A Clare Woman, A Kerryman, Some Antrim people walk into a bar in Beirut…Craft Collaboration Comes to Life in the Middle East

image1 (1)

Welcome to Beirut

Co-Opetition is a ridiculous word. Its one of those words that some consultancy was paid a ton of money to come up with and now dines out on. It appears in trend reports and Government body Industry powerpoints all the time. Words, however are powerful, and even though this one is a bit of a Frankenstein, I’m all for what it stands for in spirit. Any Indie drinks producer worth their salt is too. It is on the back of co-opetition that I’m writing this post from seat 36A of a Middle Eastern Air flight en route to Beirut. A dozen rows ahead of me are the forward-thinking disruptors from Ireland Craft Beers Bringing up the rear (due to a late connection via Dublin)  are 3 other Indie spirit & beer producing houses from all around Ireland. We are in Beirut for St. Patricks weekend together. If you work in the Irish Spirits Industry St. Patricks Weekend is a bit of a thing, it’s a great marketing opportunity a 48 hour period when everyone is Irish and everyone wants a little piece of Ireland in their glass.

Lebanon has a long winded, complicated relationship with Ireland, this is due to our armed forces  involvement with U.N. peace keeping. My brother served there several times as did many people from the parish of Cooraclare. Chateau Musar, one of Lebanon’s great wine houses exports a disproportionate amount of wine to Ireland.  The soldiers serving in Lebanon over the years there picked up a taste for it and carried that back home.

Now it seems The Leb is ready to reciprocate. Independent Irish Beers and Spirits are a bourgeoning sub-category in this part of the Middle East. The affluent nightlife driven consumers in magical Beirut want to know our stories, hear about our approach to production and at this time of year, they want a few authentic Irish People around. Who better than a bunch of irish beer, gin and whiskey makers to tip up to your St. Patricks Day celebration? It does not get much more authentic than that. We are here over the weekend meeting buyers, and media, hosting events and getting to know our distributors. We all came as a block you see, because there is power in numbers. For new independent brands opening export markets is expensive and logistically challenging. I have quite a few contacts from the old days that I use to kick down the doors of various markets, but even that is finite.

When an opportunity arises to enter a market under the Umbrella of ‘Independent Irish Beer and Spirit Producers’, you can be sure as hell I take it. Going into a market like this as a group does two things, first of all it validates the independent producer scene in Ireland, it provides a platform for all of us to launch from, its up to us whether we sink or swim in the long run but that platform is vital.

Second of all it distinguishes us from the Old Guard and the multinationals that own 98% or so of the market. I always make clear to people that Jameson and Tullamore Dew and those kinds of brands are NOT in my competitive set. I can’t compete over there with them, and neither can the rest of the Indies. But we can put up a decent fight as a sub category  . Everyone loves Jameson an they will always drink it, but there will come a time when they want to branch out of the Jameson, Bushmills, or DEW universe and that is where the Indie sub category kicks in.

I’m over here with the other indies and we are slowly growing our 2% market share and eeking it out between us. Establishing sub- category awareness and appreciation of Independent Craft Production is vital for that share to have any chance at growth. That is why quite a few or us get Testy about transparency and honestly with new brands. We care a lot about the reputation of Irish Whiskey and in particular the contribution new brands make to it, if there are a few bad apples in our cart someone could end up tearing down the proverbial Lidl with a stolen forklift if you get what I’m saying. All of here in Beirut this weekend are representing that sub-category we are not promoting Flaming Pickle Back Shots ,Guinness Hats and leprechaun outfits, we are promoting the provenance of the liquids we have given our heart and soul to produce. We tell the stories of where they are from and evoke all that is special about Ireland’s independent spirits. We have a louder voice and make more of an impression if we do that together.


Guys, We need to talk about the Looming Irish Whiskey Maturation Crisis


Rural but Secure

If my bonded warehouse is robbed, technically I will have to sell my Horse, House and car to cover the duty owed to the Revenue on the stolen whiskey. That is not a Typo. In order to secure my bond for my bonded warehouse I had to agree to sell all my assets to pay the Revenue in the event of a theft. In reality of course I will just have my insurance policy pay this should anyone make it past our Skynet security system and my neighbors with shotguns (its rural Ireland, we ALL have shotguns).

The Revenue however will not accept an Insurance policy ALONE as assurance that the duty on stolen whiskey will get paid. So for a small business (right now) like mine you have to put your personal assets on the line. I don’t have many personal assets, I sold all my Diageo shares to start the business, and also used all my savings, but I do own Ireland’s Home of the Year 2017, a piece of crap car and a Lovely Lovely Horse called J.J. So I went to the Bondsman and technically signed those over. Satisfied that this would cover the duty on my sleeping whiskey, he issued me a bond and I handed it over to the Revenue who gave me a warehouse keeper number which allowed me to fill my Rackhouse with whiskey spirit for maturation in our little microclimate by the coast.

Not everyone is in a position to do that. For the larger whiskey enterprises backed by corporations this is a non-issue. But for us regional guys its a massive issue. In Scotland Insurance is simply accepted to cover the bond so it is a NON Issue. Ok, so major hurdle No. 1, pretty bad right? Now on to major hurdle No. 2.

There is no consistent planning regulation on maturation warehouses which  takes into consideration scale and location. For my bonded Rackhouse (I call it a Rackhouse, get over it)  is in County Clare. I dealt with Clare County Council and the local fire officer. I satisfied them that what I was doing was cool and I got all my various approvals and built the thing, They were not working to any code exactly. but I over specced everything anyway as I am protecting my whiskey and my livelihood.   Therein lies the problem. I’ve had quite a few calls from fellow producers around this. Regulations are not hard and fast when it comes to whiskey maturation warehouses. In most cases County Councils are dealing with applications for the first time in living memory. There is no precedent in the County so arbitrary regulations are thrown at the plan. Sometimes these are punitive and oftentimes they stop the build before it has started.  Being asked to install a 30K Fire prevention system or to dig a Moat around your tiny warehouse in the middle of a field to prevent fire spread  is quite common. Now on to Major Hurdle No. 3


Brand Ambassador for Chapel Gate Whiskey at Cooraclare

You can’t do that if your casks are 40 ft in the air, 

The Possibility of a Terrorist Attack, Fear of Fire, Fear of Flood, and/or Fear of roads being clogged otherwise known as NIMBYIsm. Due to the fact that small rural distilleries and producers find it so tough or impossible to get a bond,. Many are all being forced into centralized maturation facilities. Massive buildings in industrial parks like the desolate Nun’s Island one, with concrete floors and palliated warehousing. Homogenous maturation for all.  Irish Whiskey is on track to hit 20 million cases and we  need a place to store it all, even the multinationals do. So where do we put it all. The guys at The Vault (cool Name) came up with workable plan. They presented said plan at a public meeting and locals came out vociferously against it using all the objections noted above. When asked about the risk of fire the project developers explained there would be a big tank of water on site ready to put it out at any time, then someone else piped up and said that there was s risk of flood.  You can’t win in a room like that, and in the end their plan was rejected by the council. They are I understand planning their next move on the project.

