“Hi! I have this Whiskey brand and all I need now is Some ACTUAL Whiskey, Can you help?”

I got the most bizarre email last week. I’m just going to copy and paste it below with the senders name redacted.

“Hi Louise,  not sure if you can help but though we would give you a shout,  we have developed a new Irish whiskey brand called REDACTED see attachment. We want to test it any chance you could give us a price for a minimum order of your youngest whiskey bottleled as we may have a UK distributor who wants to give it a try. Your help is much appreciated.”

I responded Thus.

“Hi REDACTED  I’m afraid I don’t wholesale. There is a scarcity of mature stock at the moment, so I’m hanging on to everything I have. But good luck with it.”

umbongo

They Make it In the Congo, So it is in conflict with the Technical File….

But what I actually meant was. “Wait, What?! You have created a whiskey brand, and have a distributor in the UK, so now all you need is some pesky whiskey?? Well that is a pain isint it. What a shame you can’t just bang some Um Bongo in there and release it, that would be so much easier all round wouldn’t it? “

 

Am I being too harsh here? No, I don’t think I am actually. Call me naive or better yet, well intentioned  but,  who goes and develops a whiskey brand and then as an afterthought goes looking for whiskey to put in the bottle when they find a customer????  This sort of carpet bagging is bad, bad news for our category. In a follow up email they mentioned that 3 year old would be grand. There is nothing wrong with three-year old whiskey, but we can all 100% agree, it is not as good as it could be. You can make a good effort to make it better by working with a skilled blender, but you have to make that effort, the lads at Dingle have a great young whiskey, but they made it themselves with love and effort.  I felt like this person will be releasing a whiskey that they clearly have little interest in as far as quality goes.

I have no respect for this approach AT ALL. The end result is that the consumer who buys this has a bad experience with a fakey brand with any old liquid in it at all and they associate it with Irish Whiskey. Enough of those experiences and you loose people, they will just go over to Scotch, American, Canadian or Japanese whiskey, we are not the only game in town. Its infuriating.

I’ve always said I will help out people who are getting into the game, but not like this. If you are living the struggle and trying to do something good for the category, maybe you have an innovative idea or are micro distilling or bringing back something that is lost in an authentic way, then I will help you any way I can by sharing information, contacts and experiences. I can’t in good conscience help this project out, as I don’t think it is right for our category.

I’ll give this person credit for entrepreneurship and obviously they have worked on creating the brand, but I just can’t agree with the approach. Creating a new Irish Whiskey starts with the Whiskey, not with the brand. Sort out what is going into the bottle first then develop the brand alongside that with a bit of integrity. At least it should if you are a newcomer in my opinion. This is a lazy way into our category and it is not good for any of us. This is the sort of topic I’ll be discussing as part of a panel  at the Irish Whiskey Society The State of our Spirit: A Still-Side Chat on May 30th. I’ll be in good company as the panel is made up of some important modern Irish Whiskey voices from the ‘New Guard.’ Its an important discussion to have. We are at a critical point in the road for Irish Whiskey.

Let’s not mess it up (Again).

The Amazing Potential of Regional Irish Whiskey Styles & the One Thing that May Hamper It

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Pick a Style Any Style

One of the best parts of being involved Irish Whiskey at the moment is the huge plain of potential that spreads before us. The new guard big and small are inventing new styles and resurrecting lost methods for creating Irish whiskey and will ultimately shake things up beyond recognition. One of the concepts I find utterly spine tingling is that of Regional Styles  of Irish Whiskey. This is something scotch nailed down quite a long time ago. Anyone who is into their whiskey will have seen a Scotch flavour map. Scotland realised they needed this because there are a few hundred distilleries up there. In on order for the consumer to be able to grasp the category they invented a guide which visually delineated the various styles of Scotch. A simple and effective concept which translates nicely the effect that locality can have on whiskey styles.

We don’t have such a thing in Ireland YET for many reasons. Most of us newcomers are no-where near releasing a regional expression yet, as we are only getting started. The Dingle guys are closest to this, but its still early days. Honestly this really won’t emerge for about a decade or so, if it emerges at all and I’ll get to why it may not in a moment.

Waterford Distillery have taken the concept of Regionality to its ultimate conclusion which is HYPER LOCALISATION. In my opinion this is how all whiskey actually should actually be made in a Utopian society. Go into a field, choose a strain of barley that suits the soil type, plant it, harvest it, distil in together in one batch and then mature it locally in one batch. Then release this whiskey as Mr. McMahons Back 20 Acres Whiskey 2015 or whatever.  Single field, single origin grain to glass whiskey. This is the absolute ideal. Good Lord we should all be making whiskey like that, I would LOVE to do this.

