Irish Whiskey Tourism: A Reality Check


We need this kind of thing.

There is absolutely no doubt that Irish Whiskey Tourism is on the Up and that is a wonderful thing for all of us.  In my mind the ideal situation we will have on this Island in about a decade is a tourism system that emulates Scotland or Kentucky. Both have scenic winding Whiskey Trails, which snake all over the lovely state of Kentucky and Up hill and down dale and over ferrys in Scotland. The reality is though that we don’t have that right now. We have a concentration of tourism sitting with a few large scale attractions or concentrated in Dublin.

Let’s just look at the stats for a moment. A Note here: the distillery specific stats I have quoted are the most recent on public record and taken from a Drinks Industry Group of Ireland Report published in Sept. 2017. Therefore some of the below stats are 2016 and not bang on date. This is then an illustrative exercise rather than a literary one. I am open to corrections on the below numbers for 2017 but I imagine they will be upward revisions rather than down. For the purposes of this post I am assuming 2016 visitor stats stayed flat rather than speculating.

The Stats

  1. Total Irish Whiskey Tourism visitors in 2017-—814000
  2. Total Visitors to Bow Street Experience Dublin 2017—350000
  3. Total Visitors to Jameson Distillery Midelton —150000

Ok that means about 61% of all Irish Whiskey Tourist visits are to Jameson. I’m not saying that is a negative thing, both of those experiences are wonderful representations of Irish Whiskey there is no doubt about that. Pernod have done a great job, they are good at experiential. They are of course though not the full picture of Irish Whiskey today., nor are they supposed to be, they are brand led experiences through the Pernod Ricard lens.

That leaves 314,000 whiskey tourists outside of Jameson visits. Lets look at how they are spread.

  • Teeling Dublin 100,000 (2016 )
  • Irish Whiskey Museum Dublin 56,000 (2016)
  • No stats available for Pearse Lyons so not included here

OK, that means then 80% of the 814,000 Irish Whiskey Tourists visited an attraction either run by Jameson, which has powerhouse draw, or one in Dublin our capital city,

The other big powerhouses Beam Suntory & Grants can’t get close to Dublin numbers or compete with the lure & global recognition of Jameson.

68,000 visitor to Kilbeggan (2016)

37,000 visitors to Tullamore Dew  (2016)

That leaves 53,000 tourists left for everyone else. The other tourism offerings that I know of right now are spread around the country and total Four, that would leave an even distribution  of visitors of  13,250 each let’s say. With an average spend per visitor of 20 euros that is about 265,000 in revenue per annum, minus overhead, minus marketing spend, minus running costs, licenses, fees etc. it is a tight business.


This Sort of Thing Please

I can only speculate that as Whiskey Tourism Grows to the predicted 1.9 million per annum, so will the Jameson Bow Street visitor figures. I can further speculate that once Diageo open Roe & Co. beside The Guinness Store house (WHICH 50% OF DUBLIN TOURISTS VISIT!!!) concentration of whiskey tourism in Dublin will also grow. Remember too DWC and Pearse Lyons are coming into their own, so Dublin tourists will be spoilt for choice but Diageo & Pernod will ultimately dominate that market.  No doubt Brown Forman will kick into high gear this year with the irresistable attraction at Slane which is within striking distance of Dublin so we’ll some numbers spread there, but only due to some serious marketing spend and advertising.

Any rural distillery off the beaten path will tick along but could really do with help to maximise this opportunity. As tourism numbers grow so do distillery offerings if the current uneven spread of tourism continues there simply won’t be enough tourists to go around to make tourism truly viable for a multitude of rural distilleries.

It is clear and has been for some time that in order to truly strategically approach the long game that is Irish Whiskey Tourism we need a joined up approach. The IWA has laid out a great whiskey tourism strategy for the Island. It is a great read and is basically bang on. The problem is though that we don’t really have the might of Failte Ireland behind said strategy and that is absolutely vital to its success. There is no mention of an Irish Whiskey Tourism Trail on the Faite Ireland website at all just a disparate number of whiskey related events.

