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Whiskey sales are surging but the threat of US tariffs is souring the industry's high spirits

Nearly 120 million bottles of Irish whiskey were sold around the world last year.
Jun 22nd 2018, 6:16 AM 8,121 7

SALES OF IRISH whiskey rose by more than 10% last year, however, with the US market still accounting for more than half of all bottles sold, the threat of a trade war looms large over the industry.

The head of the Irish Whiskey Association, William Lavelle, told TheJournal.ie that the industry is capitalising on a global trend that has seen people move away from white spirits.

Nowhere is this shift in consumer habits more apparent than in Russia, where sales of Irish whiskey rose by nearly 20% last year.

Lavelle attributed this extraordinary growth to innovative work by whiskey producers and an army of brand ambassadors across the globe who are getting Irish whiskey stocked and promoted in bars and off-licences around the world.

“The more consumers get to taste Irish whiskey the more they realise that it’s unique,” Lavelle said.

It’s not like bourbon, it’s not like scotch. It’s very high quality and it’s got a lot of variety. You’ve got numerous different types of finishes. It’s a very exciting category.

whiskey-chart

Trade war

The Irish Whiskey Association says its strong performance last year puts it on track to reach its target of selling 144 million bottles around the world in 2020.

However the escalating trade dispute between the US and the EU has caused a sobering moment for the thriving industry.

A raft of tariffs against American products, including whiskey, come into force today. The EU was prompted to introduce the measures in response to stiff metals duties imposed by the US.

The whiskey association called on the EU Commission to seek to deescalate tensions with the US to prevent the trade dispute from spiralling out of control.

“The entire spirits and whiskey industries benefit from global trade,” Lavelle said.

We take no joy in the US problem. Bourbon sales in Ireland were 14% up last year. That’s a great incentive for Irish producers. Competition is good, it drives innovation. The reality of a trade war is that it can spiral.

Lavelle said that more than 57% of all Irish whiskey sold around the world was sold in the US, making the sector particularly vulnerable if the US were to slap tariffs on European spirits.

We will be hit. It will be devastating if tariffs are introduced. We’re calling on the EU Commission to deescalate the situation. Trade war helps nobody.

Lavelle said that the trade dispute has underscored the need for all sectors to diversify and added that the whiskey industry will be aggressively seeking to expand its sales in Asia in order to continue its growth.

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Ceimin Burke

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