To do this though takes three things

  1. Guts
  2. Vision
  3. Capital

Most of the guys i know in the Indie Irish whiskey crowd have the first two, not everyone has the latter. The announcement this week that Mark Reyiner has raised an additional £5m in private equity on top of the approx £20 million that has already gone into the business is illustrative of this. Waterford ain’t making no Gin or Vodka to keep the lights on. They will come out of the gate in several years when they feel they have a whiskey worth releasing and when they do it is going to be like a Bomb going off in the category, which I am very much looking forward to. The amount of capital going into this venture shows what it takes to pull off something as brilliant as this.

Ok, you ask Why can’t the smaller guys just do that on a smaller scale? Here’s a key reason Why Not.

THE BOND 

What is a bond? In order to store whiskey for maturation you need to be a Bonded Warehouse keeper. This means your whiskey is tax exempt whilst its sitting in your bonded warehouse.

A bond is an archaic means of assuring the Revenue Commission that they will get paid their duty should your whiskey get stolen.  If all my whiskey gets stolen, I have to pay the duty on it to the Revenue within 7 days, as they consider the whiskey to be on the open market so they want their duty. Ok, so you just get an insurance policy so what right? Wrong. You have to get an insurance policy but you ALSO have to get an an ASSURANCE in the form of a Bond. Here is how you get a bond. Let’s say if you have a tiny bond of 250,000 euro (this would be small).

  1. Deposit the €250,000  bond in a bank account and leave it there forever. The bank will then write you a bond note for the Revenue. You will never see this €250,000 again its just sitting there and you can’t touch it.
  2. Go to a state certified Bondsman and convince him that you have 20-40 times the value of the bond in assets which you could sell to cover the bond if you need to. You’ll need a minimum net worth of €5000,000 to acquire a bond this way, and even so you might need to put a deposit down of €100,000, just to be sure.

That is it, those are your options, good luck with that.  This goes back to my point about capital. Anyone opening a €25 Million euro distillery here in Ireland does not have this problem, because they’ll have the backing of someone somewhere who can cover the bond, or maybe the bank will write it for them anyway. I don’t think Pernod even HAVE a bond as they are a multinational and the Revenue figure they are good for it, and they are.  It’s the small, indie guys who struggle with this, also there is no duty relief for small producers, we pay the same amount of tax and duty on our whiskey as Diageo, Pernod, Beam & William Grant. This is different in beer craft producers have relief.

A horrible solution to this has been floated around this problem which is CENTRALISED WAREHOUSING. This is bad solution to this problem. With centralised warehousing you get homogenised maturation. You also remove a potential competitive advantage from a small producer. If you are making whiskey in a 500 liter still up the side of a mountain in Mayo, you want to be able to tell people that you are maturing it there too, not shipping it to Cork to mature with everyone elses whiskey in a big Airplane hanger with concrete floors on stacked pallets.

The actual solution to this is to CHANGE THE LAW by making an exception for small producers. In Scotland if you are a distillery and you need to take out a bond no matter what size you are, you just get an insurance policy on it. job done.  Why is that not enough here? I have an insurance policy on my insurance policy and I had to sign my life away to get my tiny, tiny bond. I am not even joking when I tell you I had to list my, house, car and horse JJ as my assets to get my bond…all my investors and my husband had to do the same.  The messed up thing is that the bond will NEVER be called upon, because if I do get robbed then the insurance policy pays out. It is a moot point but I could not put my whiskey into the rackhouse without going through the whole rigmarole.

Whiskey takes its regional style from a few key elements. The Barley or Grain used to make it, The in-house distillation method and water used in same, and a core factor that I’ve focused on here is the environmental maturation conditions. Take for example Talisker, Ardbeg, Oban Bowmore, these are often classified as ‘SALTY’ scotch whiskies due to the coastal climate where they are matured. This is a well established trope in whiskey. Waterford have built big bonded maturation facilities which will have a unique effect on the maturing whiskey. I am betting on this too, my whiskey is maturing nicely less that a half mile from the Atlantic Ocean on our family farm, where your whiskey matures MATTERS when it comes to regional styles.

So, what is being done to address this issue? Nothing yet, but something needs to happen.  some form of relief for small producers is necessary on all things tax related. The craft drinks bill does not address any of this stuff. This issue around securing a bond has the potential to stymie the category and the insane duty we pay does too, why are the craft beer producers getting a break and we are not?

We might have a regional map in a few years but it will be populated by 5 or 6 multinationals and 3 or 4 indie BIG distilleries who can afford massive bonds. But wouldn’t it be so much more interesting if it resembled more the Scotch map? I think so and I think the category would be better off for it.

New Indie Irish Spirits Producers You Should Know About

I wrote last week about the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers Convention, WSWA in Orlando. We won an award there, but we were not the only Irish producer to do so. There were quite a few of us there in force under the Bord Bia umbrella. Here is a shout-out to all the lovely Indie Spirit Producers I met that you need to know about.

