Proper No. Twelve Is America’s Fastest Growing Whiskey Brand, And That’s a Problem

Amidst ongoing legal problems, Conor McGregor's continued association with the Irish whiskey isn't going to help the category at large

Mixed martial arts fighter Conor McGregor leaves Brooklyn Supreme court in New York on June 14, 2018, after his hearing stemming from his April attack on a bus at Barclays Center. McGregor's whiskey brand Proper No. Twelve continues to rise in sales even during the fighter's on-going legal issues.
MMA fighter Conor McGregor leaves Brooklyn Supreme Court in New York in June 2018 after his hearing stemming from his attack on a bus at Barclays Center.

If you talk to people in the spirits industry, they’ll inevitably tell you some variation of the aphorism, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”

For example, if one particular Irish whiskey takes off, that success theoretically puts the spotlight on a growing but still underappreciated drinks category and could advance the profile (and sales) of other Irish whiskey brands.

So there are some things to celebrate about the following: Per The Drinks Business, and citing Nielsen data, Proper No. Twelve showed 21% growth in 2021, and is either now or about to be the second most popular Irish whiskey in the United States.

Having mixed martial arts sensation Conor McGregor as the face of that brand has certainly increased Proper’s presence and, possibly, Irish whiskey’s presence in the mainstream. The MMA fighter recently took a victory lap on Instagram to tout the whiskey’s success.

“Proud to announce that Proper No. Twelve has advanced it’s [sic] positioning in the Irish whiskey rankings this week with another giant leap forward towards our eventual number 1 spot!” he posted. “We are the fastest growing Irish whiskey in all of history and with the latest figures just released, our projections are, to put it lightly, simply unstoppable!”

My issues with Proper’s success are not about taste (as what I’d call a gateway spirit, it did make my recent best Irish whiskeys list in a “this may be your introduction to a larger category that you shouldn’t ignore” kind of way) or having a celebrity as your co-owner/spokesperson (at least it’s not a tequila). As well, the brand does say they donate $5 for every case sold to “first responders around the world,” and that’s certainly a noble cause.

But my problems with Proper’s success are entirely about McGregor and his continued presence with the brand, even after he sold off most of his stake in the company.

We’ve written about McGregor before, and, until a few years back, he seemed like a charming personality who could elevate MMA fights and build a fun personal brand. But it’s hard to ignore his behavior over the past few years: The fighter has had dangerous or reckless driving charges levied against him multiple times, including once this year; there have been multiple assault charges (you may remember the phone or the bus incident or the pub assault or the Italian DJ); and a civil case against the fighter is ongoing regarding sexual assault allegations stemming back to 2018 (McGregor has denied these claims and one criminal case was not prosecuted).

For all the talk about cancel culture, McGregor’s continued presence with Proper No. Twelve suggests most people simply don’t care and even continue to view his association with the brand in a positive light. Hopefully, his behavior won’t reflect badly upon a category that’s showing remarkable growth and — excluding this one particular example — maturity.


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