Whiskey wars: why are rival brands going into battle?

Wild Geese parent accuses Irish Distillers of abusing its dominant position in sector

Jameson is the runaway success story with sales soaring 13 per cent to 6. 5 million cases in the 12 months to the end of August 2017

Jameson is the runaway success story with sales soaring 13 per cent to 6. 5 million cases in the 12 months to the end of August 2017

 

When it comes to the Irish whiskey sector it is rare for disputes between different producers to make it into public.

There may be fierce rivalries behind the scenes but publicly at least, the industry likes to promote itself as one in which the various producers all happily coexist.

But this week Jameson parent Irish Distillers was taken to the High Court by the companies behind Wild Geese whiskey for allegedly abusing its dominant position. It claims Irish Distillers has refused to supply it while happily supplying other brands. So what is going on exactly?

Why go to war?

Irish whiskey is in heavy demand across the world. But with it taking a minimum three years before the spirit is considered matured, it means that many distilleries are reliant on the likes of big players such as Irish Distillers who produce bigger volumes to source interim supplies.

So where have Wild Geese whiskies come from to date ?

Protege International and Avalon, the companies behind the Wild Geese brand, have previously procured their whiskies from the former Cooley Distillery. They claim they’ve been trying to get Irish Distillers to supply them for years without success.

What do Irish Distillers say?

It is contesting the High Court action. The company has said it welcomes the emergence of new players, which it claims ultimately boosts the development of the sector as a whole. Irish Distillers also says it previously offered to supply Wild Geese but couldn’t agree terms with its smaller rival.

Is this the first time the two sides have crossed swords?

No. This is just one battle among many. Protege International and Avalon, the owners of the Wild Geese brand, have been at war with Irish Distillers’ owner the drinks giant Pernod Ricard for years. In fact there have been more than 50 court actions that have taken place across the world.

Why can’t they just be friends?

Pernod which sold the Wild Turkey bourbon brand to Campari in 2013 for $574 million, previously initiated court action against Wild Geese after claiming consumers could be confused by the similarity in product names. The source of the friction between the two sides stems from this.

Do all Irish distilleries source their supplies from big players like Jameson’s parent?

No. Nearly all are focused on producing their own whiskies but some newer entrants to the market have turned to the bigger suppliers to procure interim products while their whiskey is being distilled.

I thought whiskey had to mature for longer than three years?

Three years is the legal maturation time for whiskey. There is no maximum amount of time it can be kept in a cask and many producers would be of the opinion that aging for a prolonged period is necessary to produce a good whiskey.

How popular is Irish whiskey?

Combined sales of nine-litre cases of Irish whiskey increased 11.2 per cent from 7.8 million to 8.7 million in 2016, according to figures from International Wine and Spirits Research (IWSR).

The Irish Whiskey Association originally set a target of doubling global sales of the spirit from six million cases to 12 million by 2020. It recently announced plans to double sales again to 24 million by 2030 due to the sales boom.

Is Irish whiskey becoming too popular?

Whiskey magnate John Teeling, who has played a vital role in the renaissance of Irish whiskey, recently warned there may be a scarcity of the product due to global demand. Others in the sector think we should have enough to last till some of the newer distilleries get their products on the market.

How many whiskey distilleries are there now in Ireland?

We have gone from having just four distilleries to 18, with some industry sources suggesting we could end up with up to 30 in the coming years.

Who is top dog in the industry?

Irish Distillers, whose portfolio includes the world’s best-selling whiskey, Jameson, as well as Powers, Redbreast and Green Spot.

Jameson in particular is the runaway success story with sales soaring 13 per cent to 6. 5 million cases in the 12 months to the end of August 2017.