So, in the meantime, will someone please explain, where is everyone supposed to mature their whiskey? It is currently unclear.

What bothers me most about all of this is the fact that this will stymie the re-emergence of regional styles of Irish whiskey. Small producers need every competitive advantage they can eek out over behemoths. There is no point in growing your own organic barley in field No 6, harvesting it, distilling it and then maturing it at the other side of the country because you can’t afford a bond or could not meet random regulations without breaking the bank. I don’t love the homogenised maturation facility move, I think its fine and necessary for multinationals and huge players, but for Indies I don’t think that it is the right solution, just my opinion mind you. The solution to that is super easy, we just need the Revenue to agree to accept insurance policies on Bonds up to lets say 500,000 euros or so as a start.  That would allow all of us indies to mature our own stock. We also need commercial bond insurance companies to enter the Irish Market and facilitate that.

Currently there is not a single trade organisation  looking to pursue this route to the best of my knowledge. Its not on the multinational’s agenda and so its not on the trade body agenda. The solution put forward and lobbied is that of large scale homogenised maturation, a one size fits all approach. It’s not the right solution for small producers. Maturation location MATTERS for regional styles of whiskey.


When I want to check my casks I just walk the lines. I look under to check for leaks

But more importantly being able to steward your casks through the maturation process is really important for someone like me. I get to manage on an ongoing basis the humidity levels in my Rackhouse. If a cask is leaking I can see it and fix it. I don’t have millions of casks so I CARE about leaks, its money dripping onto my clay floor. If your casks are sitting on pallets stacked 40 ft in the air in a 3rd party warehouse, good luck finding leaks,  good luck sampling your distillate without disturbing everything and paying through the nose for warehouse workers time and the hire of forklifts etc. its expensive trust me) an lastly good luck explaining to visitors why they can’t visit the casks…”They are in a concrete warehouse in Wexford with everyone else’s” won’t cut it.

We need a Commercial Bond trade and Revenue allowance in Ireland for small producers and we need lobbying for same by trade bodies. The 2% of us who make the rest of Irish Whiskey that the multinationals don’t make need it,we’ll just have to lobby for it ourselves.  Oh and by the way, if my whiskey does get robbed, you can take my house and take the car, but you are NOT taking my horse.

A Blog Post in Which I fly to the Wrong City & Talk Forklifts


Women & Whisk(e)y in Edinburgh, which is different to Glasgow just so you know. 

Now that our first release is out there, these days when I’m not in Ireland on site I am on the move telling our story and opening markets. One of the hangovers I have from my corporate days is that I slavishly follow my calendar especially in terms of appointments and meetings. I go wherever my calendar tells me to go and I DO NOT DEVIATE, which bothers my husband no end. If something is not in my diary, it does not happen, when it comes to planning my day I don’t do spontaneous. I do this because it is the only way to get Sh?t done. It is also the joy of being an entrepreneur, I don’t have to sit in useless meetings like I used to in corporate-land. Every moment of my day is productive because it schedule it that way. However if I happen to input an appointment incorrectly (which very rarely happens) it becomes an issue. As I deplaned in Glasgow on Friday morning, I joyfully tweeted that I was looking forward to sharing The Gael with the fine people of said city. I was in town for a few meetings and a lovely event organised by Justine from @KaskWhisky. It was dubbed whisky & women and in aid of a great Scottish Women’s charity Keymoves which supports vulnerable women in need, the event was part of the Audacious Women’s Festival.

The tweet went out and I immediately received a worried message from Justine informing me that in fact the people of Glasgow would have to wait as the event was on that night in Edinburgh, which as it happens is NOT Glasgow. Quite the Axl Rose on the 10th leg of the Get in the Ring Tour moment for me, Anyway it was not the end of the world, Edinburgh is a short train ride away and after completing my Glasgow meetings off I went to Hill Street, just off The Royal Mile, I’m so glad I did.

I sat on a panel with two other lovely whiskey people. Heather Nelson from Toulvaddie distillery & Lorna Hemy head distiller at Atom Brands the guys behind That Boutiquey Whiskey Co.  Heather hit the headlines when she announced her plans to build a distillery, she got a lot of attention due to the fact that she is the first woman in Scotland ever to officially do so. Heather like me is sanguine about that angle and is more concerned like I am with making good gender-neutral whisk(e)y.

I found a bit of a kindred spirit in Heather as you imagine I would. We bonded over Dump Trucks and diggers/forklift chat. What people don’t maybe realise still about my business is that is very hands on and I’m hands on. There is lifting, carrying, wrapping, and occasionally there is the odd piece of large machinery. I’m currently forklift window shopping, because I decided I need to be able to load my own pallets. Once the blending room is up and running, there will be a lot more production activity on site and the physicality of what we do and what I do will increase.

Heather spent much of last month wearing waterproofs sitting in the cab of a dump truck clearing an access road. Her distillery currently finishing construction is on an old World War 2 Landing Strip, up near Glenmorangie. She is not doing it all herself, but she does some of it, because she wants to have her hands in every part of the distillery build. We share that sentiment for us what we do is very personal and we want our fingerprints on the physical structures that we are building to make our vision come true. This might be a particularly feminine approach to building. Big machines for us are not about testosterone gratification, rather they are about creation, also maybe a little bit about the fact they are great fun.

I’ve been involved in a few ambitious builds over the years, not least of all our House on site which was a labour of love, but basically managed remotely. When we built the rackhouse and converted the cowshed into the “Gobal HQ” , I turned my hand to designing and detailing and they turned out great, in that they function really well and look good. The next project for me is the Blending Room. I’ve decided on this one to manage everything about this build. From buying the cement to bringing in the electrician, this one is going to be by my hand.There are a few reasons for this, first of all, I now have the confidence to do it, having been involved in building other stuff and second of all this blending room needs to deliver.