Gin

Mor-GinMor Irish Gin: The guys at MOR are doing really well, they are millennials with design backgrounds,  cool haircuts and beards. All of which which is a pretty distinct advantage in today’s marketplace.  Really lovely guys, they kicked ass and won a DOUBLE GOLD medal for their gin and had lots of people seeking them out. The gin is great has a lovely pack and backstory They are based out of Tullamore. One to watch.

blog000Old Carrick Mill Distillery: It was my first time meeting Steven, who has a spectacular Monaghan accent. He is up and running and distilling in his Old Mill, so my hat goes off to him in a very big way, it is not easy to get to that point. He is a proper full on small batch producer with a 500 Liter still. His old mill sounds like a magical place. It is ancient, like Flight of the Earls ancient, the water wheel is still in there and he told me that recently he knocked a hole in the wall and discovered a malting floor he did not even know was there…..I mean COME ON!! That is amazing.  He has big tourism plans but like all of us he has to plug the funding gap, he will,  that Mill deserves to shine again. His gin is great and it also won a medal at WSWA, juniper forward and really well balanced with local botanicals.

blog88Black Twist: Conor from Black Twist as something special on his hands. If you are into coffee and/or travel quite a bit you’ll know all about Cold Brew coffee. It is basically the biggest beverage trend along with Kombucha in the U.S.A. Starbucks even serve it now, so that means its a big deal. Conor has created a cold brew coffee with a kick. Its a blend of delicious gourmet coffee with Irish whiskey. Let me make clear, it is not a liqueur in that its not at all sweet. The quality of the single origin coffee he uses is excellent, and its a really delicious drink. I’m a big fan of this concept, it ticks a lot of boxes for me. I’ll be serving this over ice to people who come to the house.

Irish Whiskey: There were five Irish Whiskies on the Bord Bia stand. I heard that West Cork and The Quiet Man were there, but I did not get to meet them. So here is who was on the stand.

RQeEsdEhClonakilty Distillery: Micheal from Clonakilty is a clever guy, he is building a great team around him and they are already building their distillery. When they are finished they will have an amazing visitor centre, distillery and a retail/restaurant/bar operation. Basically the full Monty. Their bottle is really nice, and had I seen it myself I would have picked it. Their branding is looking really great and the whiskey is tasting excellent too, I can vouch for that as the lads were very generous with it at the end of every day.

blog3Gortinore Distillery: In my opinion out of all of us Gortinore have the best ‘craft’ forward pack and concept. Planning is granted on their distillery in Kilmacthomas in another historic old mill. Their first release Natterjack is out soon, its named after a toad and proudly displays said toad on the label, its cool. Aidan went to the US to learn about distilling from some of the industries best and I have softspot for this brand, its innovative and different.

blog989.jpgIrish American: An old Diageo buddy of mine is working on this brand, they won a DOUBLE GOLD at the show which is great, so the whiskey has great accolades. They have been up and running for a few years now and are making great inroads in the U.S. market. I did int see much of these guys hence the short note.

 

The-Dubliner-WhiskeyDubliner Irish Whiskey; These guys are not actually indies they are owned by Quintessential Brands, but they were on the stand with us. They started off as Indie producers but were snapped up about a year ago and became the first Indie to exit the market. I figured I’d give them a shoutout, as they were lovely guys and we shared quite a bit of their whiskey together. Interestingly they have moved into flavoured whiskey which is a big category in the U.S.

 

Picture: Miki BarlokSt. Patricks Cyril Briscoe is one of the Irish Whiskey Industries hardest workers as far as I can ascertain. He is the master of Shannon Airport I think, as either he or one of his guys is there sampling every time I fly out of there. They were at WSWA with their full range and they are making good inroads internationally. They had a moonshine with them which I thought was cool. Also a key point of differentiation for them on their vodka and gin is that they are made out of Potato.

Irish Cream

blog5Irish Cream is a big deal in the U.S.A. Some of my fave people that I met at WSWA were Brian and Carla from An Sean Teach They made their way through the Super Valu Food Academy program, which has helped a lot of people get off their ground. They are kicking ass and taking names over in the South African market by the sounds of it, and are all round lovely people. They have a few additional products coming through I think and their Irish Cream is great.

blog7Kalak Vodka: This is one you need to go and purchase, it is a Single Malt vodka and has the most unique taste profile. Patrick is an industry veteran having spent years with Moet Hennessy, and it shows. This is a luxury vodka, it tastes like a luxury vodka and it looks like a luxury vodka. He also tasted me on his next upcoming release, which is secret, but I can tell you its going to blow peoples minds and perceptions of what a vodka should be.

