Taking the Story of Modern Irish Whiskey Bonding Across the U.S.A. #WhiskeyBonder

Nobody Shooting Whiskey Here!

In late 2015. J.J. Corry was started with all of my personal savings in a converted cowshed here on my family farm in the parish of Cooraclare; population 320. I quit my job, sold all my Diageo shares brought in my husband and some friends and we decided to contribute to the resurgence of Irish Whiskey globally. Today we’ve announced our new national USA deal with Trinity Beverage Group. This is a step change for my little business. Five years on from the cowshed days, we are exporting all over the world, have multi award winning whiskies and have done things in the Irish Whiskey industry that had never been done before, like The Chosen and The Battalion. This new USA deal takes everything to the next level.

I have always been very focused on the USA, it commands the majority market share of Irish whiskey sales globally, In order to have a successful Irish Whiskey business you have to be there. We launched J.J. Corry in the USA in 2018, I sent Blaise out to New York to be our boots on the ground and I probably spent 4 months a year over there meeting customers, distributors, bartenders and talking to anyone who would listen. What I learned during that time was something very surprising. There are two categories related to Irish Whiskey in the USA. Category one is Jameson and Tullamore Dew (and increasingly Proper 12) category 2 is everything else. The first category has 99% of market share the 2nd category is totally unknown, and under the radar. Furthermore the first category is a standard or premium product which is generally consumed as a shot and is often served on tap. The perception of Irish Whiskey in most of the USA is that it’s a fun cheap spirit.

Let me give you an example; I travelled to Boston to call on one of the most respected whiskey bars in the city. I walked in and as usual scanned the back bar, the menu etc. etc. What greeted me was a vivacious and varied selection of Scotch ranging from rare Johnnie Walkers to the wonderful Compass box. There was a lovely selection of craft American whiskies too like FEW, Balcones, etc. The only Irish available was one or two cheaper green bottles and a brand on tap beside the beers taps. I spoke to the manager and she told me they do really really well in Irish Whiskey as they fire it out on Tap for pickleback shots and in fact they had to add an extra tap such was the demand. None of the scotch or American whiskies in the bar were promoted as shots….none.

She was really surprised at the story of J.J. Corry and could not quite get her head around it. So I had to re-frame my story, this is what I said. “J.J. Corry is more like a scotch really than an Irish Whiskey, we have a similar approach to Compass Box in terms of transparency and method.” It was not until I wrapped my story in those terms that she understood. In her mind, Irish Whiskey was for shooting not for savoring and by the way she had some serious whiskey knowledge. On the same business trip,  I called to various well known Irish Bars. At each account call, I poured a sample of the Gael and the buyer grabbed the glass and downed it in one to my total horror and that of the distributor rep. We make the Gael with layers of flavor in mind for the drinker, you don’t get to taste any of those if you just swallow it.

The reality is Irish Whiskey has by and large a bit of a perception problem in the USA.  You don’t hear about that you just hear about how fast its growing and what a juggernaut it is, if you peek behind the curtain you’ll see that Proper 12 is on track to outsell Bushmills this year, it costs about $15-$19 and its consumer proposition is really clear its for fun and going out. Is this the ONLY growth story we want in future years? Lower priced celebrity led brands growing the category and building the consumption narrative around the category?

After boot strapping for several years in the USA and proving ourselves on the ground to some small degree we are about to take it to the next level. This new deal I have signed with Trinity comes with a national sales force and ultimately national reach in the USA for J.J. Corry. For me this means that over the next few years I get to tell the JJ Corry story on a much bigger scale and just as importantly I get a platform to reframe the conversation around Irish Whiskey. For me that story is not about comparing ourselves to Scotch but rather it’s a story of a heritage industries re-birth. It’s the story of all the wonderful small independent distilleries and makers I get to work with all over Ireland, the places they are based, their dedication to craft, the sacrifices they make to start their brands. I have an opportunity now to not only build the J.J. Corry brand but also build awareness of the Modern Craft or Independent Irish Whiskey Movement. I have always said that I quit a global business to build a global business and I’m going to do that. However I am not going to compromise on the WAY I’ve been doing that. So, you can consider this the relaunch of my little blog. The early posts were all about the trials and tribulations of starting a whiskey business. Come with me as I build that business, meet the new folks coming in to the industry and evangelize Irish Whiskey through the platform I’ve earned!

 Stay Tuned and Hang On!

#MurrayGate Is not About Words Its about Respect for Women who work in the Whiskey Industry

A few years ago I wrote an article about sexism in the drinks industry, you can find that here. I called out some insane incidents I’d experienced in my early career, including a work colleague climbing into my hotel room window via a balcony and a CMO in the USA showing up at my hotel room door and banging on it until I called security after a work dinner.  I never said a word as nobody would have listened  I laughed it off and got on with my work because that’s what you did back then. (Sidenote Imagine your 26 year old daughter having to deal with that at work today???)

We have quite a few women on staff at J.J. Corry, the ALL enjoy whiskey…..

That was the early 2000’s an era in which Jim Murray built his reputation and garnered his following. So, here we are in 2020, a weird time. A time for re-sets and a time to maybe take a long hard look at the whiskey industry in the context of well, 2020.