I’m betting the farm (quite literally)  on being a Bonder/Blender. I’m going to be spending a lot of time in that room disgorging casks, custom and precision blending and the place needs to be incredibly high functioning to allow that the level of precision I’m going after. Anytime I’ve ever built anything I’ve been obsessive about the form and functionality of a space and about how people move around in it. Often as the build goes up that changes over time and in the case of the blending room I know that will happen.

A good chunk of my energy in Summer 2018 will be taken up in a large part with that build. The planning permission came through and now I just need to figure out all the financing which is HARD GRAFT.  I will say I find hilarious all the Ads in Ireland about “Backing Brave” etc that you see all over the place and the f marketing stuff about supporting SME’s and lending within 24 hours the banks advertise on the TV. Access to finance remains elusive from banks for early stage SME’s like mine. This is the most precarious time for any product business, most of our first batch of whiskey is sold and we have a healthy forward orders but our pipeline is not yet up and running.  It’s a high Cotton kind of situation, its finite but we have to work through it. Luckily, like Heather in her waterproofs, I am resourceful as all get-out. I’m close to a solution and close to pushing the button on putting a deposit down on those stainless steel tanks. I’m also looking into to Forklft driving courses…In the meantime though Heather has promised me a go on her digger up in Toulvaddie. I think I’ll be taking her up on that.



My (late) Predictions for the Irish Whiskey Industry in 2018

It has been an intense few months around here. I’ve slacked off on blogging mainly due to the fact that I have had trouble finding the time. We are pretty much sold out now of our first batch of The Gael, it just won another medal at the World Whisky Awards and we are gearing up for Batch 2. I’m also kicking off work on our Blending Room, US is launching and I am opening more export markets so its kind of nuts.  I did not want too much of the year to pass by before putting on paper my thoughts on the coming year in Irish Whiskey. I did this last year and was close on some things and bang on, on others. Hold on to your hats and your outrage until you finish, here we go!


Nobody Expects The FSAI/HSE/Dept. of Ag/Dept of Revenue Inquisition

Sh!t is About to Get Real on Labeling

The labeling saga is coming to a head. This is a bit of a double edged sword to be honest. For a long time nobody paid any attention to Labeling Pernod & Diageo just banged whatever they wanted on a label and off they went. When multiple newcomers arrived in the industry suddenly labeling was a hot topic and everyone started to lodge complaints against their competitors labels (mine included) Sadly the Old Guard of the Irish Whiskey Industry sleep walked into a situation whereby consumers who are increasingly demanding the truth in whiskey (shocker!)  have risen up and taken to the internet to highlight issues in false provenance and fake claims. What the industry perhaps failed to realize is just how powerful that medium would be in relation to this issue.

We are now in a situation where the FSAI, Dept. of Agriculture, HSE and Dept. of Revenue are coming together to IMPOSE hyper tight policing around labeling. So for 100 years nothing was done to police labels and now we are looking at a situation where we may have Over-Policing by governmental bodies who perhaps do not 100% understand the practical mechanics of our industry.

There is not a lot of agreement within the industry as to what should go on a label. Anyone who reads this blog will know I am in the 100% transparency camp. It’s a pretty lonely camp to be honest.  However there are thorny issues that are grey. There are a lot of heritage brands out there with place names on them from back in the day, they bear no correlation to where the whiskey is made. What do you do about that? Even I am not sure about that. Is is fair to tell a newcomer they can’t put a place name on a whiskey that is not made there  but someone who happened to do it in 1975 is allowed to continue doing so? In reality it does not matter a damn what any producer thinks. We are about to hear from the aforementioned cabal of departments on all of this. I don’t think its going to be pretty and the industry only has itself to blame for screwing around with consumer perception for so long.

download (2)

Not Like This Though….

Luxury Irish Whiskey Will Become a ‘Thing’

Of all the big whiskey categories globally, Japanese, Scotch, Indian, American, Canadian, it is Irish that is the rarest. Irish whiskey is a rare commodity. That word commodity is important. For a long time under the duopoly system Irish whiskey was stacked high and sold cheap and young, this continued when Cooley arrived on the scene. If you have a look on whisky exchange for 50 year old whiskey you’ll exclusively find Scotch and you’ll find loads of them from different distilleries. I would be surprised if Pernod have any 50 year old at all, If Jose Cuervo do have up north then it is precious indeed.  If they do, as probably the ONLY 50 year old Irish whiskey in existence it surely would be worth more than the £35,000 per bottle Royal Salute asks for its own?

Rarity means value. As someone who sources whiskey for a living I can tell you,  Mature Irish Whiskey is increasingly becoming more and more Unicorn like in terms of sightings. Anyone who spends any time in Dublin airport will have seen the whiskies on the top shelf ranging in price from 1000-5000 euros. You are going to be seeing more of that. Before everyone goes all irate in the comments…let me just say that this is a positive thing for our category.  Sure true whiskey fans tend to hate ‘Luxury’ whiskey because let’s face it its totally inaccessible but a Luxury sub category in Irish Whiskey is badly needed if we are to compete against Scotch and Japanese in terms of quality perception.

Well I would say that wouldn’t I? We have recently been accepted in to Walpole as a Luxury Brand of Tomorrow. Walpole is the luxury industry trade body and I get to spend the next year rubbing shoulders with Harrods, Bentley and all manner of luxury brands as we develop our portfolio. If you hate Luxury Whiskey you are going to despise me in 2018.


Tullamore In January

The Whole Whiskey Tourism Strategy Thing May Wobble

OK this is a controversial one, but I am putting it out there. Without Bord Failte taking the lead on the All Ireland Whiskey Trail it will struggle to take off. I know there are wonderful numbers bandied about around Whiskey Tourism going up but geographically it is all centered in Dublin. There are tour buses now pulling up outside visitor centers and distilleries in Dublin and vomiting out coachloads of people 15 times a day and the rest. A few weeks ago in dreary January I was up the country sourcing new make whiskey (v.  exciting actually) and I stopped at Tullamore Dew visitor center on the way down. In the entire center there were 4 people, 2 were employees.  I know, I know its January, but I am using the example to illustrate the point. Tourism is totally seasonal in Ireland outside of Dublin. The Liberties is going to become the center of whiskey tourism pretty soon the way its going. Why do you think Pernod who make their whiskey In Cork have their tourism offering in Dublin? Diageo will be funneling the 1 million visitors to St. James Gate directly into Roe & Co. within a year…..

