Irish whiskey sales near milestone of 12m cases a year

Jameson remains market leader, but McGregor’s Proper No Twelve becomes fourth biggest brand in global sales

Irish whiskey sales came within touching distance of their historical peak of 12 million nine-litre cases last year.

While Jameson still leads the pack, Conor McGregor's Proper No Twelve leapfrogged most of the competition to become the fourth most popular brand in the world.

Jameson sold 8 million cases overall last year, up from 7.2 million a year earlier. Tullamore Dew ranked second globally with 1.5 million cases sold versus 1.3 million in 2018.

Bushmills sold 821,500 to put it in third place, while 213,800 cases of Proper No Twelve were shipped, up from just 38,200 in the prior year.


While sales of McGregor's whiskey are significantly behind that of the top three players, they surpassed shipments of brands such as Paddy, Kilbeggan, Powers, Teeling, Redbreast and The Dubliner last year as the number of markets the spirit was available in increased.

The nest highest whiskey brands in terms of global sales last year were Paddy and Kilbeggan with sales of 185,200 and 133,100 cases respectively.

Overall, sales were up 10.6 per cent in 2019 versus 2018, but IWSR Drinks Market Analysis, which compiled the figures, said volumes are expected to fall sharply this year due to the effects of Covid-19.

However, Humphrey Serjeantson, a research director at IWSR, said the hit would likely be short-lived, with the sector expected to be back at 2019 levels by the end of 2022.

William Lavelle, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, said the sector actually surpassed the 12-million milestone prior to the pandemic and nearly a year earlier than projected.

“With growth in 2020 impacted by Covid-19 sales restrictions – particularly in travel retail and across the global on-trade scene – 2019 will likely represent a new benchmark year for Irish whiskey sales, with our industry now focussing on getting back to 12 million case sales as soon as possible,” he said.

Biggest market

The US remains by far the biggest market for whiskey sales, but Mr Lavelle noted that other regions were showing significant growth.

“Last year the central/eastern Europe region developed significant growth of 18 per cent, which accounted for nearly a third of all global growth and confirming the region as a real counterweight to the US.”

Domestic sales of Irish whiskey rose 1.5 per cent last year to 590,000 cases. Jameson reported a 6 per cent jump in shipments to 250,000 from 235,400 in 2018. Bushmills was the second most popular brand locally, although sales declined 15 per cent to 82,000 cases from 96,000 in the prior year. Powers also saw a dip in shipments, falling 3 per cent to 80,000.

Rounding out the top five whiskies are Paddy with a 15 per cent hike in sales to 50,000, and Teeling, with a 13 per cent rise to 22,000.

Proper No. Twelve recorded a 24 per cent jump in sales, but only ranked as the 19th most popular whiskey here.

Conor McQuaid, chief executive and chairman of Irish Distillers, whose brands include Jameson and Powers as well as premium products such as Redbreast, said the 2019 figures showed the sector was continuing to diversify and to close the gap between sales of Scotch and Irish whiskey.

Bounce back

He said that while it was a difficult time for the industry presently, he had no doubt it would bounce back.

“After decades of decline we’ve just experienced a remarkable decade of recovery and export-led growth. We believe that will continue, but a priority for the Irish whiskey industry over the coming months will be to consolidate and reboot sales in key existing markets for Irish whiskey, including in our all-important home market.”

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist