Distillery tourism bounced back in 2022 as sector looks to new golden period

The Hinch Distillery in Co Down, which opened to tourists in 2020. Picture by Hugh Russell

VISITS to Irish whiskey distilleries increased by 425 per cent last year, but numbers were still a third down on the pre-Covid peak of 1.02 million.

Figures from the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) recorded 677,000 visitors in 2022, with one-third coming from North America (34 per cent).

The IWA currently lists just four distillery tours in Northern Ireland: The Old Bushmills Distillery, Echlinville Distillery, Rademon Distillery and the Hinch Distillery.

But distillery tourism and experiences in the north are set to enter a new era, with a number of new additions to the sector.

Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee, Boatyard Distillery in Co Fermanagh, Killowen Distillery in Co Down and Wild Atlantic Distillery and Woodlab Distillery, both in Co Tyrone, are among the new and emerging destinations already open to visitors.

Two major whiskey distilleries are currently under construction in Belfast in the old Crumlin Gaol and the Titanic Pump House at Belfast Docks, while new distillery projects are also in the planning in Maghera, Limavady and Cushendall.

Copeland Distillery in Donaghadee, which opened in 2019.

Chair of the IWA, James Doherty, who owns the Ardara Distillery, one of three distilleries now active in Donegal, said: “2022 represented a year of recovery following two years of closures and restrictions, due to Covid-19.

“While 2021 saw encouraging support from domestic visitors and staycationers, 2022 saw a strong rebound in the number of visitors from international markets, particularly North America, Germany and Great Britain.

“While overall numbers are still down on the pre-Covid peak, we are targeting full recovery in 2023.

“Irish whiskey tourism makes a substantial economic contribution to local communities around Ireland, particularly in rural areas,” he continued.

“Based on previous assessments conducted in conjunction with Fáilte Ireland, we assess that tourists spent over €40 million in local communities linked to visits to distilleries.”