Bord Failte to date has not shown a Huge amount of support for the Irish Whiskey Tourism Strategy, This is a problem. If our National Tourist board does not get behind the strategy and promote it globally in a similar fashion to the Wild Atlantic Way or Ireland’s Ancient East, then what real chance does it have outside of Dublin? I personally have no interest in opening a tourist attraction right now, I simply don’t have the capacity to make it happen, Eventually perhaps when we are better established I will look at doing something seasonal. There are however quite a few rural distilleries in development whose business model relies on tourism. Let’s see if Failte Ireland get behind it in 2018….

download (1)

Next Time I get A Letter I’m sending Optimus Over Got it?| 

Technology Will Circumvent EU Law Around Transparency

As I was vividly reminded recently through a series of anonymous competitor complaints, legal letters, and the threat of court action,  whiskey producers are not allowed to list full blend components by percentage in their blended whiskey. Under a bizzare interpretation of an EU law telling people everything that is in your whiskey can be construed as misleading to the consumer. You are allowed to list only the youngest component of the blend or nothing at all. This law is not fit for purpose many in Scotch who have faced similar issues agree with me on this. A lot, not all, of the new guard in Irish Whiskey value transparency and value their consumers right to know what they are paying for. This EU law is not going to change as there is no real drive in the industry to change it. There are however technologies coming online that  will allow producers to circumvent it. You’ll see that happening in Ireland and I imagine in Scotch this year.

Small Producers Will Come Together

I predicted this last year and I was wrong. I am 100% confident about it for 2018. There are more small Independent Producers now in Irish Whiskey than there are multinational companies. We are currently responsible for probably less that 1.5% of Irish whiskey sold, but there are more of us and we are growing. Our voice matters and needs to be heard.



My Blending Room Will Be BadAss

Lastly, as is traditional I will throw in here a challenge to myself. Last year I predicted that I would begin exporting to the U.S.A. in 2017, I did. We launch on March 2nd in Connecticut to start with and roll out over 2018. This years personal challenge is to build a blending room that not only functions beautifully and allows me to precision blend, but to make it visually stunning. I’m a sucker for design and refuse to build anything that does not give me joy to walk in to. The easy way to do a blending room is to fire a few tanks up, but I’m not going to do it the easy way.

In all 2018 is going to be another great year for Irish Whiskey. A few more new distilleries will be coming on line with 3 year old, which is exciting and some will be opening their doors for the first time after many years of work, several others are breaking ground or coming out with pre-releases (I predict Powerscourt on that one) We are still a ways away from any kind of shake-out an in spite of our growing pains the future is bright. Now if only we could all actually find somewhere to mature all that pesky whiskey we’d be flying it.

To steal a tagline that I wish I had thought of and trademarked ages ago….”Glasses Up” everyone its going to be a great year.












“Lady Whiskey” is a Bad Idea Can we at Least Agree on that?

I’ve written before about the odd gender issue in the drinks industry. When I wrote this post about my awkward harassed kind of experiences the #MeToo movement had not really hit its stride. As we all know and are possibly exhausted from, it well and truly has now. When we hit the market with our first Irish Whiskey Release J.J. Corry The Gael, I was incredibly surprised at how much focus the media coverage had around our company being all female. Don’t get me wrong as a new brand on the market I was also incredibly grateful at how much coverage we received. However, like I’ve always said, we might be all female right now, but it does not mean we’ll behave any differently than any other Irish Whiskey Co. I’m at peace with my place in the world and in business as a woman, the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements are something I can really get behind although like many I am conflicted and still working through my feelings on the direction its taken recently, lets not dwell on that.


Its a Badass Shot No Doubt Photo Credit John Kelly

What I can’t get behind is whiskey designed for Laydees. Like many in the industry when we read of my ex -employer Diageo’s plans to launch a ‘Jane Walker’ I actually face-palmed. Becky Paskin from scotchwhiskey.com wrote a balanced piece triggered by that little nugget of news this week. In it she erred on the side of hopefulness that Diageo are well intentioned and not simply slapping a lady on the iconic bottle to attract female whiskey drinkers. I’m not so sure. Women are a rapidly growing consumer set in Whiskey. All the high falutin’ research tells us so and its self evident if you are involved in the business in any way. FMCG companies like Diageo base New Product Development on consumer insights just like that.

Now I’m not exactly criticising that strategy here, its good business practice to target sub-sets of consumers, particularly if those sub-sets are in growth. Hell, I’ll be doing exactly that myself and using my relate-ability as a female founder to appeal to women whiskey drinkers.  What I do take issue with,  and I am not alone here, is what seems to be the Tone Deaf approach in the timing and execution of this.  Let me put it this way; I make J.J. Corry Whiskey to appeal to Whiskey Drinkers. I don’t make J.J. Corry for Men and a different product Bridie Corry (his daughters name) for Women. Women don’t need whiskey that is created specifically for them, we just don’t need it, we don’t want it and I for one feel the very concept is patronising.

I think its unfortunate possibly for the Diageo Comms. Team that this all broke at a time when gender issues are more prevalent than they have been since the 1970’s. The topic is a hot potato and right now Diageo are holding it in bare hands and trying to figure out if they should eat it or throw it in the distance.

Can we all just agree now once and for all, that Lady Whiskey is a bad idea? Can we all just accept that women approach whiskey No Differently that men. Our palates are no different. Each individual human being will decide what flavour profile they like better, based not on their gender but on their personal preference. Let’s not drag Whiskey into the Gender Wars, because we need whiskey to get through those very wars from time to time.


