Highlighting single malt, peated, traditional blended, and double barrel offerings, the repertoire of Irish whiskey available in the United States continues to pique consumers interest and drive sales. “We are watching the category continue to diversify and attract consumers from similar flavor segments of whisk(e)y, and we expect to see continued innovation,” says Paige Flori, co-owner of Boutique Wines, Spirits and Ciders in Fishkill, New York.
This innovation has helped Irish whiskey surpass 6 million nine-liter cases in the United States last year, according to Impact Databank, and become the second fastest-growing imported spirit behind Tequila. Recent line extensions include Jameson Orange whiskey ($42 a liter at Boutique), Jameson Lemonade and Ginger & Lime cocktails (SRP $15 a four-pack of 12-ounce cans), and Proper No. 12 Irish Apple whiskey (SRP $25 a 750-ml).
Irish whiskies are on a roll in the 17 control states as dollar sales increased 5% to $364.18 million on a 1.5% case volume gain approximately to 1.05 million nine-liter cases, according to the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA). “Consumers are trading up among Irish whiskies,” says David Jackson, senior vice president of trade relations at NABCA.
In Pennsylvania, one of the largest control states, Irish whiskey sales increased 3.2% in 2022 to slightly more than $60 million. In all, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) sells 117 Irish whiskies at its 585 retail outlets. “Since St. Patrick’s Day and celebrations surrounding it are such social activities, associated Irish Whiskey consumption increased in 2022 compared to 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic eased,” says Shawn Kelly, press secretary at PLCB. “Additionally, there has been a proliferation of new distilleries and Irish whiskey brands coming out of Ireland over the last several years, so consumers have more quality choices.”
The PLCB’s three top-selling Irish whiskey brands are Jameson ($33.29 a 750-ml.), Tullamore Dew ($28.29 a 750-ml.), and Proper No. Twelve ($31.19 a 750-ml.). In the two weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day last year, Irish whiskey sales in Pennsylvania increased 18.1% over the same 2021 period. The PLCB typically features popular Irish whiskies with eye-catching displays. “We’ll merchandise them on a prominent endcap in our biggest stores or stack them out with unique signage,” Kelly says.
This year, the PLCB is running a six-day flash sale on a variety of Irish whiskeys starting four days before St. Patrick’s Day and ending the day after the holiday. “Using paid advertising on radio, digital, and social media, we promote a variety of different Irish whiskies currently on sale,” Kelly says. “We’ll use our organic social media channels and email to share educational category information, specific product information, and recipes.”
Irish whiskey took a hit at Boutique Wines in 2022 due to logistical issues but sales are rebounding. “In 2023, we are already seeing a resurgence in innovative brands in terms of their flavor profile—flavored Irish whiskeys and peated, for example—as well as competition with Scotch and American whiskey, particularly in price,” Flori says.
When Flori’s store opened in 2016, she carried 16 Irish whiskey brands, and now she offers 36. “Peated Irish whiskey is drawing over Islay Scotch drinkers, and overproof Irish whiskey aged in American Oak is crossing over Bourbon drinkers,” she says.
The three top-selling Irish whiskey brands at Boutique Wines are Jameson ($35 a 750-ml.), Glendalough Double Barrel ($36), and Samuel Gelston Blended Irish whiskey ($28). Irish whiskey-based Dubliner Honey liqueur ($29 a 750-ml.) is also a big seller. In the Chicago suburbs, Glendalough Irish whiskies also sells well at the three-unit Sal’s Beverage World, with prices ranging from $27 a 750-ml. for the Double Barrel to $50 for the Pot Still Irish Oak whiskey.
Leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, Flori builds a display for Irish products featuring Irish whiskey and markets the products via social media, focusing on different available sizes. “We also push out social media marketing for both Irish Whiskey Day (March 3) and St. Patrick’s Day,” she notes. “We see a larger percentage of total sales the four to five days preceding the holiday.”
PLCB’s Kelly anticipates Irish whiskey will remain a strong category at Pennsylvania’s Fine Wine & Good Spirits retail outlets. “We continue to look for opportunities to optimize sales on strong existing brands while seeking out new and unique Irish whiskies that have potential to perform well,” he says.