Mr. Murray’s recent vilification in whiskey and industry circles has been widely reported and Becky Paskin did a great job in highlighting this and igniting this spark so I won’t delve into it here.  

I want to talk about the larger issue which has sparked such a furore here and why it has struck such a chord with so many.  

The larger issue is the entrenched sexism that still continues to exist in the whiskey industry very specifically. Whiskey is one of the last corners of the drinks industry, where its still ok to dismiss or insult or harass women who work in the industry or who have an interest in the category as consumers. Now, before you mentally dismiss me as a “woke”  know this. I am a Gen Xer I was born in the 70’s on a farm in rural Ireland, I grew up in the  80’s and 90’s lived all over the world worked in multinational corporations and I’ve seen some things in my time and there are things in society right now that I honestly don’t understand 100%. However, I accept that the world has changed, society has moved on. Society has and always will ultimately dictate how we behave as a species. Society is humanities’s way of shaping the world for the greater good of all. I choose the greater good as I want to be a part of a society or a community and contribute positively to it. That means I have to change my perspective and examine my opinions sometimes.  

Why then in the world of whiskey are we so in denial about making this change? I do a lot of work with Women Who Whiskey a society in the USA with 15,000 members that was set up SPECIFICALLY as a space for women to freely talk about whiskey without being shouted down and having their opinions belittled or being told they are asking stupid questions. Read that again, the only reason the society exists AT ALL is that women found they could not get a word in edgeways with whiskey guys in the room, they felt uncomfortable and unwelcome in the world of whiskey.  15,000 whisky enthusiasts can’t all be misconstruing that now can they?

Why do women who work at J.J. Corry with me have to endure leering comments at in -store tastings, and call over security when they are working at whiskey shows?  Why are they asked if they actually like whiskey  or if they drink whiskey when they work for a whiskey company? Why does the only male member of our team NEVER get asked that?

Why do I get asked that? I founded a goddam whiskey company FFS…..

Why am I asked on the reg. if my Father or Husband owns the business? Why has someone commented that The Gael “probably smells like fish” in online “banter” and why last year at a whiskey show were my staff asked “Is This The Angry Lesbian Stand?” by a consumer holding his glass out 100% expecting a pour after making the comment.

Why? because its allowed to happen,  and is considered just a part of the industry. Bad behaviour goes unchecked at whiskey shows meaning women working there often feel unsafe, ask a women whose worked a show she will have many stories to tell.

Well, I’m done guys, I’m over it. The commentary around the Whisky Bible is in reality not about sexualised whiskey reviews or Jim Murray’s out there personality its about the fact that he is, like it or not, an influential person in the industry for many and that is evident in the many who have come out to defend him recently. His opinions and attitude have until now carried weight with many folks interested in the industry and they are ‘Influenced’ by him and his words.

Knowing a lot about any subject, including whiskey does not preclude you from behaving poorly or demeaning women in person or otherwise. Until the industry calls this out, at the highest level it will be sanctioned and condoned and we’ll just have to keep on calling over security to our table at whiskey shows.

It is time for the industry and that’s all of us, Makers, Sellers, Journalists, Consumers and whiskey show runners to take a stand. Its time to call out and not tolerate this kind of demeaning commentary and behaviour towards women working in the  whiskey world, but first we have to acknowledge it’s an actual problem that affects women who are simply trying to build a career in an industry they love.  

The fundamental point here is that women working in the whiskey industry and women who have an interest and passion for whiskey have the right to be treated with respect within the whiskey community, just like your Mother, Aunt, Daughter or Wife have that right in their own lives and jobs.  

There is nothing woke about that its just a basic human ask.

If you disagree with it and I would really like to know why? What is stopping you from changing your attitude for the greater good of the whiskey community?

Let me know in the comments below.

All About Our New J.J. Corry X Kentucky Owl Bourbon Collaboration (First Up its 100% Bourbon)

The wonderful thing about whiskey, is that it flows through history, connects cultures and is inextricably linked with people and places. My job as a whiskey bonder is to create the most diverse Library of Irish Whiskey Flavours in the world. I do that by sourcing whiskey spirit from distilleries all over Ireland and pairing them with casks from cooperages, distilleries and wineries all over the world. If you follow me on socials at all you’ll see I spend a good chunk of time in Kentucky. That’s because I source first fill casks directly from there and am always on the hunt for flavour. The Flavour profile of The Hanson derives much of its vibrancy from the juicy first fill bourbon casks it goes in to. Every drop of J.J. Corry will have just a whisper of the flavour of whatever was in the cask prior.

Master Blender, John Rhea & Louise McGuane Founder & Whiskey Bonder J.J. Corry

So, when Kentucky Owl approached me in relation to a potential collaboration I jumped at the chance. I had long admired Kentucky Owl which had since its launch garnered a cult like following in the U.S.A. Their business model is not dissimilar to our own and I had in fact studied it closely when I started J.J. Corry. They wanted me to work with them to create a 100% bourbon whiskey in honour of St. Patricks Day.