What @WhiskeyLiveDub Means to Me #WLD17


Our Masterclass A Bonder’s Blend Deconstructed

I am ultimately a positive person, I have a few causes related to Irish Whiskey which I get riled up about. But I would classify any ranting about them as an effort at positive disruption. Such is the rise of our category that behemoth ‘Whisky’ Magazine has launched their Icons of Whiskey Awards for the Irish Category specifically.  We were shortlisted as Brand Innovator of the Year for those awards, alongside, Hyde Whiskey, Pernod Ricard, Grants, Disaronno/Walsh and Teeling. It was great to make the shortlist but I knew from the get-go we did not have a hope in Hades of a gong. The Icon awards nominations are voted on by the Editorial Team at Whisky Magazine so getting to the shortlist is a good affirmation. The awards are then put to a public vote online.   I was very pleased to make the shortlist as it was some nice recognition but winning I knew was not possible. If you are an Irish Whiskey Company selling 500,000 or 3 million cases per Annum, securing a lot of votes is fairly systematic, you simply have your distributors, customers and social media vote for you globally. If you are an indie company with 500-10,000 cases per Annum you of course apply the same strategy but the odds are stacked against you.

I’m not complaining here, just observing that the way those awards are structured will ensure that it may be a while until an Indie breaks through in a category really. Such is life.  I went to the awards to say hello to everyone and it was a lovely little affair and a nice kick off to Whiskey Live. I was desperate to head to the AMAZING 16-61 bar after, but my husband joined me in Dublin and we had not seen each other in a week, so I was responsible and we had a lovely dinner together instead and I got a good night’s sleep.


Whiskey Talk

It was off to Dublin Castle Bright and Early for me to set up Stand 2 for Whiskey Live. I transported pretty much our entire back office wall to the show. I did not go bananas on a stand or merchandising. I just wanted to give people a low key feel for what we are up to and get Liquid on Lips as they say. In tow with me was Aibie my Mentoree from our See It Be It program. Aibie is now studying events management at University so this was some great experience for her and I love watching her grow professionally.

I have in reality nothing but good feelings about the state of the spirit (with the occasionally outrage)  just now and this is mostly because of my fellow Indies. There is a really great crew of us Indie Spirit Producers who are just now hitting the market. We have all been beavering away for 2 or 3 years getting product ready to go and we have just now all launched together. We understand each others issues and struggles in a way that nobody else does.

The IWA Mentorship program is a nice  initiative  but when you need a second-hand 4 Head F12 bottle  Filler that does 500 bottles a day I can assure you that program won’t help. When you are having a problem figuring out your EMCS on the Revenue system or need to understand how to acquire a bond or you need a affordable glass producer recommendation who you gonna call? Another Indie producer that’s who. These issues are not 50,000 feet issues they are day to day things that we deal with all the time. Many of us are still tiny organisations with 2 or three people and the struggle is real as they say, but the struggle is also a hell of a lot of fun.

I feel like we have the beginnings of a proper ‘Crew’ now, we’ll be seeing a lot of each other at trade events and the like and most importantly collaborating on various projects and sharing PRACTICAL information with each other.  There is a good atmosphere building and that was evident at WhiskeyLive. We flitted around to each others stands, tasted each others products and had the chat.

It was also great to meet so many people at the show who follow this blog and to finally share The Gael with them.  I can’t tell you all how much I appreciated your kind words of support and encouragement for what I’m trying to do here. My job is to make good whiskey and ultimately to contribute positively to the evolution of this category. It is whiskey fans who will judge whether or not I do this so I really appreciate that many of you stopped by to tell me that you do. I hosted a seminar at WhiskeyLive where we deconstructed the blend of the Gael and tasted its components and there were many familiar faces in attendance there too. We’ve only been live now for 2 months really but I feel the JJ CORRY family is expanding. The Gael is showing well and I’m really proud of our first expression. Thank you all for following my story so far. Along the way your words of encouragement have really helped me.

It is great that we have our very own Whiskey Live now, (Thanks Ally and the Team)  it is even better that the Indie Exhibitors will soon outnumber the Multinationals. Innovative and Independent market fragmentation is what is going to really push Irish Whiskey into the stratosphere in the long term. It will force and indeed already has forced multinationals to innovate. Method & Madness would never have happened if it was not for groundswell pressure from the Indie newcomers whether in the Irish Category or not. The Irish Indie Spirit scene has not yet fully come of age but by God is is exciting. There is quite the gang of characters involved and I expect great things. WhiskeyLive 2025 will be a Helluva show…….

NOT Caught in the Tartan Trap: Why Irish Whiskey is Poised To Fly Even Higher Than Scotch (IMHO)

Gold Medal Blended 60 or more

Still Buzzing Over This!

Alrighty folks!  There is a lot going on here at Chapel Gate Towers. Our first release The Gael is doing really well and getting great feedback since it won its Gold Medal in the Irish Whiskey Awards. We are smashing it now in Germany and we are gearing up for a very exciting U.S. launch. Blaise is over in the U.S.A. embedding with our importer orders are coming in and we are go-go-go for launch. I’m putting in planning for our Blending and bottling facility next week and working on some very, very exciting collaborations for 2018. We are firing on all cylinders now and are just out  of the gate and actually trading! Its been two long hard years and the crazy thing is that the work is only now beginning.

I did have some disturbing news recently due to a notification received a week or two ago. It has woken me pretty consistently now every night at 3AM and taken up a lot of my time mentally and practically. I’m hoping I can find a good solution for it, but I am really saddened by what it means in the context of our category and the burgeoning camaraderie within it. That is a post for another time or maybe never, I need to see if I can find a solution and make the issue right my end or fundamentally work toward changing it for the good of the category.


Sorry Can you Speak Up? I can’t hear you over the Tartan

It is that very category that I want to talk about. I realised something about it last weekend. I was with our German distributor at a Whiskey Festival in Bavaria. We were sampling The Gael to hard core whiskey fans, the kind of people who pay good money to go to a Whiskey festival for an entire day and just revel in the stories and the flavours. The kind of people it is a pleasure to meet, because they don’t pull punches, if your whiskey is bad or good they will tell you to your face. These kind of people are very important to me, they allow me to understand how we are doing in terms of our quality and that level of in-depth and highly educated consumer feedback is invaluable as we develop our product line.  Our German partner specialises exclusively in Irish Whiskey and some other Irish spirits. The festival, as many whiskey festivals are, was very heavily Scotch dominated. By that I mean there were probably close to 1500 Scotch variants on offer by the various vendors and distributors but there were only about 15-20 Irish.


There Can Be Only One

The entire event venue was covered in Tartan of various kinds, in addition to a bit of heather here and there. There were quite a few attendees sporting full Highland regalia, sporrans, Kilts, and those long white socks included. Some ladies were proudly wearing various clan tartans. Remember we were in Bavaria….It all felt very Braveheart both in terms of imagery and iconography and I suppose that is sort of the point for Scotch.