All of these guys are heroes as far as I am concerned. Out of all of us only ONE mentioned above has had any backing from Enterprise Ireland. NOBODY has secured backing from Bord Failte. Anyone who is hoping to sell their own alcohol to consumers from their distillery is having to purchase a €90,000 publican/off license. Everyone is trying to figure out how to secure a bond with no help from anyone. We pay the same duty on our spirits that Pernod, Diageo and Beam global do, there is no relief for small producers. The craft drinks bill is crawling along with serious lobbying opposition from vested interest groups hampering its progress. I will bet you $50 it won’t get passed.

Yet there we all were, in spite of all those barriers to entry,  in Orlando, telling our stories and making it happen. Indie Spirit Producers deserve support and they deserve your dollars or euros, go and buy these products if you see them, they were all made with Heart by hardworking people who most likely don’t even have a salary.

Let me finally just reiterate what a great job Bord Bia are doing for Indie Irish Spirit producers. They provide free, a-political, support and advice for businesses like mine. Their Thinking House resource is invaluable and their forward looking commercially minded approach in supporting small beverage producers is exactly what we need. They totally get it, they realise what is really important to us at this stage of our development are distribution & commercial opportunities. The whiskey or spirits business lives and dies on distribution. Large multinationals don’t have to worry  about that. For us indie guys its the ONLY thing that matters. Bord Bia get that and they create opportunities for us with that in mind.

There was real power in all of us being on one Bord Bia stand, if anyone was looking for Irish Anything they just headed to us. I loved meeting everyone and we’ll be seeing each other a lot at trade shows and the like. There is a good sense of camaraderie and everyone seems to feel that Collaborative Competition is the way forward. We are quite simply put stronger together when it comes to stuff like this. The big Corporates can battle it out against each other, for the extra 50,000 cases we’ll be over here plugging away and making inroads together.

The future is bright and the future is Indie.

 

 

I’d Rather Be Someone’s Shot of Whiskey Than Everyone’s Cup of Tea

 

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That Blonde Bitch Right there is Made Out of Titanium

Unless you are a subscriber to this blog, you won’t have seen my last post.  It was deleted about 30 minutes after I posted it.

It contained weeping and there was self pity on a grand scale, so after  going for a short walk I deleted it. I’d been very rattled by some unfounded gossipy Irish Whiskey Industry stuff that had been going around involving me. It sort of made clear what the perception of the Old Guard is of my openness and transparency and it didn’t paint a pretty picture. I got wind of it in a bit of a shocking way at a critical moment when I was prepping to present my brand to the whole conference I was attending. The Wine & Spirit Wholesaler Convention (WSWA) is basically one of the most important dates of the year in  the U.S.A. drinks industry. After three years of work and a competitive pitch process I had been selected to present my brand the next day as part of ‘Brand Battle’  in front of the entire conference in Orlando and a panel of  judges. A huge opportunity. The Gossipy email landed in my inbox when I was sitting in my Airbnb prepping my presentation, it floored me. It made me realise that  I operate with an authenticity that some people find impossible to take at face value, this includes quite a few insiders in the Irish Whiskey Industry.

I’ll delve into that on another blog post sometime when it’s less raw and I can contextualise it. Thanks to all of you who wrote me notes of encouragement, it meant a huge amount.

In spite of all that, I EFFING NAILED my presentation at Brand Battle. I had 5 minutes to speak, no props, no power point in front of the whole conference audience of a few hundred.  Then I had to take 10 minutes of Dragons Den/Shark Tank style questions from the 8 judges. I owned it and got some great feedback, the judges were the owners of some of the biggest wholesalers in the USA.

Voting was done by App in the audience and I think we lost out of first place by 5 or 10 points. But I was pretty frickin happy anyway.  We lost out to Bedlam Vodka who are an American Rice Vodka with an Irish Distilling Heritage backstory… A cool lifestyle brand with more volume potential than us, which I think swung it for them. We received 2nd place,  a lovely trophy and a cheque and some kick-ass feedback on our proposition.

Most importantly for my business there are lots of leads coming through now on distribution as a result. My route to market for the difficult U.S.A. is pretty much set what with this and the other work I’ve been doing around the conference.

I will be launching our first sourced blend THE GAEL in the USA by September this year, just as I always planned.

But even better on a personal level it reminded me that I can do this, no matter how much flack I have to take or avoid.  I am basically made of TITANIUM when it comes to my business, TITANIUM. I am making this business happen and I’m doing it whilst being true to myself, and whilst championing transparency within the category in a fair and non-biased fashion.  I don’t know any other way to do it, so I will continue to do it this way.

A lot of other cool stuff happened  at WSWA. In particular there was a Great Irish Indie Spirit Producer turnout. I’m going to write about that in my next post. All the guys who were  on the Bord Bia stand with me are busting their butts like I am to make their dreams a reality. There is a lovely sense of camaraderie growing among us Irish Independent Spirit Producers. Hmmmm there is a nice ring to that isn’t there? The I.I.S.P. For more fun stuff, you can see my interview on conference TV….at  the WSWA here.

