Irish whiskey forecast to overtake Scotch in US as sales hit record $1.3bn

Sales rose 16.3% last year with Irish whiskey the third-fastest-growing spirits category

Irish whiskey sales rebounded strongly in the US last year, rising 16.3 per cent or $185 million, to a record $1.3 billion.

This is according to new figures published by the Distilled Spirits Council, which said Irish whiskey was the third-fasting-growing category by revenue last year behind premixed cocktails and tequila/mezcal. It was also the third-fastest-growing spirit by volume, up 17.8 per cent on 2020.

The increase in Irish whiskey sales in the US last year was greater than the cumulative growth experienced by Scotch over the past 10 years. Irish Whiskey Association director William Lavelle reiterated his belief that sales would exceed those of Scotch by 2030. This would be the first time it has happened since before prohibition a century ago.

Overall, some 5.9 million nine-litre cases of Irish whiskey were sold in the US last year. This compares with five million cases in 2020.


“The resilience of the Irish whiskey category through the initial stages of the pandemic paved the way for a very strong rebound in 2021. While we saw remarkable breakthroughs in emerging markets such as India and Nigeria, these latest figures demonstrate continuing robust growth in established markets,” said Mr Lavelle.

High-end growth

Sales of Irish whiskey have risen every year in the US since 2002, when $64 million in revenues was recorded on volumes of just 434,000 nine-litre cases.

The category has gained from sales of higher-end products. In fact, since 2002, so-called high-end premium and super-premium brands have grown by 1,112 per cent and 9,102 per cent respectively.

“The Distilled Spirits Council report highlights how the Irish whiskey category has benefited from drinkers’ desire to trade up with phenomenal growth reported at higher price points,” said Mr Lavelle.

“With more supply coming available of age-statement, super-premium brands – from both established and newer distilleries – it is clear that Irish whiskey is going to be an increasingly competitive player in the higher-end whiskey market, taking on Scotch single malts,” he added.

Overall, spirit sales in the US increased 12 per cent to $35.8 billion in 2021 with volumes up 9.3 per cent to 291.1 million of nine-litre cases.

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor

Charlie Taylor is a former Irish Times business journalist