They cemented this sort of Highland oldie worldie imagery back in the 70’s and they have been pretty consistent with it since. They have organisations that celebrate it like the Keepers of the Quaich and I remember spending many a fun evening at the former Diageo owned Drummiur Castle, a mecca for whiskey lovers, where we all ate haggis and wore, you guessed it, tartan for dinner. It is powerful imagery for sure and it is single minded, but you know what? I am glad that we in the Irish Category are not tied to the Irish version of that. New  and old Scotch producers are trying to wrestle free from that platform, but their older skewing consumers are hanging on to it. I did not see anyone under 35 in a kilt at that whiskey weekend in Bavaria, but I did see a LOT of people under 35 exploring and enjoying whiskey on their own terms.


And I would Walk 500 Miles!!!

This is why I think as a re-awakening category we have an advantage over Scotch. We are not tied to Miserable Mother Ireland imagery when it comes to Whiskey and nor should we try to place ourselves there. Most of the new guard are forging their own paths in their own way focusing on provenance yes, because it matters, but doing it in a way that is not pastiche or, well, Diddildy I Di.. We are fortunate the Technical File has allowances for some kinds of innovative thinking, I’ve heard tell of IStills being used here for example, a pretty amazing piece of kit and very progressive in its thinking. It is more difficult in Scotland.  Innovation, beyond new cask finishes, is going to be a big part of Irish Whiskey as the category grows. Our positioning will evolve over time and I have every confidence it won’t for the most part manifest itself in leprechauns and lucky charms.


Oh Danny Boy, the Pipes, The Pipes

The Whiskey category has changed, its consumers have changed and here in Ireland we are re-emerging at just the right time to embrace that change and grow exponentially as a result. Its super exciting times in the Irish category and its future.  The internet and the availability and desire for instant product information allows consumers to be a part of the discussion around how our category is shaped. We should embrace that as a category its inevitable and its the right thing to do.

Scotch will probably spend the next few years trying to fight its way out of a tartan box and that means more market share for us to take.   We just need to be true to our modern selves and be reactive rather than dictative  to what this evolving market wants and we’ll be poised to do even better than predicted.

Onwards and upwards folks, onwards and upwards! Its such a privilege to be part of this category right now and so exciting to see it evolve. Great things are afoot and ahead.



Living The Dram: A Blogpost in which Blaise Heads to the U.S.A.



The last few weeks have been a bit nuts here or rather not here. I have been away first in the U.S.A. sorting out distribution for our launch there, then in the U.K.with Blaise doing a press launch for The Gael. Then I flew back to Clare to sort out a delivery and took a train up to Dublin to accept a Gold Medal for The Gael and the Irish Whiskey Awards. Next morning I took a train back down to meet the guys from The Dead Rabbit and also Ger from Midelton who as it turns out Pipped me to the post for Best Blended Irish Whiskey Over 60 Euros with his Cooper’s Croze blend at the awards. Much friendly rivalry conversation was exchanged during his time here and Yes Ger, I am COMING FOR YOU NEXT YEAR!!!


The Dead Rabbit and A Live Dog 

Anyhoo its back to normal now and I’m back in the little cowshed office on the farm. But whilst it might be normalcy for me, it is anything but for Blaise Kelly, who is heading off to the USA on Friday to begin her role as Sales & Marketing Manager for us. I recruited Blaise from the IBEC Global Graduate Progam a brilliant Bord Bia initiative. It is her first role in the Drinks world, but I feel confident she is now well prepared. First I sent her to London to do a IWSET spirits course, then she went all over the country visiting new distillers and spirit makers, then we honed a presentation she’ll be giving 100’s of times over the next few years. Of course she learned how to open a cask, sample directly from it and generally hulk things around on site too. Its not all blonde hair and glamour you know….I am kind of nostalgic watching her take off. I did a very similar role in NYC many moons ago and I know the wonderful things ahead for her. Of course when I went there was no internet per-se so things will be very different for her, but I doubt they will be any less life changing or magical than they were for me in my 20’s. I’ve asked Blaise to pen a little post before she heads off we’ll get her to do this every now and then to see how things go. You can follow Blaise on Twitter @JJCorryLady (she hates that name..but we are stuck with it now)



From Desk Job to This in 4 Months

I’m writing this on a train to Limerick, from where I’ll get a connecting train to Ennis, from where I’ll call Seán, the local taxi man to drive me the forty minutes to the Safe House, Cooraclare – Chapel Gate HQ. When I’m there I’ll need to walk to find somewhere where Google will allow me to drop a pin – the farm is that remote. I’ll be dropping the pin for the guys from the from the Dead Rabbit, twice winner of the best bar in the world, located in New York City, the most excitingiconic, multi-cultural and relentless city in the world. Thinking about it now, it’s mildly ironic that they’re following us to this most remote of spots, when next week, I’ll be heading to NYC to seek out their back bar for J.J. Corry. It’s also something I can barely believe, when I remember just how far away from this place (geographically and all kinds of figuratively) I was just four months ago.

Brand Ambassador for Chapel Gate Whiskey at Cooraclare

Ready to Tell the World About Our Whiskey

Four months ago, I was working in the legal department of a multi-national software conglomerate. Financial software, to be exact. A combination for the two things I care the least about in this world. I was there because I studied law, did alright in my degree, had some extra-curriculars and was deemed fit to embark on this completely unimpassioned career ladder. I wish I could say that I was there because almost everyone else in my family had pursued law as a career, and because I was cajoled in to it. But that’s not true. I guess we can blame the Irish second level education system, and the fact that I had no idea what I wanted to do (though I always knew it wasn’t law), and that impending sense of fear that if I didn’t decide what I would pursue immediately, that I’d be left behind, wasting all of my potential, of which I was cautiously confident. I could also put a lot of the blame on the West Wing – in which everyone studied law and went on to lead amazing careers, inspiring in the way only Aaron Sorkin can impart with his strongest dose of idealism. So, I studied law, but instead of changing the world afterwards, I just slipped in as a cog in the machine, and in doing so became, quite frankly, miserable. All I can think to attribute my escape to, at this time, is that I’m an entitled millennial, and so one day I decided that I couldn’t let this be my life. I knew I had more to offer an employer than exasperation and despondency.

