What makes Ireland the Emerald isle is its temperate climate – not too hot nor too cold and plenty of rain.

It is an ideal environment for grass production, which means lots of cattle and sheep and a smaller but significant tillage section that has unfortunately been squeezed over time.

We are also blessed with an abundant water supply, which is essential for livestock farming.

However, it isn’t just livestock farming that benefits from our water supply - it is also a key ingredient in one of our oldest industries that has been rapidly expanding under the radar.

It also happens to have a protected geographical indication (PGI), that like the forthcoming PGI for beef, applies on an island-of-Ireland basis.

The basic ingredients of whiskey are water and grain and, much to the annoyance of tillage farmers, the specification for Irish whiskey is that the manufacturing process must use Irish water, but is not required to exclusively use Irish grain.

Whiskey tradition

It could be said that it has taken centuries for Irish whiskey to be an overnight success. The oldest known distillery in the world is in Bushmills, Co Antrim, and dates back to 1603.

By the early 20th century, Irish whiskey was recognised globally for its quality, but its reputation was collateral damage of bootlegging during prohibition in the US.

In that era (1920-1933), sale of alcohol was prohibited, which led to the rapid development of an underground industry of alcohol manufacture.

Much of this product was of dubious quality, but often cleverly branded for marketing purposes.

Whiskey-type drinks frequently adopted Irish-type branding, which generated short-term sales, but, in the process, ruined the quality reputation of the legitimate product, which, of course, was out of the market.

By the time it returned post-prohibition, the reputational damage had been done.

It wasn’t just a problem in the US. The Republic of Ireland faced export tariffs to the UK after partition and these were to become penal during the economic war which ran between 1932 and 1938.

For the remainder of the century, the Irish whiskey sector was, at best, stagnant, characterised by rationalisation and consolidation around a handful of brands.


It was only this century that the industry was revitalised. While brands such as Jamieson, Paddy and Bushmills are owned by large multinational drinks companies, independent distilleries began to emerge.

Jack Teeling was in the vanguard of this, opening a new distillery in Dublin, as did the late Pearse Lyons, better known perhaps for founding Alltech.

Dublin hadn’t had a new distillery for 125 years and these two new arrivals came on the scene almost together. Several others have followed across the country in the less than a decade since.

Looking at the performance of the category on a national basis over the past five years, success has followed success.

The value of Irish whiskey exports grew year on year from €652m in 2018 to €1bn in 2022. Volume sales did likewise, with a blip in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In 2018, the volume of Irish whiskey exports was just over 86,000t, this increased by 51% to almost 130,000t in 2022.

Irish whiskey is in the middle of a renaissance and the expectation is that the sector will continue to expand.

While the production model is totally unrelated to beef production and processing, the marketing success story should be a guiding star.

Unfortunately, few Irish grain farmers are part of the whiskey success story, but it will be impossible to have PGI-branded Irish beef without beef farmers from the island of Ireland.

The question now is can the beef sector build a PGI brand that delivers a meaningful dividend to the farmers who supply the raw material?

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