Millennials resurrecting whiskey | Don Brunell

Last month while touring Ireland, our guide proudly pointed out Irish whiskey is making a strong comeback and thanked us, Americans, for our hefty contribution to their sales and shipments.

Irish whiskey, even though its volumes are less than scotch and bourbon, is the world’s fastest growing major spirit. Production shot up by 130 percent since 2005.

Of course, the Irish are quick to point out, the United States’ prohibition laws between 1920 and 1933 were a big reason Ireland’s whiskey sales dried up in the first place.

All friendly jousting aside, there are now 16 distilleries in Ireland and Northern Ireland with 11 more on the drawing board, according to the Irish Whiskey Association. There were four just three years ago.

A big reason for the resurgence is American’s 76 million “millennials” who prefer wine and whiskey over beer. Even though beer still is the top seller among alcoholic beverages, Barclay’s research shows 18-29 year olds have been shifting away from it over the last two decades.

In 1995, seven out of 10 young Americans listed beer as their preferred alcohol drink and only 13 percent favored liquor. By 2013, the beer preference plunged to 40 percent.

The millennials trend is good news for Washington State as well. The important caveat is as long as eligible drinkers don’t overly consume, drive while intoxicated, or become addicted.

The shift from beer helps our state’s burgeoning wine industry which is the nation’s second largest producer of premium labels.

There are over 900 wineries and last year, Washington State University reported the total economic impact of the Washington State wine industry was $4.8 billion in 2013, up from $3.5 billion in 2009.

That same report found total jobs supported by the wine industry reached 25,900 in 2013 and it contributed $61.9 million in state taxes, including both direct payments and that of businesses supported by wine and related activities.

Then two years ago, the Seattle Times carried a headline: “The boutique booze boom in Washington….with more than 100 small distilleries opening in the last six years, Washington is leading the ‘farm-to-tumbler’ movement.”

One of the distillers that Times reporter Tan Vinh wrote about is Emerson Lamb, owner of Seattle Sodo’s Westland Distillery. Lamb, originally from Hoquiam, believes Washington can produce the same high quality premium single malt (one distillery) whiskey.

Washington, Ireland and Scotland west coast maritime climates are very similar and well suited to producing premium whiskey.

Researchers at Washington State and Oregon State universities, confirmed Lamb’s contention. “It’s a game changer,” WSU researcher Stephen Jones told the Times’ Vinh. “It’s opening up a whole new world. We don’t have to look at Tennessee and Kentucky for high-quality whiskeys. We can do it right here.”

Many northwest distillers believe they can dominate the single malt market much like Kentucky controls the bourbon market.

WSU’s Jones told the Times that the maritime climate from Vancouver, Wash., to Vancouver, B.C., is ideal for growing the barley strains that have low protein and high starch, the same types that produce a “complex flavor — sweet, but not white-sugar sweet.”

“Barley is the most complex and flavorful grain in the whiskey-making process. And the state of Washington grows world-class barley,” Lamb added.

Washington and Ireland have opportunities in whiskey. They have the clientele to grow a prosperous spirits industry as long as government policies, taxes and permit fees are reasonable.

The caution is both tax liquor heavily. In Ireland, revenue from six out of every 10 bottle sold goes to pay taxes. Washington imposes the nation’s highest excise tax on spirits at $35.22 per gallon.

Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.

More in Business

Remember 1993

Twenty-five years ago, business took a beating in Olympia. The swing to the left in the 1992 general election was swift and potent. It drove higher costs to employers and more government regulations.

Rural prosperity essential to Washington

While Seattle is growing rapidly, our rural areas continue to struggle. They don’t have the corporate giants such as Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing creating jobs and economic opportunities. Farms are predominantly family-owned.

Amazon’s plan reminiscent Boeing’s Chicago move

Last year, Seattle Times aerospace reporter Dominic Gates wrote about the similarities and differences between Boeing’s corporate office move to Chicago and Amazon’s plan for a second headquarters.

LiveLocal98022 meeting cancelled

Bob Green, the night’s speaker, notified the organization he couldn’t attend due to an illness.

Expanded Panama Canal among challenges for Washington Ports

The $5.4 billion spent to expand the Panama Canal is paying off for East Coast and Gulf of Mexico seaports; however, it is putting more pressure on the Northwest to remain competitive.

Players taking a knee hurting the NFL | Don Brunell

On a recent Saturday afternoon in Portland, a young woman stepped onto the playing field at the beginning of the University of Montana vs Portland State football game and started singing our national anthem. She immediately drew a blank on the words and briefly stopped, but as she started apologizing, the fans spontaneously took up the singing.

New metal collecting machine may clean up contaminated waters

There is a new machine being tested in Montana which could decontaminate toxic mine tailings while recovering valuable precious minerals for everyday use.

Workshop will focus on business, social media

All are invited to learn how social media can impact business and how it can be used to create a positive experience for customers.

Impact of Hirst decision must be address

In Washington, the legislative stalemate over permitting new household wells and the state’s construction budget has not only delayed needed funding for public projects, but triggered yet another salvo in the wider conflict over future supplies of fresh water for people, fish and farms.

Mitigate massive wildfire danger | Don Brunell

At last count firefighters were battling 82 major wildfires in 10 western states. The fires have already scorched 2,300 square miles of forests and range lands, dislocated thousands of people, and burned hundreds of homes and buildings.

Silver linings to Hurricane Harvey | Don Brunell

All of the things that went wrong in New Orleans with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, appear to have been corrected with Houston’s recent Hurricane Harvey. Chalk it up to a series of important lessons learned.

Workshops aim to help small business owners and startups | Pierce County Library System

Pierce County Library System, in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), is offering two workshops to help entrepreneurs start and grow a successful business as well as share tips to advance existing small businesses.