Kerrygold launched its Irish cream liqueur last year

Kerrygold launched its Irish cream liqueur last year

The Irish whiskey market can expect more acquisitions as second-tier alcohol companies snap up the new wave of distilleries in Ireland, an industry player has said.

This month, Brown-Forman bought Slane Castle Irish Whiskey, promising a US$50m investment in a distillery for the Co Meath firm. The move gives Brown-Forman an Irish whiskey brand for the first time, and follows Beam Inc's - now Beam Suntory - acquisition of Cooleys in 2012.

However, according to Ronan Gillespie, commercial director for Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur, smaller international companies will also want a stake in the growing Irish whiskey market. And acquisitions will be fuelled by the swathe of new distilleries preparing to go into production.

"Will the second-tier international players want an Irish whiskey? Of course they will," Gillespie told just-drinks. "The category is hot, and (having an Irish whiskey brand) could be a door opener for them with retailers, and on-premise outlets."

About 30 Irish whiskey distilleries are currently in production as demand continues to grow. Last year, Irish whiskey was the fastest-growing spirit in the world, with 7m nine-litre cases exported, estimated to reach 25m by 2030.

Teeling Whiskey Co officially opened its new distillery in Dublin last week and is ready to tap into that demand.

"Our timing is fantastic. It's 2015 and we're distilling," Hugh MacGabhann, Teeling's Europe commercial manager, told just-drinks.

But although he denied Teeling is for sale, MacGabhann said recent Irish whiskey acquisitions questioned the wisdom of Diageo's divestment of Bushmill's this year in a swap deal for Tequila Don Julio.

"The fact that Brown-Forman is coming in and spending US$50m makes the Diageo decision all the more curious," MacGabhann said. "If Brown-Forman thinks it's a good idea and all the others do, what is Diageo thinking?"

Gillespie said: "Most of the bigger players already have an Irish whiskey in the portfolio - Diageo doesn’t, so that's an interesting one."

Gillespie and MacGabhann were speaking on the sidelines of an Irish whiskey tasting at Vinexpo yesterday, where both are looking to increase distribution of their brands.

Gillespie said Kerrygold Irish Cream Liqueur, which was launched in the US last year, will be available in Spain, Denmark and Bulgaria before the end of this year and in France by early next year. Dairy firm Kerrygold is also looking to launch in China, where it has just rolled out a line of UHT milk.

"Kerrygold is growing really fast in China and cream liqueurs are growing very fast in China, so that's an obvious one for us to touch on as well," Gillespie said.