Now you might think that its somewhat cynical to make an American Whiskey for St. Patricks Day but think again. The ties between Ireland and Kentucky are inextricable and go as far back as the state’s history. The Irish were instrumental first in building the State and later as they became more affluent in administering it. The West of Ireland in particular has very specific ties to Kentucky.  There is a neighbourhood in Louisville called ‘Limerick’ which is where, you guessed it, many people from Limerick settled whilst building the railroads.  Let us not forget that Louisville’s most famous citizen Muhammed Ali’s ancestry was officially traced back to Ennis Co. Clare and he even Came over to visit prior to his death.  So, for me this collaboration is a nod to those ancestral ties that bind but also to our shared history of Whiskey Making.

John Rhea & Louise McGuane Talking Open Top Fermentation

There can be no Irish Whiskey today without Kentucky Bourbon, but simultaneously there would be no Kentucky Bourbon in the first place if it wasn’t for Irish Whiskey. It was Irish & Scottsh immigrants who arguably began the roots of distillation in Kentucky & Tennessee in the 1800’s. Today in Ireland just about every whiskey producer uses ex-bourbon barrels to mature Irish Whiskey, it has been so for a quite some time and there is a simple reason behind it. Ireland is a largely deforested country, we lost most of our native oak in the 1700’s during the ‘Age of Sail’ when the thirst for shipbuilding meant oak was needed. As a result we had to import wood to make casks largely from Eastern Europe or France, and eventually this led to simply importing or just upcycling used casks from the places we were importing wines or spirits, like the Caribbean for rum or Jerez for Sherry.  In the 1900’s as shipping routes between America and Europe improved and the Bourbon industry took off we began importing used bourbon casks and somehow it stuck. So now the industries have come full circle.

Amongst The Casks at Bardstown
Headed to the Rickhouse in Bardstown to Select Casks
Limited Edition Kentucky Owl X J.J. Corry St. Patrick’s Day Edition/// 100% Bourbon

This is why whiskey is so intriguing it connects cultures and continues to flow through the twists and turns in History and that is largely why I wanted to do this collaboration. That and working with John Rhea.

The deal went like this, I would get access to a large section of their own collection of bourbons and could pick and choose the empty casks I wanted to bring to Ireland for maturing J.J. Corry stocks. Normally my role as an Irish Whiskey Bonder would end there, but, and this is the kicker, they then wanted me to take those bourbon stocks and to work with John Rhea their Master Blender on a 100% Bourbon Blend for launch around St. Patrick’s Day. Here’s how that process went and its gonna get technical so hold on as its paraphrased from my notes to John.  

We began with individual bourbon samples. These were tasted blind and sensorially through the lens of what we would look for when sourcing casks for individual stocks we currently have. These were narrowed down and then tasted/nosed side by side with distillate we have in stock with a view to assessing compatibility.

Basically we were trying to imagine what if this particular Irish Distillate spent 7 years in a casks like this what echo of flavour would we get? I leant heavily towards some of the more wheat forward samples. This is possibly because of a recent foray here at J.J. Corry into sourcing that kind of stock. That is evident in the final blend we produced.  

Then the blending began and here is where I had the great honour of working with John Rhea, a legend in Bourbon circles. The man who in modern times put Four Roses on the map and a sensory genius. We went as you do through many iterations of the final blend which ranged in age from 4 to 12 years old and came from several distilleries. We landed it at 100 Proof or 50% ABV and it is available right now.

As for the Kentucky Owl influenced J.J. Corry, you will have to wait some years for that I’m afraid. We’ve filled those casks with a combination of Pot Still, Malt and Grain and now we wait.

Here are my Tasting Notes for the Kentucky Owl X J.J. Corry Collaboration You can Buy it HERE. You can buy J.J. Corry HERE.

Tasting Notes:: Long, notes of caramel, butterscotch, frosted cinnamon roll. Chocolate orange, candy floss, and into some citrus peel. A bright forest fruit on the mid palate and a long lingering finish with vanilla pod and some balanced wood influence.

Recreating a Whiskey Bonding Journey for the First Time in over a Century in the Shannon Voyage #whiskeybonder

When I started J.J. Corry there were only three distilleries producing whiskey on the Island of Ireland.  Today there are thirty something. As a whiskey bonder my job is to curate a library of whiskey flavours so that as we mature and blend those stocks we have a varied pallet of flavours to draw from over time. This is what differentiates us from a distillery, we have a still to glass approach, and a wide variety of flavours for the end blend. My goal is to have the most diverse collection of Irish Whiskey stocks on the Island eventually.  This work will come to fruition in the coming years as our stocks diversify and our scope for blending grows. We’ve already dabbled in this by releasing The Hanson, to my knowledge the only “Blended Grain” in the Irish category to date. A very natural release for us given our approach to whiskey making. I foresee blended pot-still, blended malt, and many other iterations of this as time goes on for J.J. Corry.

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The Ilen Sails in to Pick up Our Cargo!

