Whiskey In The Jar

By Emily Hourican
Whiskey In The Jar

A recent survey of Irish whiskey distilleries showed a strong boost in staff and visitor numbers this year, but it also signalled future challenges for the sector, amid rising operational costs and tourism industry pressures. Eoin Ó Catháin, director of the Irish Whiskey Association, dissects the findings for Hospitality Ireland.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2023.

Eoin what is your broad response to the findings of this survey?

The Irish Whiskey Association broadly welcomes the findings of the survey. We are encouraged to see more distilleries employing more staff and investing in their tourist experiences and heartened to see that this investment is paying dividends, with visitor numbers increasing in an overwhelming majority of distilleries.

More and more, we see that whiskey distilleries note the benefit of a visitor experience – it brings in more visitors and increases sales and knowledge of the brand, which is crucial in this competitive sector.


Anything there that surprised you?

Pleasant surprises! Note the greater gender balance in the visitors, and the varied age range.

This chimes with trends we’ve noticed sector-wide: that whiskey is being enjoyed by a far more diverse cohort of consumers.

What gives you the greatest hope within it?

They [distilleries] are on a trajectory of growth, with significant capacity development, and this is so encouraging. This is, of course, backed up by strong sales and export figures, but we need to ensure that this continues.


It is an extremely competitive market out there, and we all have a role to play in this, from company to association to policymaker.

What do you see as the most significant challenges for the sector, and why?

Some challenges aren’t unique. The cost of living has impacted domestic and international tourists, and, of course, the price of accommodation is a concern. I further note that, for some visitor experiences in the west of Ireland, the numbers are not as strong – we should look at this and try to understand why.

Also, when compared to international visitor experiences, we are slightly higher than Scotland, for example. This shows the pressure that the whole hospitality and tourism sector is under.

What do you see as the main reasons why visitors are attracted to Irish whiskey distilleries?


The product. Whiskey is enjoyed with friends and family and is a premium product of which we should be proud. When you visit a distillery, you see the passion that goes into distilling, and it’s very engaging.

I look forward to more visitors being welcomed to Ireland and encourage anyone interested to visit Irish Whiskey 360°, to see the variety of experiences available.

Key findings from the survey show that:
• 58% of respondents have increased their staff numbers since the start of 2023;
• those who increased their staff numbers reported a 30% increase thereof;
• 93% of distillery visitor centres have noticed an increase in visitors since the start of the year;
• this increase is attributed to a strong rebound in visitors from key overseas markets, including North America, the UK, France and Germany;
• a more varied age range of visitors is increasingly interested in distillery tours, with 43% of distillery visitor centres reporting an increase in visitors between ages 18 and 34; and
• 50% of respondents with a visitor centre reported a greater gender balance among visitors.

However, the sector faces a number of challenges, including:
• 35% of respondents saying that an increase in production costs – in particular, energy – is impacting their business;
• 15% saying that they are being negatively impacted by supply chain issues, specifically the lack of availability of glass and wooden casks; and
• respondents citing a lack of availability and the high price of holiday accommodation as having an impact, as well as the increased cost of living impacting domestic tourism spend.

'Fresh Insight'

Ó Catháin says, “[The survey has] given fresh insight into the challenges – and the opportunities – facing the Irish whiskey sector in 2023. It is heartening, in particular, to see a strong rebound in the number of visitors, and that our members are growing their staff numbers to meet this demand."


“Irish whiskey has long supported local communities, and it’s encouraging to see this continue. The thousands of visitors that distillery tours attract right across the island drive much-needed economic activity for other businesses in the local area.

“After a turbulent number of years, this demonstrates the strength of the Irish whiskey sector, whose export value exceeded €1 billion for the first time in 2022, and the value it adds to the Irish economy in being a key player in tourism offerings and the promotion of our heritage and culture.”

He adds, “The survey demonstrates the reasons why collaborative engagement with key policymakers and government is so crucial to the success of Ireland’s whiskey-distilling industry. The need for forward-thinking policies and support for this sector of growth has never been clearer.”

The Irish Whiskey Association represents 48 Irish whiskey distilleries, 29 of which also operate visitor centres around the island of Ireland. The association conducted a survey of its members in August 2023, on post-Covid visitor numbers.