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Ireland’s Oldest Family Run Distillery?

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Actual Photo of Ireland’s Oldest Family Run Distillery 

A big part of my job is understanding what is going on in the marketplace. That means spending a lot of time in alcohol shops and bars, not drinking or buying but talking and learning. Who is on the shelf? What the the price point? What does the salesman or bartender have to say about it. I’m in New York this week, an important market for me or anyone in Irish Whiskey. I popped into a high end shop as a consumer not a whiskey maker and asked about their Irish Whiskey selection. The owner of the shop  pointed me to a bottle pulled it off the shelf and explained enthusiastically that it is made by Ireland’s oldest family owned distillery. It wasn’t.

By my calculation, Ireland’s “Oldest Family Owned Distillery” is Teeling. They have been distilling since 2015, so they are 2 years old. This was NOT  a Teeling bottle, so he was technically wrong but also wrong in principal.

None of the family owned distilleries in Ireland have been distilling for more than 24 months. So claiming that any of them is THE OLDEST is redundant.

I pointed out that as far as I knew that particular distillery was less than a year old and yes it is a great whiskey (and it is) absolutely but the stock in the bottle was sourced. He was shocked, because he does not want to lie to his customers, he was not making this up, this is the Alternative Fact he had been fed by the distributor.  He ran over to his computer pulled up the brand information and there it was in black and white, a fable about an ancient family distillery written by the distributor to help sales.

The distributor rep that had sold him the bottle had given him a wonderful story, when he did not even need to. The bottle I was looking at is a great award winning whiskey and the producers behind it in Ireland are great people and DO NOT attempt to put themselves forward as ancient family distillers. I honestly don’t think they would like their brand being misrepresented in that way. I know I would be LIVID.

I called it out not because I want to disparage another brand, as I said its a great whiskey. But because I feel really protective of the Irish Whiskey Category. I could not help myself. Misinformation as we know in this day and age is dangerous when it proliferates. Fake news and stories made up won’t last forever. If a consumer is sold that bottle they will go home and GOOGLE the distillery and in 30 seconds realise they have been sold a lie. That will taint the category for them for a while or forever. They just blew $50 on a lie. Do you think after that google session the consumer is going back to that shop for another recommendation? Nope. So the category looses a consumer, the shop looses a customer and the distributor sells less of that product. Its a Loose Loose Loose.

The problem lies with the USA three tier system. You can’t sell direct to anyone here you have to go through layers of sales. So as an Irish supplier it is SOOOOO easy for your story to get enhanced, misunderstood or miscommunicated about as the layers of salespeople get further away from your brand. The guys pounding the streets may never even have tasted your whiskey and are being fed marketing materials which are not exactly the ones you have put out there yourself. Kind of like a Chinese Whispers situation.

The shop owner thanked me, he was a bit flustered about it, this was a High End wine and spirits shop who prides itself on educating customers, so he was not happy.   If I ever hear us described as Ireland’s Oldest Female Owned Whiskey Bonder  I will go postal. We started bonding on Dec. 1st 2016. I’m putting it here so people can google it.

If You Want to Start an Irish Whiskey Company, Read This.

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Be Aware too You Will Have to Pose for Shots like this for the Media occasionally….I mean who ACTUALLY looks at whiskey like that? 

I’m in the USA this week and about 4 months out from the USA launch of our first sourced blend “The Gael.”  It has taken 3 years of work (not even building a distillery) to get to this point. I’m at the American Distilling Institute Conference this week which is, basically the best spirit producer trade show on the planet.  I got up this morning at 5.30AM EST to sort out some label printing issues going on back in sunny Ireland, then I took care of some invoicing and got ready to leave. At 7.30AM  I left my AirBNB and walked down Federal Hill here in lovely Baltimore to the Convention Centre and joined a “Nosing for Faults” 4 hour seminar. Before me lay 27 spirits, all with varying degrees of problems from how their grain was stored all the way up to issues in proofing and the corks on the bottle. We nosed and in some cases tasted all these an identified the offending compound and its cause.

I skipped lunch and hit the trade show floor to talk to various Cooperages, Bottling Line Suppliers, and my Cork Supplier. I had a meeting with our importer and a potential marketing and sales partner. I spent the rest of the day in seminars around the subject of Beverage law, Distributor contract negotiations and franchise states. At some point during the day I spoke to the Irish Times and at another I told my husband to cancel the weekend away he had booked for us because I can’t fit it into my schedule. I won’t be seeing him for about 5 weeks or so as I am away on #WhiskeyBusiness and he was not pleased.

Unfortunately, for both of us right now,  I cannot entertain anything anything that is not Whiskey related until such a time as we have whiskey in bottle and bottles on the shelf here in the USA in particular.  There is nothing else that matters for me right now and there just cannot be.  I have to get our introduction to market right.