25 years in Dublin left me with a strong dose of cabin fever, so I knew I wanted to move away. What I wanted to do career wise was trickier to pin down. I had worked in hospitality in some way, shape or form since I was 15. I kept up my college waitressing job at weekends for the first two months into my graduate job because I knew quitting would mean saying goodbye to an industry I loved so much for the last time, in exchange for pursuing a career in law – stupidly, at the time, the contrasting levels of enjoyment I derived from each was immaterial in my eyes. I thought about how I could turn my love for food and drink into a slightly more challenging career journey, and this is when the IBEC Global Graduate Food & Drink programme sort of dropped in my lap. A few months later, I was handed the Job spec for a brand ambassador role with the Chapel Gate Irish Whiskey Co. I had never heard of Chapel Gate before, but as soon as I looked it up, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. Thankfully, I was able to get this across and in I came as employee number one. I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ at the time of interview, and he had a chapter about how “three things – autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward – are, most people will agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying.” I can now say that Chapel Gate has given me these three things in droves. Being the only employee kind of guarantees autonomy, at times, even more than I thought I’d want – the role has evolved a lot from Brand Ambassador already. And everything is complicated when you’re a start-up. But that fact also lends itself to guaranteeing the third factor; when you’re doing everything for the first time, you get the satisfaction from tonnes of little achievements. But mostly, the knowledge that I’m going to be responsible for launching our first product in the US – nothing drives more than this knowledge that ultimately, the initial success of the brand depends on how hard I work. And yeah, sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure, but I’ll take the pressure when the reward is this big. And I honestly couldn’t be more supported in work, as well as receiving training that’s been second to none. Plus, hanging out in the rack house has an awesome meditative effect which counters any stress – sort of like the Chapel Gate version of a corporate wellness scheme.

This entrepreneurial/start up mindset is rife amongst the new breed of Irish drinks producers. For my first month in the job, I drove around Ireland visiting new distilleries and people trying to make it in whiskey. This industry is so inspiring, full of people who have left steady jobs in finance, IT etc. to pursue their passions. That gives me such a buzz. There was a time after I graduated, and after I entered the corporate world, that I was hit with this sense of realisation and disappointment: “Oh, this is what being an adult is about…ok, yeah, I guess this is fine for me.” I had always regarded doing what you love every day to be a privilege reserved for people with concrete natural talents and one that would never apply to me. I can’t believe how narrow minded I was in this belief and I’m so lucky that I copped on early enough not to accept it. I’m now part of an amazing renaissance period in an industry I love. I feel both knowledgeable and qualified, yet I’m learning every day. My job incorporates some of my favourite things – hospitality, travel communications, whiskey, with a little bit of nationalism thrown in. I get to be an ambassador not just for a product and brand that I’m proud of but also for Ireland and this awesome industry. And next week, I’ll fly out to live in a city I’ve obsessed about since I first watched James and the Giant Peach, to bring people whiskey.


Launching in the USA: The Pointy End of The Stick

download (1)

The End of Prohibition but the Beginning of a fiddly system

I’m writing this on a train ( I love a good train) en route from Providence to New York Penn Station. Today I had my first REAL distributor meeting about J.J. Corry. We met the division head buyer and presented my whiskey  talked, roll-out, sales targets, marketing and PR support pricing. It was definitely one of the best meetings I have ever had in my life and I have been in probably close to 30,000 meetings. Not because of the content but because THIS is what ultimately my business is all about. This is the pointy end of the stick. I’ve spent two years creating a whiskey so that I could secure a meeting like this. The head buyer has hundreds of requests for these kinds of sit downs with new producers. As a new brand, getting the meeting is a big deal then you need to nail it as hard as you can. I have several of these meetings all this week in our planned roll-out markets.

The USA has the most complicated alcohol distribution system in the world. It harks back to the days of prohibition. When that ended, the Federal Government handed control of alcohol licensing and laws to each individual state. So every state is quite different. In some states the state government is the only body allowed to sell alcohol, everyone has to buy from the State Liquor stores, in other states when you sign with a distributor you can never leave them even if they don’t sell any of your product, there are states where you are not allowed to sample the product with consumers and states where you can. There are states that have dry counties entirely and others with 24 hour licensing. If you don’t want to fall flat on your face as a new producer you need to understand the nuances of each state. THERE IS NO GUIDEBOOK.

For a foreign producer like me it is even more complicated. I cannot sell direct to a distributor. I am obliged to sell to an importer, he/she sells to the distributor, the distributor then sells to the retailer or bar and they sell to the end whiskey drinker. As a producer I am 4 times removed from the consumer and my margin ends at the Importer level. Everyone else takes a margin too, so doing business becomes costly. You get one shot to launch in the USA, if you get it wrong, it is over. The system is so tight its unforgiving.

I’ve spent a good year plotting my entry into this market and weighing up various options. I have had to change tack a few times. In the end I partnered with an old colleague of mine from way back and we are knocking out these meetings together and it feels fantastic. From a business perspective, this is what matters. Closing deals and shipping cases, finding the right distributor partners so that we can build the brand together the right way. Everything has been leading up to this and I’m feeling a bit teary eyed about it all. There have been a few moments since I set up this business that I have felt pervous (proud and nervous.) The day our first casks arrived on site, bringing Blaise on board, the day we put the Gael into bottle, the day we shipped our first pallet to Germany. But today feels like the biggest achievement yet, the U.S.A. is the toughest but the biggest Irish Whiskey market and we are opening it. A little start-up Irish Whiskey brand from West Clare.



Even cooler is that today I got the keys to our satellite office right on Main Street and across from RISDI in Providence. I’ve not had any funding through yet from any state body in Ireland, a source of major, major effing and blinding on my part. However, kind of amazingly, my local Enterprise Office have hooked me up with the Irish West International Trade Center. A trade mission of sorts between Rhode Island and the West of Ireland. The function of the Center is to facilitate trade between their lovely state and our lovely counties on the Western Seaboard. Shannon Airport is now directly connected to Providence via Norwegian air so el-cheapo flight connections are possible. I can be door to door from my Cow-shed Office to my Providence Office in 7 hours, not bad. I see great potential for this in the future. Also, we have an office in the USA!! That is so cool.

