In 2013 there were four Irish whiskey distilleries. Yesterday Clonakilty Distillery began operations in Cork, becoming the 23rd up and running on the island of Ireland.

Its arrival comes in the middle of an Irish whiskey renaissance, with sales breaking the ten million case barrier last year - the highest it's been since prohibition in the US during the 1920s.

Given the number of producers now coming on stream, not to mention the massive amount of competition presented by other 'brown' spirits like Scotch and bourbon, it's quite a challenging market to enter.

"There is a lot of competition but it is a growing category and if you add all the new distilleries to the production over the last couple of years in Ireland then we're looking at maybe 5% of the total output for the industry," said Michael Scully is CEO of the Clonakilty Distillery. "So in terms of what the big boys are producing we're still not even keeping pace with the double digit growth in the category."


Clonakilty Distillery is opening right in the backdoor of the big boy of Irish whiskey - Irish Distillers, which produces brands including Jameson, Powers, Red Breast and Green Spot from its home in Midleton.

However Mr Scully does not see his company launching a David and Goliath campaign against its neighbour, instead he sees space in the market alongside what the big brands are doing.

"I think we'd be very complimentary to what they're offering," he said. "I think we're very unique in the providence of what we have to offer. We'd see ourselves as a maritime distillery on the southwest coast of Ireland.

"We do things that the bigger boys aren't able to do. We grow our own barley on the fertile soil right on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, in the shadow of the galihead lighthouse, we mature our own whiskey at our own warehouse 200ft above sea level on the ocean's edge on the family farm. And we now make our whiskey in a building that was formerly a bank."

However it is not just the competition that companies like Clonakilty needs to think about - it is also facing ever-increased regulatory pressure. Perhaps more importantly, though, studies increasingly show consumers themselves reducing their alcohol consumption - particularly those who have become more health-conscious in recent years.

But Mr Scully is confident that it is a good time to get into the business regardless, as he feels the type of customer they are seeking is more focused on quality than quantity.

"We see that people are becoming more discerning and as a premium whiskey producer we believe it's all about the experience," he said. "Our offering is about expanding the category and giving people choice."

In terms of experience, Clonakilty is also hoping to make tourism a core part of its business model - with a visitors centre established as part of its operations.

It has set its sights on 35,000 visitors per year - an ambitious target considering the fact that the world renowned Jameson attracted 350,000 to its Dublin tour in 2017.

However Mr Scully feels that their location will be a key driver in hitting that figure.

"Clonakilty is a thriving town," he said. "The plan of the Irish Whiskey Association is to grow the tourist offering to 1.9 million people by 2025, so a rising tide lifts all boats and we firmly believe we're going to be part of that journey."

Like all businesses Clonakilty is looking to Brexit with caution - especially because of the potential impact it could have on those tourism numbers.

However he says that it should not have much of an impact in terms of their plans for international sales.

"We will continue to be a 32 county industry so we would see that the regulatory and the customs checks across a hard border will add further complexity," he said. "Having said that the major sales of Irish whiskey are not to the UK - so in that context of production or sales, I think Brexit will have a limited effect."