The USA is the only market that really matters right now for the Irish Whiskey category and the sea changes that have happened here in recent years have made it even more difficult to play. Distributor consolidation has crashed headlong  into ‘craft’ producer proliferation  and acquiring shelf and back bar space is akin to going to war. Craft has no meaning here anymore. Remember that because that is whats going to happen everywhere else including Ireland quite soon. Rather ‘Independent’ or Local is where its at right now. There are 1200 distilleries here predicted to rise to 5000 within 3 years. Currently they have 2% market share which is predicted to rise to 70%!!! over the next 15-20 years time. That makes for one insanely fragmented and crowded market.

So what do I have that can make me stand out and win those spaces? I have great tasting and excellent quality liquid, I have a real and authentic story in J.J. Corry, I am the World’s only Irish Whiskey Bonder, I am going to put boots on the ground to sell and support. So What?  Everyone else has all that kind of stuff too and most of them are not ONE WOMAN running the show out of a converted cowshed in West Clare on the Wild Atlantic Way.  They have way deeper pockets.

Whiskey is a tough game, the time it takes to get product ready to go, the capital needed to get it to market and the laser focus you need to make it happen should not be underestimated. The depth of scientific knowledge needed to produce a great product is bananas. To be a real player, you have to slay in the USA and that is not easy, its an insane market. If you don’t know what a Franchise State is compared to a Control State you should not be in the game.

So, if you’d like to join the ever growing group of Irish Whiskey Makers hitting the market you’ll need to say a heartfelt Goodbye to your family and friends for a while, accept that your dreams will only be about whiskey production or commercial strategy from now on and understand that construction work on your production site will never, ever, ever end, even if you are only Bonding whiskey…

That said if you are thinking of getting into the game, CALL ME. I’m happy to share the trials and tribulations and give free advice to anyone who wants to make this wonderful leap into the unknown along with many of the rest of us.  There is a reason that us smaller Spirit producers do what we do. Do I want to spend my mornings sniffing tainted spirit Hell No. Do I need to do that to ensure I don’t produce a sub standard whiskey that I can be proud of Hell Yes.

If you love what you do, its not work and if you want to be a whiskey maker you must first and foremost love the idea and then the practice of being a whiskey maker.  If you want to be a Money Maker, look elsewhere…..I hear property is booming again these days…..

 

 

Brand Battle In More Ways Than One

So the electricity is off here, of course, and apparently will be for 2 days.Not ideal when I am trying to sign off final proofs of my label to send them to print so I can show them to potential customers in the U.S.A. And I need to print a load of documents  off so I can apply for a Leader grant to fit out our cooperage. which I think is actually due tomorrow. That means if the electricity comes back on tonight I’ll be doing that all night. Also the interior alarm has been going off all day due to the power outage and the dogs have had to sit in the car all day as they cant handle the noise..I am remaining calm though it all and I am wearing headphones listening to an AudioBook about Elon Musk. A man will arrive imminently I am told to silence the alarm. That would be nice.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the last push in getting whiskey into bottles. It was a prescient post….I’ve managed to track down my bottles, which are out of production until July. I went to some craft distilleries I know outside of Ireland and we are doing deals, so that is sorted almost. My empty sample bottles arrived late from Italy so I missed a key shipping deadline. So now here in West Clare have to figure out how to Fed-Ex a 6 pack of whiskey samples Post Haste I think the nearest Fed-Ex office is in Shannon Airport…Stick that on the list of things to do then.

I have some other bits and pieces that are maybe/maybe not going to happen on time who knows?  As predicted everything is going wrong in various unpredictable ways. So, I’m doing a Zen Calm thing which I am actually quite good at. I take a breath do a mindfulness exercise and try to solve the problem. This state of being however results in the dreaded 3.00AM automatic wake up call every night…I don’t enjoy that, I also have this weired low lying headache that only goes away if I ride the Horse or walk the dogs.

A lovely piece of news did come through, I’ve been awarded a spot at BRAND BATTLE which is a product pitch showcase at the Wine Spirits Wholesalers of America (W.S.W.A) in Florida in April. Many brands applied but we got a spot. We will have the chance to pitch our brand Shark Tank or Dragon’s Den Style to some key influencers at the conference on the main stage and possibly secure distribution opportunities. It will mean some good exposure for us on their social media and printed materials and makes going to the Conference a lot more worthwhile for me. Below is the video that won us the spot on Brand Battle. It was filmed one rainy afternoon by my husband with his Iphone on a Selfie stick….Consider it my Battle Cry….