Right now its pretty good fun to be a whiskey bonder, there are so many new independent producers coming online with new ideas, revolutionary approaches and counter old school Irish whiskey culture ideas. I Love It. I seek out folks who are taking a non-traditional approach to work with. I already have some pretty fantastic non-Irish Whiskey GI compliant wheat based distillate in the rackhouse and I hope to have more soon. These casks won’t be destined for release as “Irish Whiskey” but they can of course be called “whiskey” as they tick all the other boxes and that’s ok by me! Do I love a bit of innovation and disruption in the industry?  Of course, I love it because it means I am part of a vibrant, evolving and modern industry and that is the kind of industry I want to work in. Does this attitude mean I eschew the past and deny tradition? No, at JJ Corry we respect tradition, but we embrace change.

So, when I chatted to Nick Ryan when he visited us here in Cooraclare I was interested to hear about his Limerick Whiskey project. In my mind its an approach based in that very whiskey specific concept known as a “Sense of Place” and it has a nice bang of terrior and heritage around it too.  I tasted his pot still distillate which is distilled from Limerick Grown Grain commissioned by Nick and I knew I wanted to have it in my flavour library. I also knew that I wanted to do something special around it, as there is a very tight historic connection to what Nick is doing in Limerick and what I am doing in Cooraclare.

Captain Mike Creates a Cradle for the Cask

When J.J. Corry ran his shop in Henry Street from 1890 onwards the town of Kilrush benefited from its enviable location along the then vibrant commercial waterway of the Shannon river. Steam packets ran almost daily from Cappagh Pier to Steamboat Quay in the heart of Limerick City. They ferried tourists in the Summer and goods and sundries year-round. In J.J. Corry’s heyday of whiskey blending there were no distilleries left in Clare, the closest in terms of transport links was Thomond Gate Limerick located on the banks of the Shannon a straight run down the river to Cappagh on any given day. The steam packets of the 1890’s and early 1900’s are gone as is Thomond Gate distillery. I would argue though the spirit of this connection is now very alive and well. Nick has revived the Thomond Gate brand and although he does not have his own distillery just yet he is doing in a way that embodies the soul and the earth of Limerick by focusing on the raw materials that go into this very Limerick Spirit.

As our industry goes through its great market correction, and we begin to rebuild it from the ashes of near collapse in the early 1900’s, many heritage brands are being revived. Some have meaning and some don’t I work hard to make sure J.J. Corry stands for something and I know that Nick does too for Thomond Gate. This is why after sourcing some new make from him I called him up and suggested we celebrate it in a way that pays homage to both our brands past. I wanted to recreate the original journey that Thomond Gate Limerick Whiskey would have taken to Kilrush and into J.J. Corry’s shop and that was via the Shannon River. Initially I planned a big media event with lots of folks on the ship and a dinner and all sorts, but of course that was not possible. There are covid restricting and also we had to work with a timeline because the Ilen Ketch had agreed to transport this cargo for us and they operate to a strict schedule.

The Ilen is an historic and magnificent ship, its home port is Limerick, and it operates as a community and educational vessel, this journey brought to light the historic connections between the lower and upper Shannon. The Shannon Voyage was agreed upon for yesterday May 18th upon based on weather and tides. So yesterday the Ilen sailed into Limerick to Steamboat Quay apparently the first time its done so under full sail in 50 years, and we loaded it with an ex-bourbon first fill cask containing Limerick Spirit. After a four hour sail it docked at Cappagh Pier, Kilrush and my neighbour Paddy Harvey expertly unloaded it. It was met by quite a few folks some of whom reminisced about how vibrant the pier once was others wanted to showcase goods that would have passed up and down the Shannon in J.J. Corry’s time. It became a real community event.  

 It was a wonderful day and a wonderful celebration of Irish Whiskies rebirth. Nick and I are modern whiskey entrepreneurs celebrating the past whilst very much looking forward and I think this approach is the future of Irish Whiskey.  I’m very glad to have Limerick based spirit as part of our library and I have some interesting re-casking plans in place for it over the coming years.

The Sobering Effect of Covid-19 on The Irish Whiskey Industry #CoronaVirus

The human side of Covid-19 is very real, I have elderly parents who I’m monitoring closely. This pandemic will result in human tragedy for many. The economic and business repercussions are also very calamitous. As the reality of our current situation evolves and sinks in I figured I’d shine a light on what this means for our particular bourgeoning industry from my perspective. I appreciate that all industries are in the same boat, but for us in Irish Whiskey it’s a unique situation.

