soaring to £25.6 million last year.

South Africa is the fastest growing non-EU market for Irish whiskey, with exports valued at £17.6 million in 2018, up 27.8 per cent from the previous year. Other markets driving demand include Australia, Kenya, Mexico, Norway, Taiwan and the United States.

A decade ago Northern Ireland was home to just one distillery (Old Bushmills), but now boasts a range of award-winning producers including Echlinville Distillery near Kircubbin, home of the historic Dunville malt and blended Irish whiskey (earlier this year its Dunville's Three Crowns peated whiskey won best Irish blend at the World Whiskey Awards).

Another company contributing to the growth of Irish whiskey exports is Derry-based Quiet Man, a family-owned business inspired by old traditions of bartending. It is one of Northern Ireland's new generation of whiskey distillers, selling its single malt and blended whiskey worldwide.

And distilleries in the north are not only creating jobs and delivering economic growth through exports, but also the rise of whiskey tourism.

Old Bushmills (which recently announced a £50 million expansion to double production over the next five years), Echlinville, Rademon Estate and Boatyard distilleries currently attract more than 120,000 visitors a year, a figure expected to eclipse the 200,000 mark in the near future.

Michael Bell, executive director of the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, said: “Northern Ireland has always had a great reputation for world class distilleries. A recent surge in global demand, along with increased investment and innovation within the sector, has seen it flourish and grow on a global scale.

"This presents exciting opportunities for our local producers. Bushmills' expansion plans are a hugely positive development for the local economy and will enable the company to take advantage of the rocketing demand for Irish whiskey worldwide."

He added: “Northern Ireland's food and drink companies export around 80 per cent of their products, so cementing good trading relationships with our key export markets in the future really is crucial for the sector. We continue to engage with government on behalf of our members to ensure that this vital industry is given the best chance to grow and prosper in future.”

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox, who met with Old Bushmills Distillery at the Balmoral Show last month, said: “I'm pleased to see more distilleries contributing to economic prosperity for Northern Ireland and helping the UK maintain its global reputation for high-quality food and drink.

“The UK now has an international economic department helping British business succeed overseas in ways that never happened before, so I urge more businesses in Northern Ireland to take advantage of the global demand for their products and services.”

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