 

David & Goliath Whiskey Style

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Me Doing my Best David Impression

I spent the day in the car yesterday driving along one of Ireland’s worst mainline roads; the N24. A two lane windy road that at one terrifying point snakes directly through the centre of Medieval Tipperary town. I am a TERRIBLE driver, specifically because I really only started driving again about two years ago. I’ve always lived in cities and have never had the need to get behind the wheel. Also my car cost 1000 euros cash and is a total piece of shite has they say here, my thinking was I just need a vehicle that goes from A to B and God Bless the old rustbucket it has taken me all over Ireland with no problems so far. I’m not into cars at all I don’t get it, I paid more for J.J. my horse. Yes I named my horse after J.J. Corry because I am kind of sad like that….

My destination was Clonmel, a midsize Irish town nestled at the base of the spectacular Comeragh mountains. Clonmel quite accidentally has become the centre of the Irish craft drinks industry when it comes to labelling and bottling.I usually bring the dog with me on these trips but on this occasion left her at home as I was going to a bottling plant and a labelling factory two fairly sterile environments.

I did a tour of the bottling plant which is a great set up lots of different lines with various capabilities. They’ve just purchased a Chill Filtration system (which I won’t be using) for a large contract they just got in.The contract was running on the main bottling line which does about 6000 bottles per hour. Its a new Irish Whiskey by Multinational Brown Forman who also make Jack Daniels  and it rhymes with ‘Pain’ Castle. Their first bottling run is  going to take TWO WEEKS on the main bottling line.

My first run if it was on the same line will take NINETY MINUTES. 

I watched the bottles whizzing by and found myself asking that question I have asked myself often, “What the Hell Am I Doing? ” In a million years I can’t compete with the might of distribution and the budgets of the multinationals in the game.  My model is so utterly different, I cannot guarantee consistency in the whiskey that I release. I cannot be a Jameson or a Bushmills because my supply of whiskey is so limited. Once my casks classified as ‘Peachy’ run out that is it they are gone. That ninety minute batch run will produce a very different whiskey to the next ninety minute batch run and you know what? I realised on that bottling plant floor that maybe that is Okay.

rum

Not Just Whiskey Folks!

I’m quite sure that J.J. Corry did not have consistency with his ‘Special Malt.’ I even went to his grave at the weekend with our mock-up bottle to kind of run it by him. I had a word and said a prayer and I didint get any bad vibes. I feel like if J.J. could do what he did in the 1890’s surely I can manage that now. His spirit products which also included Rum and Dandelion Wine were created for a very specific audience and I think mine are too…I just have to find THAT audience, whiskey drinkers who seek out the small and the unique the 90 Minute run as opposed to the 2 week run…I guess THAT is what the Hell I am doing here….

The Problem With Irish Whiskey & Heritage

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Do U Wanna Buy Me Whiskey???

Mother Ireland. A verdant green land, with traditions going back thousands of years. A land of faerie folk, warrior leaders and a distilling past that pre-dates written history. And it’s the latter that is the problem. Irish Whiskey has a very particular problem on its hands which is completely unique in the world of Whiskey.

Our past and lost heritage of whiskey making is very real, this is not the first time that Irish Whiskey has been the fastest growing spirits category globally. This is the second time around. We all know the story, the booming and well respected industry collapsed in the 1930’s after prolonged death throes brought about by a combination of factors, including but not limited to; a lack of collaboration, innovation and the effects of geopolitical circumstance. With it died a lot of well respected family run distilleries with Family names that can legitimately lay claim to distilling heritage.

100% of Irish Whiskey makers on the market or coming to the market can lay claim to regional distilling history because there were once 100’s of distilleries all over the country. That is fine, kudos to anyone who revives a distillery regionally. The problem that we have is that this very real heritage unique to Ireland, can quite simply be exploited by anyone who buys or trademarks a lost Irish Whiskey brand that shuttered its production sometime between 1890 and 1940.

How? Simply, buy a trademark of an old brand, google search its history and when it was founded and then write on your new bottle that you had your agency redesign in 2015  “SINCE 1779” OR “FOUNDED 1833.” In this way you perpetuate an idea of continuity of whiskey distilling and family heritage that has some ring of truth to it, but is in reality a big fat lie. You will get away with it though specifically because the perception and reality of Ireland as a once proud whiskey making nation will protect you just enough.  But its FAKE NEWS, because the stock in the bottle is sourced stock form one of two distilleries and not from the one founded in 1779 which no longer exists.

This is a very very IRISH problem…. America does not have it because craft whiskey is only now exploding, there might be a bit of dancing around moonshining history but that’s about it. Other regions with comparable distilling history do not have this problem as they never stopped distilling. Scotland does not have this issue nor does Cognac or Japan.

