High spirits: sales of gin, vodka and whiskey rise during lockdown

Off-trade sales are not expected to offset losses from closure of bars and restaurants

Sales of gin rose 4.6 per cent to 338.500 cases in the Republic last year.

Sales of gin rose 4.6 per cent to 338.500 cases in the Republic last year.


Sales of spirits such as vodka, whiskey and gin have jumped during the Covid-19 crisis but the increase won’t go anywhere near offsetting losses arising from the forced closures of bars, restaurants and nightclubs, according to Irish Distillers managing director Claire Tolan.

She expects on-trade sales to come back slowly once venues reopen in the coming months.

She was speaking as new industry figures from IWSR Drinks Market Analysis show sales of spirits slowed in the Republic last year after jumping 6.5 per cent in 2018.

Overall, spirit sales increased marginally to 2.42 million nine-litre cases in 2019, up 0.7 per cent compared to 2018, with Smirnoff remaining the top selling brand overall.

Tequila was the fastest growing category year-on-year, with volumes rising 6.2 per cent, albeit from a low base of just 16,000 nine-litre cases.

Gin, which has recorded compound annual growth of 28.2 per cent over the last four years, continued to rack up sales in 2019, with volumes rising 4.6 per cent to 338.500 cases. This makes it the third most popular spirit behind vodka on 791,000 cases sold, and Irish whiskey on 590,500 cases.

Sales of flavoured gin in particular shot up last year, jumping 32.2 per cent to 53.8000 cases.

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While still the most popular category, sales of vodka rose only marginally in 2019, up just 0.6 per cent. Irish whiskey sales were 1.5 per cent higher over the same period.

Commenting on the figures, Ms Tolan, whose Irish Distillers portfolio includes Jameson, Absolut, Malibu, Beefeater, Pernod and Huzzar, said they show that people are not drinking more but are drinking better, with sales of premium brands increasing dramatically in recent years.

While off-trade sales have increased significantly this year, with consumers spending more during the lockdown, they won’t offset the drop in on-trade.

“It looks like, as a sector, we’re going to be about 30 per cent lower in terms of sales than the year before,” she said.

“Even when bars reopen, we still expect off-trade sales will remain buoyant because people are going to be nervous about going out again and are wondering just how much craic it will be due to social distancing rules.”

Ms Tolan added that sales of exotic drinks such as Kahlua had shot up dramatically during the lockdown due to people making cocktails at home.

“People have been experimenting, trying to have a bit of fun while at home, so things like bitters were almost impossible to get at the start of the lockdown,” she said.


Smirnoff easily outsold the competition with 485,000 cases sold last year up 1.2 per cent on the 479,000 shifted a year earlier. Jameson racked up sales of 250,000 cases in 2019, up 6.3 per cent year-on-year.

Rounding out the top five most popular spirit brands last year were Gordons with a near 10 per cent rise in sales to 130,000 cases, Hennessy with 102,000 cases and Absolut, which shifted 97,000 cases.