Covid rebound sees Irish spirits exports jump 25% in 2021

Domestic sales increase 8% while Russia replaces UK as second largest market for Irish whiskey last year

The value of exports of Irish spirits jumped 25 per cent last year to €1.2 billion after a precipitous 15.6 per cent fall in 2020 due to the impact of the pandemic.

Domestic spirits sales also recovered, gaining 8 per cent in 2021 after declining roughly 4.8 per cent the previous year, new figures compiled by Drinks Ireland suggest.

In its 2022 spirits report, the Ibec trade association that represents the drinks industry said the figures reverse the falls seen in 2020 and “move both domestic sales and exports ahead of their 2019 figures” across almost all product categories including Irish whiskey, gin, Irish cream and rum.

In particular, Irish whiskey’s “spectacular growth” continued last year, Drinks Ireland said, with 14 million nine-litre cases sold globally, up from 11.4 million in 2020. Domestic sales also grew 4.8 per cent to 619,600 cases.


While the United States remained the top destination for the product, accounting for over 40 per cent of total sales, Russia replaced the United Kingdom as the second biggest market for Irish whiskey in 2021. “This will not be maintained in 2022″ due to the impact of the war in Ukraine, Drinks Ireland said.

Global sales of Irish cream “followed a similar strong trajectory” and are expected to top 10 million cases for the first time this year, the Ibec group said.

But the “standout percentage” increase in sales was observed in the poitín category. Sales volumes almost doubled in 2021 from 2020 but Drinks Ireland warned that the market for the product is much smaller than whiskey or Irish cream and that cases are still sold in the thousands rather than the millions.

“This increase has been attributed to ecommerce sales and some success for the category in Dublin Airport,” the report noted and there is still “much that can be done by the State” to promote and grow Irish poitín.

After all-out collapsing in 2020 as a consequence of the pandemic, a “better than expected” recovery in international travel retail in 2021 helped lift sales across the board, the report highlights. However, travel retail sales still came “nowhere close” to matching pre-pandemic levels. Almost 623,000 cases of spirits were sold in airports and other travel hubs last year, up from just 188,330 in 2020 but down from 1.3 million in pre-Covid 2019.

The report also highlights that revenue raised from alcohol sales has declined for two years in row with 2021 revenues down over 2 per cent from 2020. The volume of alcohol consumed by Irish adults also continued to decline in 2021, falling 4 per cent from 2020 and 33 per cent since 2001.

Ian Curran

Ian Curran

Ian Curran is a Business reporter with The Irish Times