Exports of Irish spirits increased by 25% last year and domestic sales are up by 8% following the reopening of the hospitality sector due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Drinks Ireland.

Ireland’s spirits sector showed resilience last year, with exports reaching a total value of around €1.2 billion, a new report by Drinks Ireland published today (Wednesday, July 27) shows.

The Spirits Market Report 2021 states that domestic spirit sales rebounded last year, reaching 2.55 million 9L cases. Vodka was the most popular spirit accounting for 29.9% of sales, followed by Irish Whiskey (25.04%) and gin (14.43%).

Managing director of Heaven Hill Ireland, which is the brand owner of Carolan’s Irish Cream liqueur and Irish Mist Honey liqueur, and chair of Drinks Ireland spirits, Bryan Fallon said:

“Last year was another challenging one for Ireland’s spirits sector, which again demonstrated strong resilience in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic. It was positive to see a rebound in domestic sales and exports in the second half of the year as hospitality venues reopened.”

However, overall alcohol consumption continues to decline in Ireland, falling by 4.7% last year and over 30% within the past 20 years, according to data from the Revenue Commissioners.

Sector trends

Global sales of Ireland’s protected spirits – Irish Whiskey, Irish Cream and Poitín – increased by 21% last year, with the US, the UK and Canada being the main markets.

Irish Whiskey in particular performed strongly, reaching 14 million 9L cases in global sales, while Irish Cream is expected to top 10 million cases in global sales for the first time ever in 2022.

The report outlines the growth of ‘ready to drink’ and ‘no and low spirits’ as key trends, with sales of cocktails and long drinks, and flavoured alcoholic beverages increasing by 60% and 27% respectively.

No and low-alcohol products have gained popularity in Ireland, with sales increasing by 313% last year. Beer and cider brands are leading the trend in this category.

In order to fully rebound in a timely manner and further support the economy, Drinks Ireland said it would call for an excise cut in the upcoming Budget, according to Fallon. He added:

“With the third-highest excise on spirits in the EU, Ireland levies a disproportionate percentage of the tax burden on distilleries who are promoting Ireland on the global stage.”

As a strong export-led industry, free and open trade remains vital, while a number of challenges, including the continued fallout from Brexit, remain for the sector, director of spirits at Drinks Ireland, Vincent McGovern said.