More than one million people visited Irish whiskey distilleries in 2019, the first time ever that visitor numbers have reached seven figures in a calendar year. 

Irish whiskey continues to be a massive draw for tourists and there are some very encouraging numbers for the whiskey industry. 

According to the Irish Whiskey Association, there was a 10.5% increase in visitor numbers in distilleries across the country last year, up to 1.02 million from 923,000 in 2018. 

Tourists from the USA and Canada accounted for 34% of visitors to distilleries in Ireland last year and were by far the top demographic of all visitors. 

They were followed by Irish visitors (13%), British (12%), German (10%), and visitors from France (7%). 

Irish whiskey tourism remains a growing industry; something that is demonstrated by the 17 visitor centers in operation at whiskey distilleries throughout the country. The Irish Whiskey Association expects this number to grow in 2020. 

The number of staff employed in the whiskey industry also received a sizeable boost last year, jumping from 356 in 2018 to 409 for an increase of 15%. 

In addition, the Irish Whiskey Association confirmed that there were 31 distilleries open in Ireland by the end of 2019; the most legal distilleries on the island since 1900. 

Read more: Prohibition and Irish whiskey: the amendment that almost collapsed an entire industry

William Lavelle, Head of the Irish Whiskey Association, said that increased visitor numbers were a cause for celebration. 

“In just four years, the total number of visitors to Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes has grown by 54% - from 653,000 in 2015 to our 2019 record of 1.02 million.

“Exceeding one million visitors annually is a massive achievement and I congratulate the managers and staff of our 17 visitor attractions on achieving this milestone. Irish whiskey distilleries and brand homes are now firmly established as a star performer within Ireland’s all-island tourism offering."

Although the news is almost entirely positive, there are some slight causes for concern.

Despite being the top demographic, the number of visitors from North America dropped significantly compared to 2018, falling by 8%. 

It reflects a somewhat worrying trend regarding Irish whiskey in North America. 

There was also a drop off in Irish whiskey sales on the opposite side of the Atlantic. While sales continued to grow in America, they have recorded a single-digit increase for the first time in a number of years. 

The growth figures are disappointing compared to a 13.5% increase in 2018, although they are still very impressive. 

At 8.6%, Irish whiskey's growth was notably behind that of its Japanese and Mexican counterparts, which increased US sales by a whopping 23.1% and 40% respectively.     

But the figures are almost exclusively positive and it seems as though the only way is up for Irish whiskey. 

Ist tile july 2019

Stills at Roe & Co whiskey distillery Christopher Heaney