Also I’m calling it out because above all else it is plain LAZY and shows a total lack of imagination. Rather than just dredging up an old brand and re-releasing it. Why don’t you look at the history and riff on it? Be inspired, if the guy who actually worked his socks off to found the brand you recently bought the trademark for was a cool guy then release a new whiskey that you have sourced celebrating him? Don’t just pretend everything has been continuing as normal since one of his ancestors had to shut down the distillery or brand down for some godawful reason like Famine or the War of Independence…… I can point to several revived brands out there who are doing this right now and it is infuriating. Those in the know call them out but your average consumer in the U.S. in particular WANTS to believe in Mother Ireland…..

We need to respect the past and learn from it in order to progress this industry into new territory. Our heritage should fuel our future not dictate it. Be brave folks, don’t just hijack heritage and pass it off as your own, create something new that takes inspiration from the past. I’d like the see the Irish Whiskey Association pay some attention to this. Whats in the bottle is really important in terms of how its made, but whats on the outside is too as that it what prompts the unsuspecting consumer to purchase. TRANSPARENCY MATTERS. Let’s not ruin our industries reputation for a second time.

For God’s Sake Don’t Bottle it Now…

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Should Have Bought One of These…

After two years of highs, lows, joy, and panic, I have a final first blend of our sourced whiskey and I’m gearing up to get it into bottle. I’ll post something about the actual blend later on. Safe is to say, I’m thrilled with it. It has classic juicy Irish Whiskey Characteristics which I was after, but a lovely complexity too. Innovation is our middle name here but I want to come out of the gate with a proper Irish Whiskey that begins to build our house style and we can start to riff on that over time. It will have a finite run due to the fact that I can’t get my hands on much more of the sourced older whiskies in the blend…And therein lies the rub.

We are a small operation, we actually do make Small Batches of whiskey, and in my definition what SMALL BATCH means is that we choose a few casks, we blend them together and we bottle the result. That is my definition of a “Batch” it will taste different to the next “Batch” because the whiskey I am working with is rare, and in limited supply. I’m looking at no more than 6000 bottles for our first run in total that is about 500 cases. Jameson sells 5.7 Million cases per annum to give you some perspective.

I now need to get my blend scaled up. This means pulling all the casks, vatting the base blend together and topping it out. Then I have to transport that to a bottling facility give it a run through a filter, (NON-CHILL) load our labels into the machine, load our bottles into the machine, load our outer cases into a machine, press a button and within 5 hours we’ll have our first batch ready to sell…. There are not that many facilities in Ireland that will take a tiny run like this. These places are set up to run tens of thousands of bottles at a time. They are almost doing it as a favour but with a cost attached. I have plans for much smaller bottlings but I physically can’t make them happen at the moment. That is why all of my far more sensible small scale compatriots have their own small scale bottling lines.

Why don’t I have a lovely bottling line? Well in 2016 I was really focused on getting approval to become Ireland’s first Whiskey Bonder in several generations. I had all manner of licensing issues so I just cut down our application to the most basic. I’m in the throes of applying for planning for a blending/vatting facility and bottling line on site but that will take several months of course. I run a Super tight budget too we have no debt, we’ve had no grant aid to date and I wanted to keep our Cap-Ex low. That may have been a mistake in retrospect.

I’m running out of hours in the day too. It is still just me here in the business and my core focus is opening our first export market. The on-site day to day stuff is becoming harder to manage, particularly when working on West of Ireland time. Usually meetings here are arranged as follows;

Me: “Hi I need to have X done can you come on site on Thursday at 3PM”

Vendor: “Yeah Grand text me the day before.”

Me: “ Ok, but can you come on Thursday at 3PM?, I just need to know as I have a few other things going on site that day.”

Vendor: “Text me on Wednesday morning and we’ll take it from there.”

Me: “Can we just agree on Thursday at 3PM?”

Vendor: “I’ll call down Thursday but text me on Wednesday.”

Me (Defeated) “Ok fine.”  (Cue rearranging a load of stuff only to have the guy rock up at 10AM Thursday)

My point here is, that of all the great things I’ve managed to sort out in the last 2 years like building the Rackhouse, getting whiskey into it and bringing back Irish Whiskey bonding, and nurturing  Journeyman Cooper trade back to life, It all comes down the next few weeks. It is not going to be glamorous but it is going to make or break us. I need to get pallets of whiskey ready to ship.

The multitude of things that can go wrong is enormous, remember I don’t have a logistics manager, I have ME. Our first problem is that at about 5.30PM on Friday I was told our bottles are no longer available and won’t be produced again until August…I need to be shipping no later than June…..This week I’ll be in the weeds with printing labels, coordinating with the bottler on how those labels fit on the labelling machine (bound to go wrong) Getting corks produced, outer cases printed, final label approvals and most importantly ensuring the blend scales up properly. I’m expecting the worst as this is our first run and I’m up for the challenge to be honest.

I’m an entrepreneur I’m a problem solver, I just need to take every problem that comes up as something to be solved and focus on the moment that first bottle of J.J. Corry, The Gael rolls off the line……