We have so many new Indie players on the Irish Whiskey scene that this level of global disruption is quite precarious. When I say Indie I mean whiskey companies that are not partially or wholly owned by multinationals. Whilst the whole industry is going to suffer, the bigger strategically owned brands will live on well after this as they can mitigate risk and re-structure, for us smaller folks its live or die. Think of all those Irish Whiskey distillery projects out there in various stages of planning or fundraising what state is the money market going to be in at the end of this, building a distillery takes a lot of cash and running one takes even more. You need investors or sympathetic lenders…both tend to disappear in times of economic downturn.
For those of us who are up and running newer independent producers of Irish Whiskey Covid-19 from a business perspective this is a fearful time. Having spoken to several fellow Indie producers I can tell you the sentiment is shared amongst many of us. For us atJJ Corry 2020 was the year of market expansion, we had two very big and very expensive pre-paid export  trade shows lined up and were aggressively chasing new export markets in addition to working on significant expansion in our existing core market; the USA. Our growth plans this year depended on that.  Those things are not going to happen as planned. Our USA partner has shut the office and liquor stores in the USA are now closing doors. New export markets have gone quiet. So what is plan B?
Sales of whiskey have seasonal highs and lows and Irish Whiskey in particular sells best from September to March at which time it tapers off as folks in the USA turn to white spirits, rose and more recently spiked seltzers for the Summer. This is a cycle you can plan for and around year on year. This year there is no St. Patrick’s day, there are no whizzbang promotions and events and sales and sampling opportunities. For those Indies with a tourism play healthy bump in sales over the Summer helps to keep the lights on and to prepare for the Q4 sales push. Here is Clare we focus on capturing the Wild Atlantic Way Tourist crowd who love to “drink local.” This Summer is an uncertain one.
As its so early on, we don’t really know what or when the end is, but we do know that our business reality in 2020 has fundamentally changed. The early years of a whiskey business are harder that you can ever imagine. It’s a competitive and cash intensive business and making a profit for the first few years is not necessarily in the business plan. This does not make for good crisis planning or risk mitigation. My approach to this is to listen to Robert Frost who said “The only way out is through.” I was supposed to be traveling for 3 solid months expanding the business, instead I’m grounded in Ireland. So for the first time in a long time, I have time to sit and focus. I’ve re-written our strategic focus for the next few quarters and the year and we are as a team going to work our way through this so that when we are out the other we have a more efficient and operationally streamlined business that will weather whatever the economic climate is at the other side of this thing.

There are talk of business supports for SME’s  from state bodies which are not quite finalised yet. I’ve no doubt many in the industry will be availing of them for business continuity.

But if you are reading this, the best thing you can do for the Indie Irish Whiskey crowd, the folks you love or love to hate on social media is to keep buying, talking about and sharing their whiskies. This is what is going to keep us going and only this. I can’t stress that enough. We have an amazing community of dedicated folks in the #IrishWhiskeyFabric if ever there was a time to rally around them its now.
The online retailers are very much open and they’ll deliver to your door, there has to be an upside to self-isolation and perhaps trying some new Indie Irish Whiskies is one of them? masterofmalt.com. Irishmalts.com celticwhiskey.com whiskeyexchange.com   

All About Our Bonder’s Blending Room Part 2 Why Less is Sometimes More #Irishwhiskey

There are two approaches to making Irish Whiskey that have emerged in recent years:

  1. Sink 25-50 Million Euros in the Thing at the beginning and hope for the best
  2. Sink 500K-5Million Euros in the Thing at the beginning and hope for the best

Both have equal chance of failure and success and I’m not advocating one over the other here. I’ve chosen the latter and I am really glad I did, so far anyway…. I looked to the craft distilling movement in the U.S.A. when I founded my business. Most distilleries over there of which there are now thousands,  tend to start small and grow organically and that is what I have chosen to do as a whiskey bonder. When it came to our first major infrastructure expansion I decided early on not to over-complicate things and to manage the whole build myself. I did this to save money, yes but also to ensure that I am 100% au fait with every nut, bolt and widget and the function of every single thing. This won’t be our last expansion so I wanted to be 1000% hands on with this one. We may do this at a bigger scale in the future so best to have some experience this time round.

I called a few contractors to get quotes for the build, they were all so outrageous I could not justify them, so instead I just went directly to every single supplier myself and project managed the whole thing. The steel structure, the roller doors, concrete, electrics, plumbing the food-safe flooring the whole lot. I built the thing for 40% of the lowest cost I was originally quoted. The cash I saved I ploughed into our distribution efforts.

The bonders blending room is a pretty simple affair, I designed it based on my (not great) experience of blending Batch One The Gael. I learned a lot from that. I also sense checked it with some industry bods, because I’m not full of hubris…though some retirees think I am…more of that later. The main kit in the blending room is comprised of a Vatting Tank, Blending Tank and a Proofing/Marrying tank. Think three tanks in a row, so I was after 3 stainless steel tanks of varying sizes one of which had a mixing blade.

I called a few manufacturers in Ireland for pricing and the like and was asked by all of them for a detailed engineers schematic of three tanks in a row. I said to them, “just imagine three tanks in a row, that’s it.” But it didn’t compute, so I drew three circles on to our floorplan scanned it and sent that over, that did the trick and I was able to get quotes. In the end I bought my tanks from a manufacturer overseas I met at a distillery conference. I called around a few mates who had also bought from them to ensure they were Kosher and 7 months later the tanks arrived on site. All shiny and lovely.  Then I lined them up in a row….with the help of my local agricultural contractor, my Dad  and a few neighbours.