When I was on the way to that office this morning my phone rang and on the end of the line was another old colleague of mine and one that I greatly admire as do many people in the industry. He is currently in New York and we were hoping to meet up, but could not make it work. He said that he was really proud of how far we have come which meant a lot to me. He went on to say that many people have lots of plans but never ship a single case and that what I’d managed to prove is “The Power of Doing.”  There have been rough times in this journey so far and I’m sure there are more ahead, but he is right. In the end starting a business is very simply about just doing it and more importantly continuing to do it every single day.

I finally feel like we are well and truly doing it now and that is a powerful thing indeed.

The Bonder’s Blend & Emerging from The Fog of War


J.J. Corry The Gael. A Bonder’s Blend

It has been quite a long time since I last wrote a blog post. This is mostly because I’ve been fighting a series of logistical battles in order to fulfil our first orders of J.J. Corry The Gael for export. The first batch of our whiskey The Gael is a small run, only 7000 bottles. There is a specific reason for this. I blend and bottle in small batches as I have a finite supply of mature whiskey.

Recently there has been a lot of talk in Irish Whiskey circles  about what Irish Whiskey is ALL ABOUT.  Various individual elements of the process have been put forward, wood, barley, maturation, water  etc. etc. I don’t think whiskey is about any one element of the process. If your wood is sulphurous you’ll have an iffy bad batch, if your barley is mouldy you will have poor distillate,  if you dilute it too fast at bottling you can get saponification etc. etc. There are 100’s of faults that can happen throughout every element of the process. Each part  is important when it comes to quality. In my opinion Irish Whiskey is not all bout any one thing, its all about the cumulative whole of the origination and production process contributing to the quality of the end product. CAVEAT: This is just my opinion not a statement of fact . 

As I am a bonder, I don’t and won’t ever really (except for a few experiments) have total control over the entire production process. I will however totally control those elements that I can. My third party new fill, which is excellent quality, is filled into casks that I source myself, un-sulphured, juicy casks chosen to enhance our spirit over a period of many years.  Our wood program for the next few years is shaping up well,  I will always personally source my own casks in their country of origin, rather than buy from brokers. All my new fill is maturing in a specially designed clay floor rackhouse near the coast, the conditions of which humidity and temperature I monitor closely and naturally adjust where necessary.

For our first release a blended Irish Whiskey The Gael, my level of control is different. I had no control over choosing the new fill, casks or maturation conditions of the mature whiskey stocks that I sourced over the past two years. They are between five  and twenty six years old.  My control started when we tasted every single cask we before we bought it. Each cask was then classified into a particular flavour component.

We pull from those components and blend to create an end whiskey profile which we aim for. The thinking around The Gael was to create a complex  juicy fruit style of Irish Whiskey with low cask influence.  Its a 60% Malt-40% grain blend for the sake of complexity and it contains whiskey ranging from 26 year old sherry casks,  11 year old 15 year old and 7 year old grain.


From October 1st Sunday Times

With this first release, I wanted to show that just like the original Irish Bonders we are emulating, we can create something unique from the stocks we (and everyone else) have access to. For the next few years in terms of releases we’ll be focused on blending until our new fill comes to maturity. For us, it will be mostly about the blend but not ALL ABOUT anything per-se. I have the wonderful luxury of knowing each of our casks personally..some of the older stuff is tougher to pin down in terms of its life cycle but I know if its smoky, vanilla, grassy etc. etc. Each cask has s flavour personality. Once you quantify whiskey stock in this way, it makes creating unique whiskey a feasible reality. Our first review for The Gael came out this weekend in The Irish Times, we scored very well 92/100 ahead of many other newcomers and on a parr with Jameson Cask Mates, so I really can’t ask for much more than that in terms of proof of concept. I created a whiskey that at least for one reviewer is up there quality wise with one of the market leaders offerings.

However, the logistical production side of the Irish Whiskey Industry is (naturally enough)  set up for huge runs and 60,000 litre blends and 250,000 bottle runs. Getting a 7000 bottle run of The Gael blended into bottle has been prohibitively expensive and logistically difficult. I knew it would be, but I had no idea just how rough it would get.  Funnily enough just now, in the middle of writing this I had a phone call from a fellow whiskey maker to discuss this very thing I had no concrete answers for him to make it easier, as there are none.  I can say hands down coordinating bottling has been the most difficult part of the entire process, the logistical bottling infrastructure in Ireland simply does not exist for small players to bottle on a whim as it does in Scotland. I know a brave man working on a solution for this, but it was too late for my first run.   This is the first week in a few months I’ve been able to breathe, look up and assess what we need to do for the next run to ensure a smooth production pipeline.



The last few weeks have really taken a toll on me. I perhaps naively never expected the physicality of this job. People when they visit always expect me to have a staff, I don’t, Blaise is headed to the U.S.A. and not on site.  So when a pallet of empty bottles for storage arrives at the gate strewn all over the back of the truck, its just me and the driver who need to unload each individual bottle by hand over a period of 2 hours, until my neighbours  and 76 year old father came to the rescue. If a delivery of bottles arrives without the Government label on it and it needs to be shipped to the USA, you know who needs to unbox and stick that missing label onto individual bottles? Yeah, me. Sure I got some help in, but believe me, I spent a good 5 hour stretch last week performing a repetitive taping action on boxes in the Rackhouse, my back is shot.

It’s clear to me that this now needs to change. I’ve battled to get this whiskey on to the market I raised finance, sourced stock, uncovered the J.J. CORRY story and created the pack and brand, secured international distribution, blended the first batch and put it into bottle at gunpoint. I’ve proved the concept, and more importantly I understand every single element of getting JJ CORRY out of the cask, blended and into bottle. I know because I did it all myself.


A long road to get the first bottle off the line

This week we’ll be submitting planning permission for an on-site blending facility.  We have a lot of requests for small custom blends for customers and right now I can’t fulfil them no matter how much I would like to, it is logistically prohibitive without my own facility. It’s become clear to me that if we are to be true whiskey bonders in the spirit of JJ CORRY we need to be a lot more nimble when it comes to blending and bottling.  Furthermore, I need physical  help. My focus now needs to shift to selling and brand building not physically packing  or unpacking samples, accepting deliveries, and doing customs documentation.  All of that needs to still happen, but I need to bring in help. My aim has always been to create jobs here in rural West Clare and now is the time to start putting that into action.

Its time to begin the move from being a Solopreneur and to begin to scale up. Bring It On.