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Whiskey distilleries in Northern Ireland gearing for faster growth

Echlinville Distillery

Irish whiskey distilleries in Northern Ireland are part of an ambitious new strategy to grow exports and boost tourism. The strategy has been developed by the Irish Whiskey Association and has just been launched at the Old Bushmills Distillery in County Antrim.

The Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy aims to work with distilleries around the island to treble the number of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries to 1.9 million by 2025. When achieved this will deliver £1.1 billion annually to towns across the island and create hundreds of jobs. The strategy is supported by Food NI and Tourism NI.

Miriam Mooney, head of the Irish Whiskey Association, said “Irish whiskey distilleries are positioning themselves as key tourist attractions. Already, The Old Bushmills Distillery and Echlinville Distillery at Kircubbin in County Down are succeeding in attracting more than 120,000 visitors every year.”

Until recently, The Old Bushmills Distillery was the only distillery in the region. There are now three Irish whiskey distilleries in production and soon there will be four operating across counties Antrim, Derry and Down.

“We believe that when Rademon Estate Distillery in Crossgar, County Down and The Quiet Man Distillery in Derry open their visitor centres, the number of whiskey tourists travelling to the region may exceed 200,000 visitors every year. Local distilleries will play an integral role in making Ireland the world’s number 1 whiskey tourism destination,” adds Miriam Mooney.

The massive growth in Irish whiskey and Irish whiskey tourism means that local distilleries will soon support 155 direct jobs across the region and many more jobs will be created in the hospitality sector as a result.

“It is vital that the Irish Whiskey Association can work together with tourism authorities on both sides of the border to ensure the future success of Irish whiskey tourism and support the growth of distilleries across the island,” continues Colum Egan, Irish Whiskey Association chair and master distiller at Bushmills Distillery.

Irish whiskey is protected by a geographical indicator, meaning that it can only be produced on the island of Ireland and the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy takes an all-island approach to promoting whiskey tourism.

Michele Shirlow, chief executive of Food NI and board member of Tourism NI which launched the strategy says, “Food and drink tourism is growing rapidly in Northern Ireland and we believe that Irish whiskey distilleries will play a valuable role in attracting even more tourists to the region. We look forward to working with the Irish Whiskey Association and all distilleries to create the best possible whiskey tourism offering that showcases all this island has to offer.”

The Irish Whiskey Association is an all-island organisation and was established in 2014. It provides a forum for all operators, new and old, to come together to share expertise and cooperate in building the Irish whiskey category brand.

The Irish whiskey category is the fastest growing premium spirit in the world. Irish whiskey sales have increased by over 300% in the last 10 years accounting for almost one third of all Irish beverage exports.

Exports of Irish whiskey are anticipated to double to 144 million bottles by 2020 (12 million 9 litre cases – 12 75cl bottles per case) and 288 million bottles by 2030 (24 million 9 litre cases) – Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy.

There are currently 16 working distilleries on the island of Ireland, with another 16 with planning permission. 1.9 million tourists are expected to pass through the doors of Irish whiskey distilleries by 2025 – Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy.

There are three distilleries in operation in Northern Ireland, soon there will be four (The Old Bushmills Distillery, Echlinville Distillery, The Quiet Man Distillery, Rademon Estate Distillery).

Distilleries in the region already attract more than 120,000 tourists annually. The ambition is to increase this figure to 201,000 whiskey tourists each year, which once achieved means that local distilleries will support 155 jobs.

The Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy sets out how Ireland can become the world leader in whiskey tourism by 2030. The strategy sets out four recommendations which are required in order to achieve that objective:

  • Support the growth of Irish whiskey distilleries and visitor centres
  • Develop an all island whiskey tourism product
  • Create an Irish whiskey trail and tourism infrastructure around distilleries
  • Develop an embassy network of hotels, restaurants and pubs.

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