Irish whiskey boom promises more expansion

An Irish newcomer
For most of our lifetimes, you could count the number of Irish distilleries on one hand. Maybe two, Now, however, the island seems to be awash in them, with 32 new or proposed distilleries.

Until 2013, just four mainstays, all owned by large international corporations, had distilled under a variety of brand names what most people knew about Irish whiskey -- Kilbeggan in County Westmeath and Cooley in County Louth, both owned by Beam Brands; Bushmills in County Antrim, owned by Diageo, and Midleton in County Cork, owned by Pernod Ricard.

That, however is changing rapidly as Irish whiskies as a category are growing in consumer acceptance thanks to high-quality products and smart marketing campaigns. Exports rose 10% between 2014 and 2015, and the Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) projects a 300% increase in sales domestic and foreign over the next 15 years.

"Having been distilled in Ireland since the 6th Century, Irish whiskey is one of the oldest spirit drinks in Europe," said Miriam Mooney, head of the IWA. "It is a premium product that can only be made on the island of Ireland. The existing players have driven the global renaissance in Irish whiskey, and now it is the fastest growing spirits category in the world."

Not all of the new distilleries will be producing the same old expressions. The Walsh Whiskey Distillery, a $28 million facility that formally opened in Royal Oak, County Carlow, in July, is about to release its first product under the Writers Tears brand created by company founders Bernard and Rosemary Walsh. Their Writers Tears Red Head is a limited-edition, triple distilled whiskey, aged in used Olorosso sherry butts from Spain that give it a ruby hue. Only 12,000 bottles will be released, bottled at 46% abv (92 proof). No retail price has yet been announced.

“We are thrilled with the result of the marriage between our first-ever single malt expression of Writers Tears and these precious Oloroso sherry butts,” Bernard Walsh said in a statement. “The natural interaction and careful aging between the pot still spirit, styled in Writers Tears signature fashion in copper pots as all Irish whiskey was in the golden era of the 1800s, and the Spanish wood contributes to the outstanding quality and distinctive flavors of this sublime single malt.”

Incidentally, if you're not familiar with the barrel term "butt," it has nothing to do with where some unsatisfactory people seem to have stuck their heads. It is roughly half the size of a standard barrel, and the name is derived from botte, a Medieval French and Italian word for boot, an item occasionally inserted in the same place as the aforementioned heads.

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