Soon,  everything we make will be end to end done on site from Maturation, Disgorgement, Blending, Proofing, Bottling and DRINKING! I will have 100% control over every aspect of what we do without having to worry about booking a timeslot for bottling, or scrambling for a place to blend. I’ll be self-sufficient, my husband will attest to the fact that this is how I like to be…

My business model is not a whizz-bang/tourist offering/ shiny copper pot still/ type, which is a great business model for many. Rather mine is the small but mighty type. I plough money into sourcing whiskey and investing in its distribution, not in Infrastructure at this early stage. One of the great joys in my life currently is the fact that I learn all the time. I was the consummate corporate drone before I took the leap to do this and after 20 odd years the corporate world, you can plateau in what you can learn in that context. I’m kind of a geek at heart so for me choosing to learn about grades of  stainless steel is really fun…

I occasionally get a bit of stick from people who go out of the way to tell me they have loads of experience in the industry. I’ve been called a “New Girl” in the comments by one of those delightful auld fellas who also let me know he is about to retire….. Their thinking is that there is only one Way to make whiskey and one way to go about technically doing so. That might have been true here in Ireland for a long time, but its not anymore. There are quite a few others in the Indie scene who have approached their build in a smart rather than a spendy way out of a simple desire to do so and to be hands on.

I’m glad I took this approach, I now know every Tri-Clamp, fitting, grate and hose in the place. My business is growing exponentially we are exporting all over the planet now, and soon all my efforts will need to go into managing that expansion. I won’t always be on-site bottling and attaching hoses and all the rest, but I will be for a time to come and I’ll be loving every minute of it.

We just launched the World’s First Tequila/Mezcal Influenced Irish Whiskey #CinqoDeMayo


I chose Mexican Fiesta Colours for the Label

Right well, there we are then. I’ve just managed to be the first Irish Whiskey Co. to launch an Irish Whiskey incorporating Mezcal and Tequila casks…..I do not think I will be the last…..

There are a few reasons for this, first of all, a Mexican family own one of our better known distilleries… and second of all the flavour profile of both these spirits is very hard to resist. Let me be very clear here, this is not a gimmicky ‘look at me’ release. This is something I thought about for a long time based on a desire to marry two flavour profiles that I absolutely love. As a bonder, I don’t distil and I never will, so I have to influence my sourced whiskies flavour in different ways. This is just what JJ Corry did in the 1890’s he had access to casks from all over the British Empire and bought rum, sherry, port, and Bordeaux casks and used those because that’s what he had access to back then. As a modern whiskey bonder with a global outlook, I have the privilege to be able to look farther afield. We live in a globalised world after all.

I have long been a fan of tequila, back in the day, I used to work on Don Julio and had the great pleasure of visiting the agave fields and distillery in Jalisco, Mexico. In the USA and indeed in Mexico; tequila is a more refined drink than perhaps it is over here in Europe. We have been catching on that the past few years, but if you think Limes & Salt and knocking it back when you hear the word tequila, you are doing it wrong.

The Agave plant is the base for both tequila and mezcal, although mezcal is made with a different varietal to tequila. Agave has a lovely vegetal herbal quality about it, and in good tequila this can really shine, put a little maturation on it and you get an incredibly refined spirit. Mezcal has seen explosive growth in recent years and I came to it only recently. I travel to the USA a lot and have had the chance to taste hapes of the stuff and learned about it initially from bartenders. When I started to really explore it, I realised that the production of mezcal is still mostly done by families in rural areas, its almost poitin like in its ethos and I loved that.

I started poking about into the connection between Ireland and Mexico and landed on the history of the Battalion Saint Patricos. This was a group of Irish men who defected from the American Army to fight on the side of the Mexicans in the Mexican/American War in the 1860’s. They were largely comprised of men from the West Coast of Ireland and indeed led by a Galway Man. I bought a few books and read all about this really interesting piece of history and I thought what better name than The Battalion for this whiskey as an homage to those brave men.

So, I decided last year to do a little experiment, while I was visiting a cooperage in Maine that I work with, I came across some tequila and mezcal casks.  I didn’t in this case go to Mexico for casks as I only wanted 4 casks to have a play with. I figured if it went well, I’d head down to Mexico, (it has and I’m planning a trip for the 2nd batch to source casks directly.) I put some 9 year old grain into the tequila and mezcal casks and pulled a 13 year old malt and put it into the mezcal. In the end they were in there for 8 months in total.

When you are extracting cask influence you never really know what is going to happen, especially if it has not been done before. Initially I was hoping to pull loud Mesquite smoke flavours from the mezcal cask, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead we saw delicious herbal notes coming through, so we decided to focus on that and blend the grain into a ratio of tequila/mexcal that we liked and then went ahead and added the malt.  The result then is what I’m calling a Cask Influenced whiskey, because its not a straight ‘Finish.’  As bonders that is an important differentiation, I want to ensure we are influencing the end whiskey at every possible touch point, and with this I feel we really have. I chose super bright Mexican fiesta colours for the label cause its really fun and we put a day of the dead style skull on the neck label, because it sort of reminds me of the Irish pagan symbol for Sile Na Gig.

In the end we went for a 60% grain 40% malt Blend at 41% ABV. Its only 700 bottles and its now on full allocation, it’ll be released in the UK, Germany and Ireland with maybe a tiny bit of the first batch going to the USA and a bigger second batch to follow. I’m super excited about this one, the first of our experimental cask influences, the first of many I hope.

