Drinks industry will have to be ‘found out’ before changes are made

Last week, Irish whiskey received geographical indication (GI) status. There seemed to be great delight at this by many in the industry and so there should be; it is no doubt a positive step for the Irish whiskey business, but what does it actually mean?

Irish whiskey must be made on the island of Ireland according to the technical file, which outlines the processes involved in making ‘Pot Still Irish Whiskey’, ‘Malt Irish Whiskey’ and ‘Grain Irish Whiskey’. These varieties can also be blended.

This GI status doesn’t mean much to the Irish farmer at the minute. It would if there was more of a focus on the ingredients rather than the process and location of production.

After all, what does it matter if ‘Irish Whiskey’ is made in Ireland if it is being made from French maize or barley?

AgriLand estimates that 100,000t of maize for distilling were imported into this country last year.

Malt came into this country in 2018 from ‘unknown’ destinations. Meanwhile, Irish farmers produce grain to high standards in line with the Irish Grain Assurance Scheme. That grain is fully traceable.

Time to face reality

Many in the industry went on and on about GI status, many say to legislate for the percentage of Irish ingredients in the products – I’ve said it myself – and obviously this would be an ideal situation, but maybe it’s time we faced reality.

The fact of the matter is our Government makes a lot of money from the export of ‘Irish’ drinks and that Government is not going to force these companies – who are paying a significant amount of tax – to use Irish grain.

More income comes from visitor centres which tell the story of ‘Irish’ drinks with Irish barley fields on the walls.

Built a brand on ‘Irishness’

Meanwhile, the ‘Irish’ drinks industry has built its brand on its ‘Irishness’; its use of Irish grain; its relationships with Irish farmers, but this is only the case for a small number of the products produced.

Unfortunately, it looks like the industry will have to be ‘found out’ before any sort of legislation is introduced by the Government in regards to a percentage of Irish ingredients in Irish brands.

No doubt it would be better to make the change before all those Americans find out that the amount of ‘Irish’ in their Irish whiskey is tiny, but this is unlikely to happen.

Whenever they do realise this it won’t be good for the industry or the Government’s income.

Maybe they should start to listen to the Irish farmers.