Industry investment and consequent production grew rapidly in the late 18th century. At its height in the mid-19th century 88 licenced distilleries, producing more than 12m 9-litre cases annually, made Irish Whiskey the largest global spirits category of the time. However a combination of events led to the industry's demise and by the mid-1980s only two Irish whiskey distilleries remained, both owned by Irish Distillers. Scotch, Bourbon, and Canadian whiskey had all surged and left Irish volumes far behind at about 1% of global sales.
The late 1980s marked the beginning of Irish Whiskey’s comeback. In 1988, Irish Distillers (IDL) became a member of Group Pernod Ricard, which provided massive distribution opportunities for Jameson, and the other IDL Irish whiskey brands, through its well established global sales network. In 1987, Cooley Distillery was established and was the first independent distillery to begin distilling Irish Whiskey in over 100 years
Moderate at the beginning, the recovery has grown at pace in the past fifteen years. As the potential of Irish Whiskey became apparent Diageo, William Grant & Sons and Jim Beam all entered the category by purchasing Bushmills, Tullamore DEW and Cooley respectively.
In 2013, there were four distilleries in Ireland in operation producing and selling Irish Whiskey:
- Cooley Distillery (est 1987)
- Kilbeggan Distillery (est 1757, re-commissioned 2007)
- New Midleton Distillery (est 1975)
- Old Bushmills Distillery (est 1784)
By August 2017, the number of operational whiskey distilleries in Ireland had increased to 18, demonstrating the scale of Ireland's Whiskey Renaissance. New distilleries have opened in each of the four provinces, from Dublin's Liberties to rural communities right across Ireland. There are also plans for a further 16 distilleries.