Now its off to Mexico to source more casks for batch 2!

The Top Ten Things You Need to Know If You are Only Launching An Irish Whiskey Brand Today.

So, you’ve decided to become a billionaire by launching an Irish Whiskey Company, awesome, welcome to the Billionaire club.  Here is some advice from your friends in whiskey many of us who jumped on this particular bandwagon several years ago and are riding it all the way to Money town, just like you……

  1. You can’t get away with lying about a non existent distillery/distiller/ master blender anymore. Hyde screwed the pooch on this one a few years ago, and people actually stand up and take notice now and won’t tolerate it. You need to be open about what you are doing and not obfuscate the truth.
  2. You should not lie anyway, its in the bible, and its REALLY BAD for the Irish Whiskey category and all the rest of us if you are not 100% transparent about your approach to making whiskey. Consumers are not stupid and the more liars that come out in Irish Whiskey the worse it is for the rest of us.
  3. People won’t believe any old stuff about your water source or your amazing mind bending distillation techniques. Everyone knows that you are contract distilling at one of like 4 places in Ireland, just like the rest of us.
  4. Please don’t make films in the Nuns Island bonded warehouse, its really obvious.  Most people have their liquid there or at Stafford’s, its not a unique thing and its not your bonded warehouse so you can’t call yourself a Bonder either.
  5. Do read a few books about whiskey and learn about it, its easy to tell when people in the industry don’t understand much about the category. Hint, whiskey is not described as SMOOTH by and large…..
  6. Don’t say the 80% of whiskies flavour thing….I am personally guilty of that myself and I sort of regret it, its too debatable. Also don’t just throw in all the buzzwords, like Terrior, Bonding, hoping something will stick…..It’s too scattergun.
  7. Do realize that the whole CRAFT thing is dead. The term was so overused in the past 5 years that its meaningless now. If you have to shout craft all the time, it means you aint.
  8. Know that the engaged whiskeyphiles on social media will analyse and discuss what you are doing. They do not suffer fools lightly and their discussions are powerful and global in the whiskey media.
  9. Understand that being an Independent Bottler is actually an awesome brand position. Nobody in Irish Whiskey has claimed it yet, its well established in Scotland and if your blends are actually good, you can really blaze a trail.
  10. If you don’t love and want to protect this category for the future, you should not be entering it. We don’t need brands who are going to tarnish the reputation of our industry. We (the collective Indie Brands) are trying to build up the reputation of Independent Irish Whiskey through qualitative  blends and bottlings and authentic stories.  Don’t ruin it for the rest of us.

Irish Whiskey in Asia: Uncharted Territory

IMG_0103I’m whizzing along in the back of a taxi at the moment making my way from Seoul airport into town, its miles away apparently so I have time. I flew in this morning on the red-eye from Singapore managed about 3 hours of sleep on the flight, but I’m feeling energised nonetheless. I’m here with several of our fellow Indie whiskey and drinks producers on a trade mission with Bord Bia. The function of these trade missions is to bring Indie producers to potential markets and to assist in making introductions to potential customers and distributors. Its much more powerful traveling in a group, and we usually get the weight of the state behind us, with Irish Ambassadors in attendance and the like. I find great value in these trips and at the moment there are few things that make me happier than opening new markets for our whiskey and telling the story of Whiskey Bonding and our approach to it. Its also good fun to hang out with the guys from Clonakilty, Tipperary, Boann, and Drumshambo, its a fun group.

The first leg of the trip was a (relatively) big success for  J.J. Corry. I lived in Singapore for a few years and know the market pretty well so I had organised several meetings around the core Bord Bia event. I lined up an importer prior and threw a consumer event at a beautiful whiskey bar on Club street called Tipple and Dram. Ours was the first ever Irish Whiskey event they had ever had, we sold two bottles and after checking IWSR data we figured out that J.J. Corry now has about .03% market share of Irish Whiskey in Singapore…..That is to say guys, from a volume perspective Irish Whiskey is not a thing in Singapore… Yet.


Our First Two Customers in Asia!!! 

Much of Asia  has a long, long history with Scotch, its tied to the colonial past and entrenched by the long term strategic  focus of Diageo and LVMH and Grants et al, on the region. I met several whiskeyphiles in Singapore at my event who go to Scotland at least once a year to whiskey festivals and have done for about a decade. They are avid collectors of Scotch and money is no object, not a single one of them had ever even considered hopping across the pond to Ireland to try our own wares.  I have always maintained that category education is not the job of Indie producers, we don’t have the resource or time for it. That is Pernod’s job, but unfortunately in Asia; Pernod has not focused on doing that, instead they go hard on Chivas and Ballentine’s both of which do pretty well here given the status of the scotch category.