Let’s compare that to the equivalent body across the water ‘Visit Scotland’s approach. For quite a while now The Scotch Whiskey Trail has been a core offering and program for them. Its internalised studied and reported on and owned by that particular state body. They champion its success and publicise it globally. As a result Scotland is a global destination for Whiskey Tourism. 1.7 Million visitors to 40 distilleries in 2017 according to the most recent figures. Those 1.7 million visitors are not concentrated in cities they are spread around the country, they are all basically rural. I can say from experience that Scotland’s distilleries are even more remote and far flung than our own, yet 1.7 Million people toured them in 2017. People are more than willing to leave the city and hit the road to visit far flung distilleries, they just need to be made aware its possible and some infrastructure or guidance needs to be provided in the form of guides etc. There needs to be a decent impartial budget behind the initiative too and only the state can really do that.

In short we need a Wild Atlantic Way style branding and publicity exercise for an “All Ireland Whiskey Trail” and very specifically we need Failte Ireland to lead this initiative in consultation with the IWA and vitally rural independent non-members. Otherwise we are really missing a trick here and depriving rural areas of much needed employment opportunities.

Sadly the current political climate in Ireland is not massively conducive to the above suggestion. If the attitude that all alcohol is bad alcohol is pervasive throughout the Irish Government in line with the Health Bill then I fear the above is a pipe dream.


The Irish Government Wants to Tell People That Irish Whiskey Causes Cancer (Only Irish Whiskey Though)

Ok, folks I’m finally weighing in on the Public Alcohol Health Bill. I am doing so from the perspective of being a rational human being and an independent spirit producer. Let me caveat this entire thing by saying that Alcohol misuse, addiction and abuse is a terrible malady and tragedy for many. I think its correct that the government is stepping in to try to help, but I can’t agree fully with this approach.

This bill as a whole is really a risk averse knee -jerk reaction to Ireland’s old fashioned former not so grown up attitude to alcohol. Having lived abroad from 1992 to 2015, I can confidently make that observation. That attitude has changed in the last decade or so, to a good degree. Overall consumption is down with youth and in general we have become more discerning. The fact that so many independent drinks producers have sprung up in the past few years shows the change in attitude. There are certain factors though that have exacerbated problem drinking and the puritans have latched onto that. Cheap alcohol is an issue. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that minimum pricing laws are a good idea. Making alcohol more accessible than ham sandwiches in terms of pricing is not a good idea, it enables misuse and nobody will convince me otherwise, I can agree with that part of the bill. I place the blame for this with Supermakets and loss leader pricing, they forced that issue and something needs to be done about it.

There is also an Ad in my local off license which really bothers me, its for a well known red-top vodka and it literally says “20 Shots Per Bottle!”That is just stupid and is irresponsible advertising on the part of the manufacturer. It is promoting quantity over quality to shift bottles and its that kind of advertising that has put us in this mess,  along with low supermarket pricing.  Those two factors mean this Bill is now actually realistically on the table.

However, show me a single independent producer who would put more emphasis about the amount of “Shots” in a bottle over the care that went into making the liquid and the quality of its ingredients. There is not a SINGLE ONE who would advertise like that. But here we are. Lumped into this catch-all  bill that will affect our bottom line exponentially greater than our multinational Overlords. The independent spirit producers in this country are out quite simply to survive for the next few years, we are not out to hit the Million Case Mark globally. We need every advantage we can get.

This proposed bill will take away most of them.

If you are NOT  a multinational spirits producer in this country getting shelf space is already very difficult. This has been well documented. There are a few big players who have established in-house strategies of pushing out smaller brands with cold hard cash. So for example Busy Bar X in Dublin will have a cash and free booze deal with their beer or spirits supplier. Written into or agreed as part of this deal is that small crafty competitive set brands are kept out. Or Diageo for example will pay for the refurbishment of a bar and in return they will own all the beer taps and let’s say the, whiskey, Gin, and vodka categories in the bar for two years  or so. The guy behind the bar who is your biggest fan is simply NOT allowed to take your product on until the deal runs out. This is impossible to compete with for new small brands as you can imagine.

