Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Simon Coveney has been highlighting the importance of the drink sector to the Irish economy during his trade promotion visit to the United States.

The minister, who is in the US seeking to boost agri-food exports, said the Irish beverage sector is now a billion-euro industry with a global reputation for quality and sales in over 100 countries worldwide.

Irish whiskey exports alone in 2011 were valued at €222m, representing a 25% increase on the previous year.

It is among the fastest growing spirit categories in the world.

The largest export market is the USA, where €1.4m cases of Irish whiskey were sold in 2010 - up from 728,000 cases in 2006.

Irish whiskey is the fastest growing spirits category in the US, growing 19.5% in 2010. Overall spirits sales rose 3.2%, according to Nielsen.

This is a little under 1.5% of total US liquor volume.

Minister Coveney said the industry is projecting investments totalling €500m to meet growing consumer demand.

He said alcohol exports support Irish jobs as well as farm families who supply quality raw materials.

The minister said a continuing expansion of premium brands, whiskeys, speciality beers and other quality products from Ireland should ensure that the Irish drinks industry continues to enjoy a successful, sustainable future.