Whiskey price

US buyers make the case for single malt Irish whiskey

For many whiskey drinkers, single malt has almost always meant scotch. Yet there are a growing number of single malts from neighboring Ireland available to consumers in the United States, and they are generally very different from the Irish whiskey blends people know and love, both in flavor and price.

“Although small compared to Irish blended whiskey, single malt Irish whiskey has experienced double-digit growth over the past five years in the United States,” says Darryl McNally, CEO and Master Distiller of Limavady, which makes single-barrel single malt Irish whiskey. “American consumers have begun to experience the unique quality of Irish malt as they look beyond Scotch and craft distillers bring new innovations to the segment.”

The IWSR predicts that Irish whiskey as a whole will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.6% in the United States from 2021 to 2025, and Irish malt whiskey will experience a CAGR of 13% over the same period. The influx of newly available Irish single malt expressions offers bars and retailers the opportunity to bring something different, and something that usually comes at a premium, to whiskey consumers.

“Consumers have been exposed to more high-end and super-premium brands, which has led to a more level playing field in terms of perception of Irish versus, say, Scotch,” says Padraic Coll, Head of North American Operations at Clonakilty. “Along with the big players shifting marketing dollars to promoting their super premium offerings, [this] means that the consumer is made aware that Irish whiskey is not just something in the $20 to $30 range.

Boost retail sales through education

the New Hampshire Liquor Commission (NHLC) sees some 12 million annual customers and offers a selection of more than 14,000 wines and spirits in its 67 stores across the state. Mark Roy, spirits marketing and sales specialist for NHLC, says the Irish whiskey category as a whole has been a major growth area in stores, including single malts.

When considering new Irish single malts to add to shelves, Roy and the NHLC ask some crucial questions: is it from an established brand? Is the brand growing nationally and in the local market, or are there consumer demands? What is the price and how does it compare to other markets?

Photo courtesy of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission.

Consumer education is a big part of the stores’ retail strategy around Irish single malts. NHLC works closely with local brokers for in-store advertising through door talkers, media ads, in-store tastings and virtual educational seminars. Their weekly email includes a “What’s New” section focused on brands and news media.

These tools help all consumers feel more comfortable making a choice on a less understood style than the more dominant blends. Yet in NHLC stores, single malts are placed alongside blends and different cask finishes according to price progression rather than grouping all Irish single malts by style.

“I don’t think consumers still see single malt as a separate category within Ireland,” says Roy. “If it’s Irish, it’s Irish, and they put it under the global rubric of Irish whiskey.”

Using brand stories to sell in bars

“The problem I’ve seen is that most customers only recognize one brand, and that brand is either the only one they feel comfortable ordering or the reason why they ‘can’t never drink Irish whiskey again,'” says Nicholas Bennett, Beverage Manager. at Porch At New York. “[Overcoming that barrier] starts with the enthusiasm of our waiters and bar staff, so we only offer brands of Irish Whiskey that we sincerely respect and are happy to serve ourselves.

From there, introducing consumers to Irish single malts starts with getting to know the customer.

Nicholas Bennett, Beverage Manager at Porchlight. Photo courtesy of Union Square Hospitality Group.

“A great start is to ask them what they typically like to drink, and then ask them about the direction they’d like to go from there,” says Jillian Vose, director of beverages and managing partner at The dead rabbit. “Issues like what cask components they like, what age of a whiskey they are looking for. The question of cost to the customer should also be mentioned if you are suggesting something more expensive.

She recommends starting with a question like, “What do you usually like to drink?” Then use this information to give two starting choices.

“I hope they like it, and on their next drink or visit, you can guide them to something different and more complex,” adds Vose. “Without even knowing it, they will start to build a descriptive vocabulary about what they like and dislike, which is also great because it’s a natural way to build a relationship with what, hopefully will become a regular guest.”

Selling to adventurous whiskey lovers and casual consumers requires a bar team that knows what they’re selling really well and can tell detailed stories about the brands. Brands, after all, are the starting point for most consumers.

“The majority of our customers are much more likely to order a particular Irish whiskey based on brand recognition than knowledge of the whiskey style, such as single malt or blends,” says Níamh O’Donovan, Managing Director and President of the company at Restaurant and bar by Daniel O’Connell in Alexandria, Virginia. “Competitors of larger whiskey brands tend to be an easier sell than a lesser-known style of a well-known whiskey brand. The price of whiskey is only a limiting factor if there is a large disparity between brands.

Build a selection of single malt Irish whiskey

Vose suggests starting with what people know when creating a bar’s Irish single malt selection. For example, start with the 10, 16 and 21 year options of Bushmills– a brand that people already know but may not realize was historically known for its single malts. Tullamore DEW is another well-known brand with accessible single malts, and Bennett adds Knappogue Castle and Teeling to this list.

From there, try to develop offers from brands that the average consumer may be less aware of. Waterford makes focused on the land single malts named after the farm where the grain was grownand West Liege has single malts with native cask finishes. Vose also suggests Dingle and Sacristan.

Alex Thomas. Photo courtesy of Bushmills.

“Not many people know it, but Ireland is the origin of the single malt,” says Alex Thomas, master blender at Bushmills. “Scotch took center stage during Prohibition because the United States was such a huge market for the Irish whiskey industry, and it was hit hard. What was once a country of hundreds of distilleries, became a country of a handful – Bushmills being one of the very few still standing.

There were only four distilleries making Irish whiskey in 2013. There are now over 30, with more planned and some recently opened that have yet to send their first releases out into the world. As the number grows so will the Irish single malt category, and with it so will consumer interest and the need to find a way to introduce these delicious bottles.

“So be patient, people,” Vose urges. “More single malts will eventually come here.”

Nickolaus Hines is a journalist who writes about beer, spirits, food and travel. He is the food and beverage editor at Matador Network and wrote about drinks for Liquor.com, men’s health, October, Hop cultivation, great calland VinePair.