Let me make clear, in the olden days I did quite a few of these deals myself, mostly with Champagne in  New York Nightclubs its just the way business is done in Booze; Twas ever thus. The issue is here on our tiny Island of Ireland and our tiny capital city where most of the booze on this Island is sold,  is that there are in reality not THAT many high volume  bars/off licenses. So if you can’t pay to play you are out in the cold and you are selling individual bottles to pubs and shops outside of Dublin. Revenue-wise in a high cap-ex business like whiskey that is a long road but it is a harsh reality and one that is not going to change.

Similar things happen across the pond, but  in the case of USA for example if you do get shut out of an account you can just go to one of the several million others there are. There is enough room for Multinationals (just about) and Independents to live side by side. Then you have the excise issue, making this country one of most expensive in the world to buy Irish Whiskey, for a small high-end  independent brand Ireland is one of the toughest markets to do business already.

In good conscience you have to  sell your product in Ireland locally surely to be truly Irish? Ireland is our shop window, but the curtains are about to be drawn.

For a start, this bill will be force all spirits produced here to have labels with Cancer Warnings on them. It is unclear at this time whether these would be required just for selling in Ireland or also for exports. Irish Whiskey will become the only whiskey in the world with a cancer warning on it. Scotch, American, Japanese, Australian, New Zealand, German, French, none of those whiskies will need cancer warnings.

Our Government is about to pass a bill to highlight to people that Irish Whiskey specifically may cause Cancer. That is the message we are sending. Line up an Irish, Scotch, Canadian and American Whisk(e)y and the Irish will be the only one with Cancer on the label…..To make that 100% clear; The irish Whiskey renaissance is being “supported” by our Government by a requirement to be the only whiskey in the  world obliged to put MAY CAUSE CANCER on the label.

For independents this hits hard, not only because at the micro level we have to pay for new labels (its expensive in small volumes) but also because independents unlike Multinationals don’t have a global portfolio of spirits that can compensate for sales dips caused by something like this. People are scared of Cancer they just are  it is a nuclear option  to put the word on a product.

Secondly, the wonderful (and I mean that) Craft Drinks Bill currently snaking its way simultaneously though the Dail will be largely negated by the Public Health Alcohol Bill. The former bill allows small producers to sell alcohol legally to tourists without forking out for a 120K license. It is a game changer. It will allow rural distilleries to make a real crack at their tourism business model with a negligible start-up cost. However the public Health Bill will forbid them from advertising their tourism offering…..

Bit of an issue there lads. Rural distilleries are not in the center of Dublin and are not served by drop-in city coach tours. Many will need Wild Atlantic Way Warrior style spontaneous tourism to get going. They need billboards at Shannon or Cork Airport and signage on various routes to create drop-in footfall in the vital peak tourism season.

Also advertising & promotional images that have people in them and evoke place other than that of production and specific provenance like these below will be banned. This is a disaster for independents. One of the elements that makes independent spirits special and appealing to consumers is that they are produced by founders and interesting people on a mission, often on very unique places like my family farm. That passion and that inherent authentic provenance  is our ONLY competitive advantage over industrial scale producers. We need those images to be able to tell our unique stories. Showing a generic copper pot still or a generic barrel as provided for by the Health Bill, won’t hack it for independents. We can’t afford  2 Million euro campaign and a full creative and media buying team at Publicis to dream up a solution to that ban.





There is only so much hassle I will put up with to do business here in Ireland. I’ve moved home to set up a business devoid of broadband and cellphone coverage, I constantly wrestle with disorganised labeling enforcement, I had to put my house on the line to get a bond and had to become an expert in  alcohol laws  that were written in 1840 to do so. My focus has always been leant towards export because that is where the potential lies for a brand like mine and also quite frankly it is simply easier. I had hoped to expand out in Ireland once our revenues were really moving for no other reason than a sense of Pride.

From my perspective I can tell you, the health bill has made me totally re-think our tourism plans, which means totally re-think our local  employment plans. Furthermore any in market sales staff I was planning on will likely be shifted overseas and lastly if the cancer warning comes in, I may just pull my whiskey from the Irish Market entirely. Nobody in Ireland will get any advertising revenue from me either once it becomes generic.

This unbalanced bill may be the last straw for me and the worst part is, it still shows an old fashioned immature attitude to alcohol in this country, except this time its by our own Government.