As we move into the second year of at-a-distance St. Patrick’s day celebrations, the Irish (and Irish-for-the-day) are gearing up to celebrate. But with states and countries in varying stages of restrictions, what will fill people’s glass?
Experts predict Irish whiskey will reign over the holiday. But this year, green beer will take a backseat to hard seltzers and health-conscious beverage options.
Looking backward, “Last year, most of the country’s bars and restaurants shut down right before St. Patrick’s Day,” explains Danelle Kosmal, the vice president of beverage alcohol at NielsenIQ. “Consumers responded by loading their pantries with alcoholic beverages for at-home consumption.” She cites Nielsen reporting a massive shift in volume last year, with double-digit growth rates of alcohol in the off-premise sector, up 38.2% in the 2 weeks ending March 21st compared to the same period 2019. This year, Nielsen is anticipating YoY declines of over 15% in off-premise sales, reflective of states reopening bars and restaurants.
Last year, lagers (+18%), hard seltzers (+391%), whiskey (+50%), tequila (+71%) and vodka (+55%) saw the most success. Ready-to-drink across the Beer, Wine, & Spirits categories also drove significant growth, up 96%.
Kosmal anticipates continued growth from the hard seltzer category this St. Patrick’s Day.
Over the last two years, ready-to-drinks like hard seltzers and other canned options have stolen drinkers away from the beer category. This year, Dana Epperson, the winemaker at Decoy Wines, predicts “consumers will be looking to drink something fun and convenient like hard seltzers, and possibly also more traditional options, like wine.”
Nielsen’s Kosmal notes tequila and American whiskey are also thriving, though finds, “we should still expect strong growth from segments that typically receive a lift around this holiday, including Irish whiskey, as well as big beer brands and imported Irish beers.”
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and Irish Whiskey Association (IWA) have watched consumer interest in the Irish Whiskey category surge over the last few years. Since 2002, high-end premium and super-premium Irish Whiskey grew at a staggering 1,007% percent and 8,728%, respectively. In 2020, more than 5.0 million 9-liter cases of Irish Whiskey were sold in the United States, generating $1.1 billion in revenues for distillers.
Chris Swonger, president and CEO of DISCUS, explains. “It’s an exciting time for whiskey hailing from the Emerald Isle. The growth of Irish whiskey sales in the United States over the past decade has been phenomenal. Consumers enjoy Irish Whiskey’s lighter, sweeter flavor profile and are captivated by its rich heritage as one of the world’s first whiskeys.”
Jillian Vose, the beverage director for famed Irish drinks mecca The Dead Rabbit, has been in the front seat to the category’s growth. She’s hoping St. Patrick’s Day will further drive the category. “With the growth of the Irish whiskey category and the consumer awareness of Irish whiskey, we hope that after enjoying a mixed cocktail, guests will be more prone to try the spirit on its own. Cocktails are a great way to expose consumers to new spirits and with a tasty drink and a back bar full of Irish whiskey bottles, we hope it’s a nudge in that direction,” she says.
Liam Brogan, the director of Ireland Craft Beverages, predicts “we’ll see continued interest in the Irish Whiskey category and new brands entering the US market for the first time,” Consumers trading up to more premium expressions and experimenting at home with cocktails.” This can come in the form of more traditional Irish whiskey cocktails, or new kids in the market, like Two Stacks Irish Whiskey, a canned ‘dram in a can’.
“I think a lot of folks are going to treat themselves to a dram or two of some of the great new Irish Single Malts that made it to the United States somewhat unceremoniously over the last year due to COVID-19,” says Kate Palmer, founder of Hearts & Tales Beverage Co. That said, “my money is also on a classic though…a proper pint of Guinness at an Irish Pub because let’s face it, certain drinking rituals will always be on-trend and boy do we miss them.”
While Vose expects “this year will be much different than previous St. Patrick’s Day’s” she will be still mixing up the standard fare, including a “specially priced Dead Rabbit Irish coffee containing Bushmills Original Irish whiskey.” The bar is peddling cocktail kits online for folks looking to celebrate from a distance.
Jomaree Pinkard, founder of Hella Cocktails, seconds Irish Coffee’s continued reign.
Alex Doman, the co-founder of AVEC premium mixers, agrees. “Volume-wise I’m sure Irish whisky (plus Irish coffee), with Guinness and green cocktails, will dominate as usual!” But she also thinks that the low- and no-ABV trend will be a big part of the conversation. “I think, specifically, shandies & Spritzes because they are low in alcohol. People want to be involved but not get too drunk!”
Margaret Link, the marketing director at Boochcraft, seconds the shift to conscious drinking. “People are up for a celebration and are looking for healthier beverages to consume this St. Patrick’s Day—with it falling mid-week, people don’t want a Thursday hangover. I believe a lot of better-for-you alcoholic beverages will be consumed.” She foresees hard kombucha to continue growing as a category.
On that note, Jane Danger, the national mixologist from Pernod Ricard USA, suspects drinkers will sub out green beer for green-er options. “Like Matcha powder which brings in a bright green color with bitter tea notes, or Wheatgrass which has a grassy, bitter and earthy profile. You could also use Spirulina, which is best used in savory applications with ocean notes.”
Partake, one of the country’s leading non-alc brewers, is bracing for a big St. Patrick’s Day. CEO and founder Ted Fleming weighs in, “We anticipate seeing a lot of folks switching over to non-alcoholic alternatives, especially beer. The beer industry has seen the sales of non-alcoholic beer rising 39% over last year (Nielsen). As for Partake Brewing specifically, our consumers enjoy the freedom our craft beers bring them. These include the ability to enjoy it anywhere, no hangovers, and consuming fewer calories. With St. Patrick’s Day being such a social holiday, we expect many established and new consumers to enjoy more NA beer for these very reasons.”
That said, “After the year we’ve had, consumers will definitely be drinking something a little stronger for St. Patrick’s Day,” laughs Brandon Hanson, the master blender at Hanson of Sonoma Distillery.