In a way its sort of refreshing to stand in front of a crowd and tell the narrative of Irish Whiskey from my own perspective, which by the way is VERY BALANCED…. I might rant occasionally on the blog here but I present Irish whiskey in its best possible light at all times with the pubic. Its sort of nice here too that  I don’t get people asking me how my whiskey compares to Jameson as most people have not tasted Jameson anyway. Whiskey palates here are very, very sophisticated due to the entrenchment of scotch, so its nice to introduce people to a higher end Irish Whiskey as their first foray into the category. These guys would not be lower end whiskey drinkers by their nature, Proper 12 won’t fly here….. They are into distillery only bottlings, single casks etc, all from Scotland of course. Another key thing I’ve noticed here is American Craft Whiskey, there is more damn American craft whiskey on shelf here now than there is Irish, I’m a bit flummoxed by that to be honest…

Anyhoo, another reason I’m feeling energized, although less so that when I started writing this, is that I released as we were driving along, that whilst I’m here in Asia, Niamh our UK brand Ambassador is in Germany doing a whiskey show and Blaise our USA based manager is doing tastings in New York. We are all out and about telling the J.J. Corry story and the story of whskey bonding on 3 continents at the same time right now. Jaysys its like we are a bona fide ‘international’ whiskey brand. I kind of can’t believe it and it gives me a slight lump in my throat. Having said that selling 2 bottles in Singapore won’t keep the lights on, so I better sign off here and get back to work. We are in Seoul for a few days repeating what we did in Singapore and then off to Japan, where I’ll be meeting out importer and talking to lots of trade. Onwards and Upwards!

The Walsh Whiskey News is Not About Attrition Its about a Little Spoken of Issue in Irish Whiskey #IrishWhiskey

Our AGM finished up yesterday morning and I waved my Investors off to the airport so they could return to their respective countries of residence. We spent almost 4 days together going over everything J.J. Corry past, present and future. We talked through, overhead, portfolio line up, expansion plans, distribution, marketing, and most importantly FINANCING plans. I am very fortunate to have investor partners who are also now very good friends. We are deadly serious about our business, but we have a very good time along the way (it’s a whiskey business for god’s sake….we better be having fun). It means a lot to me that my brilliant capital partners took the chance to believe in me as a founder and believe in our whiskey business.   Less than 2% of VC funding goes to Women Founded businesses. That sort of number is about right for programs like EIIS and all manner of Irish funding schemes too, however raising money for a whiskey business is NOT easy regardless of your gender.


My Awesome Capital Partners Convened This weekend.

We never read in the Irish media, about the knock down drag out difficulties of financing what is basically a cash dump business in for the first decade or so. Yet the most important element in Irish Whiskey right now for those entering the market is liquid acquisition and/or production and to do either of those things you need very serious capital if you wish to be a real player in the industry. There are a few ways to get very serious capital.

  1. You either have it yourself personally and are willing to invest it
  2. You have a track record in selling a similar business, you have some capital, but banks will extend you significant credit based on your history
  3. You seek external equity investment
  4. You are a multinational

There are a few examples of 1 and 2 in the Irish Whiskey world and wouldn’t we all like to be in their position, there are FAR more examples of No. 3 that you may or may not know of everyone else is in the 4 bracket.  External investment means that you give up some ownership of your business, but you get access to the capital you need to grow it. The big issue about external investment is that you become accountable to your investor partners. You are taking their money after all. You had better be damn sure that they are in alignment with your business model and long term plans from the very beginning or you end up in a corporate divorce situation like Walsh has with IIlva Saronno, or a fatalistic shutdown like Quiet Man and Luxco.

The Walsh’s built a good business over the last decade or so and after starting off as an Independent bottler sourcing whiskey, went and landed  strategic investment with multinational IIlva Saronno, the people who make Disaronno, Southern Comfort and all manner of other brands you have heard of. This was a smart partnership as it allowed them to raise the capital to grow the business AND to build their own distillery, solving several issues at once. It was starkly and surprisingly announced at the end of last week that Walsh Distillery is no longer Walsh Distillery, rather Saronno have taken control of the production facility and with immediate effect it will be re-branded Royal Oak Distillery and Saronno will now control all products coming out of there. Walsh retains all their brands and goes back to being an independent bottler with a great portfolio and a growing business but no distillery with their name on it anymore, which can’t be fun.

I think its really important to point out for our industry, that these two cases are NOT symptomatic of Attrition in Irish Whiskey. Rather they are simply individual cases where strategic investment deals or partnerships simply did not pan out. What we have here are growing pains around financing the demand for Irish Whiskey Globally, NOT the beginning of the end.

As a fellow whiskey entrepreneur I have great sympathy for both of those brand founders,  I fully appreciate the daily WAR it is to build an Irish Whiskey Brand. Its hyper competitive, the big guys are not that enthusiastic about the small guys and are aggressive in rattling our cages. We have to fight much harder than any multinational ever had to win placements and expand our export markets. These kinds of setbacks are utterly devastating on a personal level, but whiskey entrepreneurs are a tenacious lot. You don’t get into the business or stay in it without being bloody minded. I wish both of these businesses and their people the very best for the future.

However, the reality here is that in the next few years, most wannabe players in the industry will HAVE to court strategic investment in order to grow. It is vital to aid in distribution growth and stock acquisition. Walsh may be the first corporate divorce  we see in the industry but it won’t be the last in the coming few decades, partnerships come and go, but for now Irish Whiskey remains in growth.