Cooley Distillery saw profits rise 20% last year thanks to a buoyant Irish whiskey category and a successful US debut for its brand Michael Collins.

The Irish distiller's managing director Dr John Teeling said he expects profits to have reached EUR1.6m (US$2.1m) in 2006.

Dr Teeling said sales were up around 10% to EUR11m as its whiskey volumes rose from 180,000 cases to 210,000 cases. The company will release its final figures for 2006 in August, Dr Teeling said.

Nevertheless, he said "the bulk" of the sales increase had come from the sales of Michael Collins Irish whiskey in the US. Cooley launched the brand in the US last year through local importers Sidney Frank.

"The marketing team at Sidney Frank is unsurpassed. They've gone for the super-premium Irish whiskey category with a super-premium product," Dr Teeling told just-drinks today (30 January).

He said growing demand among US consumers for spirits with greater flavour had driven demand for Irish whiskey across the Atlantic.

"Irish whiskey in the US is growing at probably 20% per annum. The US is going to become a 1m-case market for Irish whiskey a lot quicker than anybody expected," Dr Teeling said.

He added: "There has also been massive growth, phenomenal growth in South Africa, which is a market that has grown by 25 times in the last 10 years."

Dr Teeling said Cooley would invest more in marketing this year to push its Connemara, Kilbeggan and Tyrconnell brands.

However, he said Cooley is losing share of the Irish whiskey category due to the even faster growth enjoyed by rivals Pernod Ricard and C&C Group.