If you plan ahead for seasonal promotions, you’ve probably settled on what to do for Super Bowl 50 and Valentine’s Day already. Neither of those days, however, is anywhere near as busy for most bars as the days leading up to St. Patrick’s Day. It’s the time of the year when Irish whiskey sales go through the roof. Traditionally, that has usually meant Jameson, the iconic brand that controls more than two-thirds of the world’s Irish whiskey volume and 75% of the American market.
A bartender go-to, Jameson (like most Irish whiskey brands) has been spreading its wings lately, with Black Barrel and a stout barrel-finished Caskmates offering. But that’s only the tip of the Irish iceberg, as the country has undergone a boom of small distillers. Just a few years ago there were only four distillers active in Ireland. Now, there are 15 currently working, with another 20 or so in some stage of planning.
Along with all those new operations has come loads of innovation beyond the main types of Irish: single grain, single malt, and single pot still, as well as blended. There are older matured expressions, multiple wood regimes and finishes, and things like Tullamore DEW’s recently released Trilogy, a blend of triple distilled grain, malt,and pot whiskeys matured in three cask types: bourbon barrels, Oloroso Sherry butts and rum casks.
Tullamore’s oldest release to date, Trilogy is part of the range expansion that will roll out over the next few year. This expansion is the benefit of being owned by William Grant & Sons, a company with access to a broad variety of high quality casks with which to experiment. But others are broadening the range of Irish as well: Teeling sells a small batch Irish finished in rum casks, along with a single grain matured in Cabernet Sauvignon barrels.
And then there’s the ever-expanding range of super- and ultra-premium Irish whiskeys of all sorts from Irish Distillers, the company that produces not only Jameson but also Powers, Paddy, Redbreast, Midleton, Green Spot and Yellow Spot, all promoted as part of the move from simple and enjoyable blended Irish to more expressive and interesting offerings.
Consumers are proving day by day that whiskey is what they find interesting, whether it’s bourbon or rye from North America or imports from Scotland and Japan. Irish, while still growing every year, hasn’t been receiving its due in terms of accolades, but maybe part of that is down to operators not trying to expand the attraction much during that busy March selling season. So this year, when you think about how to promote your operation during St. Patrick’s Day and beyond, think quality rather than quantity.